Dog Behavior - Understanding Dog Behavioral Issues & How To Prevent Them

If my dog is having behavior problems, are they capable of change?

Yes, to a point. It's going to be individual per dog. If we're talking about a puppy who's potty training and is going to potty in the house, then yes. However, if we're talking about a dog that's 13 that has started to go in the bathroom in the house, that may be something we can't change. It is going to be individual per dog, but I would say most things we can help with. If we can't fix it, we might be able to help with the aid of trainers we work with and the team from Sit, Stay, Obey.

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

When should you start obedience training with your dog?

Immediately! Right when you bring them home. You can start obedience training from 6 to 8 weeks of age, using resources like YouTube videos. Start with simple commands like "sit" and "leave it". Also, ensure your dog is well socialized and learns how to walk on a leash. We want to mitigate risk, so we'll talk a little bit about vaccines, but we still need to socialize our dogs. Our dogs still need to learn how to walk on a leash. We don't want to raise dogs that have only seen your house and backyard for four months. We need them out in the world, but we just have to mitigate risk. Do I want you taking them to dog parks? No. Can we go to a park where there's not thousands of dogs? Yes. Will there be slight risks? Of course. Every time I get in my car, there's a risk. There are risks with everything, but we want to mitigate those risks. We don't want our dogs to live in a bubble and become maladjusted because once we get past the sixteen to eighteen-weeks of age, their brains become less malleable, meaning it is more challenging to change things, so we really want to hit this socialization period.

What are the most common behavior problems in dogs?

We see a lot of behavior issues. With COVID-19 and everyone being at home and deciding to go get puppies, we see lack of socialization. I call it stranger danger, which is where the puppy only got to meet the family and maybe just a few other people. They're going to be super nervous when they meet new people and they're not outgoing and very shy or fearful. Fear is an issue. Lack of socialization leads to growling. When dogs are puppies, their siblings are going to teach them bite inhibition, which is another reason why you don't want to get a puppy too early. Mom's going to teach that puppy not to behave a certain way. They learn what respectful dog behavior is. They're not going to go chomp on their siblings super hard because their sibling's going to let out a yelp, and they learn they shouldn't do that.

Digging can be another problem, along with eating their own feces, which is actually a normal dog behavior, but it's gross. We can work with you on that. Just pick the poop up as soon as they go and I do mean as soon as they go because I know some puppies will go, turn around, and eat it, and then their owners call and they're gagging on the phone. Struggles with potty training and being restrained are further behavioral issues. If dogs have never been asked to do something and if there are no boundaries in the house, where they know that they are a dog and not a human, we see a lot of these issues when we ask them to do something that they don't want to do. Watch some YouTube videos on how we restrain dogs, and it's not heavy restraint. This involves holding a leg off to see a vein, so it's not heavy restraint, but we have some dogs that have a lot of issues because they're part of the family, and they don't know they're dogs.

We have to remember that dogs are dogs. We have to train them to be dogs. That doesn't mean that when they're two years of age, their obedience training is all done and they know their boundaries, we don't let them get away with things. My dog sleeps with me, but she does know when I'm eating dinner, she can't be begging. That is a hard boundary for me. My little cavalier knows that she's not supposed to scratch at the door. I can't stand that because she's ruined the paint. She'll go and sit there, and then it's my job to notice that she's sitting by the door. If I don't let her out, then she goes potty, and that's not her fault, it's mine. You have to lay the foundation first because these puppies have to have boundaries. They need to sit for everything, sit to go out, sit to eat, and sit to go to bed. However, we do see aggression, fear, inappropriate barking, and potty training issues.

What are some behavior problems that may be associated with a medical condition?

House soiling. If you have a dog who's been potty trained their whole lives, and all of a sudden they are peeing in the house or peeing right in front of you, they're telling you that something hurts. That is usually a sign of a urinary tract infection. If there's blood in the urine, they can have a UTI, bladder stones, or kidney stones. Throwing up in the house is not normal. Hiding, shaking, or anything that's out of the ordinary for your personal pet is a sign of a medical issue. They can't use their words, so we have to go off of their behavior. Like I said, if they've never pooped in the house, and all of a sudden, you're finding poop in the house that's not completely formed, something is wrong because that's a dog who knows it needs to go outside and yet went inside. That's a change in behavior.

