Cute puppy chewing a shoe

6 dog behaviours: what they mean and how to help

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Have you recognised that your dog’s behaviour has been a little more fearful, aggressive or naughty than usual? Maybe there’s something going on with them mentally. Here’s some common signs of underlying behavioural issues and how to help.

Dogs are not immune from bad behaviour, and much like their human counterparts, the key to resolving the issue is usually understanding where it is coming from and making any necessary changes. Depending on the cause, resolving the bad behaviour can be a simple lifestyle adjustment, or a complex problem requiring help from your vet or an animal behaviourist. Your first stop with any unexplained changes in behaviour should be your vet. Many behavioural changes can be a warning sign of a range of health conditions.

Here are some common unwelcome dog behaviours, what they may mean, and what you can do to help:

      1. Barking
      2. Chewing
      3. Digging
      4. Inappropriate toileting
      5. Jumping up
      6. Biting and aggression

    1. Barking

    Nothing drives your neighbours nuts like a dog that’s constantly barking. They all bark to some degree. It’s how they communicate with you and it’s sometimes a welcome behaviour, for example, an enthusiastic greeting after a long day, or warning you about an intruder. However, when they start to bark, whine or howl incessantly, it becomes a nuisance. If it’s persistent, rather than simply telling them off, you’ll need to get to the bottom of the issue and work with them to curb the behaviour.

    Common types of troublesome barking include attention seeking, anxious, bored, and responding to other dogs or noises.

    In the case of boredom, the solution is clear – they are telling you they need more. More attention, more company, and perhaps more things to do during the day. Depending on your situation, a few decent puzzle toys during the day may help. Perhaps you’ve been neglecting their exercise regime and need to get out with them more. If your schedule doesn’t allow, why not enlist the services of a dog walker. Working with your neighbours can also be helpful. They can text you when your dog howls or barks excessively and you can build a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t – plus it’ll help smooth things over in the transition.

    Barking and howling can also be a sign of separation anxiety. If this is the case, the situation may require the help of an animal professional.

    It is always a good idea to keep up basic obedience training as this will help you work with them. For harder cases, you may find agility training useful. This involves leading your dog across a course of 12 to 18 obstacles using hand and voice commands. Aside from being excellent exercise for you and your dog (and a physically and mentally worn-out dog is generally a happy, non-destructive dog) it helps you get to know what motivates them, and how to get the best out of them.

    2. Chewing

    Dogs chew for a lot of reasons, from teething and curiosity to boredom and anxiety. The easiest way to curb the behaviour is to provide plenty of chew toys and pack away your treasured items. If your dog is a serious chewer, you may want to keep your pooch crated or confined to an area where less destruction can be caused.

    If the problem is a sign of a deeper behavioural issue, such as anxiety, then you’ll need to treat the cause. In the moment, if you catch your dog chewing the wrong thing, quickly correct your dog with a sharp noise and replace the item with a chew toy.

    And while we’re in the mouth region of behavioural issues, if your dog starts grinding their teeth, take them to their vet for a check-up. This can be a sign of dental issues that need addressing, physical pain, or also a sign of anxiety.

    3. Digging

    Digging is an instinctive behaviour in most dogs and is more common in some breeds than others, but fear not, it can still be curbed. Boredom is a common denominator behind this one, so if they’ve developed a digging habit, you’ll need to bump up their exercise regime. Puzzle toys can also be very useful in keeping them mentally entertained.

    If they are digging to get out, you need to ensure the area is secured to eliminate the risk they’ll get out and be injured or worse. If they are digging to cool themselves down as the sand or soil is cooler beneath the surface, then provide more shade, water and cool spaces during the day.

    4. Inappropriate toileting

    We’re not talking toilet training woes, we’re talking a previously potty-trained pooch that’s started urinating or defecating in inappropriate places. It’s frustrating as it can damage your home and it’s unpleasant, but it’s also a very clear signal all is not well with Fido. This one should always begin with a visit to your vet, as it may be a sign of sickness.

    If that’s been ruled out, it is normally down to territorial marking, attention seeking, anxiety, especially separation anxiety, or a sign of submission or excitement. This one can be a tough cookie to break, so you may benefit from enlisting the help of a professional dog behaviouralist. They are often able to diagnose and create a treatment plan from a single session observing your dog, so it doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise.

    5. Jumping Up

    Jumping is an instinctive behaviour as puppies jump up to greet their mothers, which can later become a habit they transfer to their owners. This one is important to kerb as it is a simple case of bad manners as the dog grows out of the puppy phase. While it’s tempting, and can sometimes work, tricks like lifting a knee, grabbing the paws, or pushing the dog away, can send the wrong message. As this is an attention-seeking behaviour, any such acknowledgment provides a reward. That’s why the experts recommend when your dog does this, simply turn away and ignore your dog, making no eye contact and without talking or touching them. When Fido relaxes and remains still, calmly reward them.

    6. Biting and aggression

    While puppies bite and nip other dogs and people as a means for exploring their environment and learning their place in the pack, it’s another behaviour that needs to be addressed promptly. If it’s a habit in adulthood, it’s usually a sign of fear or defensiveness, protecting their owner or property, asserting their dominance.

    Aggression may be exhibited by biting, growling, snarling, showing teeth and lunging. Given the danger they present to others, aggression needs to be addressed promptly and thoroughly. Your first stop should be your vet to rule out health problems. Once eliminated, seek the help of an experienced dog trainer or behaviourist. Also take strict precautions to keep them away from others until the problem is resolved.


    Whatever your dog’s unwelcomed behaviour, start by looking for obvious changes in lifestyle and how they may be affecting your pet, and rule out possible health issues with a visit to your vet. If making changes to help them cope isn’t helping, an animal behaviourist can help you learn your dog’s language and decipher what they’re trying to tell you. If changes aren’t on the cards, it may be a case of helping ease your dog’s anxieties by behaviour modification through diet or supplements. This is also always best handled with the help of an expert.


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