Pets, like people, are sensitive to factors that may result in unwanted behaviours. Poor training, change in routine or environment, or specific instinctual pet characteristics may be some of the reasons why your pet is misbehaving. Contrary to what some believe, pets are “not trying to get back” at owners for any reason. All behaviour is a form of communication. It’s our job as owners to try to understand and help our pet overcome undesirable habits.
Digging: Some dogs may have a naturally greater digging instinct. Dogs dig out of boredom, so make sure there are toys for your dog to play with outdoors. Extra exercise may help. Always provide a cool shady place for your dog to rest. Dogs dig in cool soil to find relief from the heat. Don’t use blood or bone meal to fertilize your garden - the scent may be irresistible. There are some products on the market that create a scent that is repugnant to animals that can be put in areas where the pet is digging.
Chewing: If your pet is no longer a puppy and is engaging in destructive chewing, he may be suffering from boredom or separation anxiety. Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise and appropriate objects to chew (i.e. knotted rawhide or durable rubber Kong toys). In the case of separation anxiety, ask your veterinarian about dog appeasing pheromones. An “appeasing” pheromone spray provides natural reassurance and comfort and can prevent or even stop stress-related destructive behaviour.
Barking and whining
Some breeds are more prone to frequent barking. Improper confinement – leaving an anxious dog alone in a locked room or crate, restricted tethering outdoors, an enclosed yard without shelter from the elements can all cause excessive barking. Environmental sounds (i.e. other dogs, cars, thunder, etc.) can also trigger barking. An overly territorial dog may bark at any stranger, invited or uninvited, entering your property. If your dog barks and whines excessively when you leave the home he may suffer from separation anxiety.
Anxiety (separation or fear)
A dog may develop separation anxiety if there is a change in the owner’s work schedule or change of environment. Anxiety often increases the longer the owner is gone and may result in behaviours such as whining, pacing, salivating, excessive licking, barking, howling, hyperactivity, scratching, chewing, digging, urinating or defecating and destruction of property. Dogs with separation anxiety also have an overly excited response when the owner returns home, even if they have only been gone a short while. Scolding or punishing the dog leads to more confusion, more anxiety and worse behaviour. Noise phobia (i.e fear of thunderstorms) is also common in dogs. Do not comfort your pet – this may be interpreted as reward for his fearful response. Punishment will only cause more anxiety. Ask your veterinarian to suggest behaviour modification techniques or refer you to a behavioural specialist or trainer. Dog appeasing pheromones are also an innovative way, used along with other behaviour modification practices, to control and manage unwanted canine behaviour associated with fear and stress in adult dogs and puppies.
House soiling may occur if your dog was never fully housetrained, suffers from separation anxiety or may have a urinary tract infection or other medical condition. Ask your veterinarian for a complete medical exam to rule out any health issues.
Stool eating (coprophagia)
Dogs who eat feces usually do not have a dietary deficiency. Though some rare severe disorders of the pancreas or intestine, extreme malnutrition from parasitic infestation, or starvation may cause a dog to do so. Some dogs, especially those in kennels, may eat feces due to stress or anxiety. Some dogs may just eat feces because it tastes good (to them). Keep yards and kennels free of feces. If your dog likes to eat other dog’s feces keep him on a leash on walks. Products can be added to the food of the offending dog that make his feces taste terrible. If you believe stress is a factor, the cause of stress should be identified and reduced.
If your dog exhibits dangerous behaviour toward any person, particularly toward children, seek professional help from your veterinarian, an animal behaviourist or qualified dog trainer. Aggressive behaviour toward other animals is also a reason to seek professional help. The key preventative measures you can take early in your dog’s life are: adequate socialization in varied situations (with people and other dogs), consistent and proper training, spaying or neutering (spayed or neutered dogs are three times less likely to bite than intact dogs), teaching appropriate behaviour – avoid playing aggressive games with your dog such as wrestling, tug of war, or “siccing” your dog on another person. Don’t allow puppies to chew your hands. Set limits!
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