I will even say to some of my older dogs, like ones that have trouble losing weight, low thyroid disease or hypothyroidism may be the cause. These dogs can become cranky. One of the first things I'm going to do if I have an older pet that is being aggressive out of nowhere is a thyroid panel. I'm going to look for pain in the thyroid because pain makes anybody cranky.

What other dog behavior management options are available?

Training is the primary option. If we're not making headway with training, there are certain drugs or pharmaceuticals that can help calm them down or help with anxiety. Some dogs may need to be on medication because they're just so stressed. We do have a subset of patients that come in on premeds because they're just so scared here that it's too stressful for them and I can't get a good exam done because the dog is trying to crawl inside of its owner's skin. That's not good for the dog and it's not good for us. It also puts them in a position where if they get scared enough, they could bite. So having those medications on board really helps. Not all drugs are bad, and I do believe that there are some patients that if they live their life at a stage nine or ten anxiety level, that's not good for anybody. We'll put them on some puppy Prozac or whatever medication I might deem fit in that situation.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dog Behavior - FAQs

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

How can I socialize my puppy?

Socialization involves exposing your dog to different situations, environments, other dogs, and people. It helps dogs to develop a level of independence and identity and to learn not to be scared of certain things. If a dog isn't socialized, it can become maladjusted and may even pose a health risk by biting people. You should expose your dog to a variety of situations such as visits to the veterinary clinic, car rides, walks, and parks. It's crucial to balance this exposure with risk mitigation since your dog might not be fully vaccinated yet. The key is to handle the process like you would handle risks in your own life, being cautious but not avoiding experiences altogether.

Should a dog be punished for bad behavior?

Let's talk about punishment. Punishment can mean a bunch of different things. When someone says punishment to me, I'm thinking it is like when I got spanked for going out in the parking lot when I was little without looking, because that happened, and I do have that core memory. We have to look at the spectrum. I believe in levels of punishment, but I don't like that word. I almost want to use, like, correction or redirection. We don't necessarily need to punish, but we need to redirect the situation, and they need to know that they haven't done something right, but we don't have to hurt them to let this happen. You can use negative reinforcement.

For instance, my husband's cat is kind of a turd. He's been like us since he was a kitten. He bites, and I could not train him out of this. He knows that if he tries to bite me, he's going to get flicked in the nose. Am I trying to hurt him? No. Am I trying to get him to stop and he knows not to do it? Yes. He knows exactly what that means. If I go up to him like this because he's gnawing on me, he knows that's not good. So punishment can be if they potty in the house and you do something surprising and you put them outside. That's not really a punishment. You're redirecting the behavior because most dogs don't have a long attention span, so there's also the possibility that they're not going to know why they're in trouble. If you catch them in the act, I usually like a big exclamation to startle them, and you pick them up and go outside, and when they make potties outside, you reward them.

Crate training is also great. I would say if they're doing things that are not allowed, like if they are growling at a child, friends, or family that are coming over, then they get put up in their crate. That's negative reinforcement. If they're jumping on you and won't stop jumping and they're clawing you up, ignore them until they have four paws on the floor. If they have four on the floor, they get rewarded. So it's not really a punishment. We have to be careful with that terminology.

Working with a trainer also can really be beneficial. I'm not a big fan of punishment unless it's something super bad and it's a knee jerk reaction. You might be able to handle it better. I've been guilty of this. I know my husband's dog is not aware of his body all the time, and he clawed me in the face the other day. Without thinking, I just shoved him off me and he fell off the couch. It was a gut reaction. So give yourself some grace if something does happen, but definitely reach out to a trainer if you're struggling.

Are vaccinations needed for dog training classes?

The requirements can vary depending on who you're working with. It's always better if all dogs in a training group are on the same vaccine status. This ties into the concept of "herd health" where the majority being protected can help protect those who aren't. It's important to mitigate risks by avoiding places like dog parks and unvaccinated puppies.

What is environmental enrichment and how can it help my dog's behavior?

Environmental enrichment involves stimulating your dog's senses - smell, hearing, etc. This can be achieved by activities like being outside, playing fetch or ball, and even simple walks. Providing an outlet for the brain helps prevent unwanted behaviors. There are also many tools available like snuffle mats, puzzle balls, and lick mats that can provide additional stimulation. A happy and tired dog tends to be a well-behaved dog. A tired puppy is a well-behaved puppy. Tire your puppies out. Play with them, and then they won't do things that they're not supposed to do, like eat things and make bad life choices.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram