Common misbehavior problems

Common Misbehavior Problems

Common Misbehavior Problems are often Normal Doggie Behaviors.

What appears to be misbehavior on the part of your dog, is often just normal doggie behavior that is done at the wrong place or time. Wild dogs will often chew, dig, bark, howl, eliminate, and jump or play without it creating problems where they live. For our domesticated friend however, all of these normal behaviors done at the inappropriate time or place can get them into hot water very quickly.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, only 35% of all family dogs live out their natural lives with their original owners. It is estimated that over 65% of the dogs surrendered to shelters across the country have a behavior problem that could have been prevented with early training, or could have been solved had the owners known some basics about dog training and behavior. Rather than let your newly adopted dog or puppy become a statistic, let's first find out why behavior problems develop and what we can do to solve them.


Breed Traits: Dog breeds were developed to specialize the individual so he could perform a certain type of work better than any other kind of dog. Knowing what breed or breeds that makes up your Fido can help you understand and combat typical problem behaviors that are breed based. For instance, in the breed group known as terriers, these particular dogs were bred to hunt for small vermin and often in the process of hunting, go to ground (which literally means go under the earth and look for those pesky critters). Terriers tend to be very enthusiastic in the hunt, and therefore very vocal. A typical problem behavior you may have with terriers is that they like to dig, chase small animals, bark, and have a very high energy level.

With problem behaviors that are breed-based traits, redirecting those behaviors into safe outlets are by far the most effective method of problem solving. Redirecting a terrier's behaviors would involve providing him with a special place to dig (a digging pit), providing lots of exercise and teaching him the "QUIET" command. At the same time allow him barkathons at appropriate times, and teach him to chase a ball or Frisbee. You would invest a large amount of your training in perfecting the "OFF" command so that he learns not to chase small animals like your cat. Since breed based problems are instinctive, they are very hard to extinguish, but can be redirected with amazing success. Find out what breed(s) make up your dog. Find out what he was bred to do so you can understand why he exhibits some behaviors so strongly and then can pick safe, appropriate activities.

Lack of Exercise: A tired dog is a good dog, because then he is sleeping and not digging, barking, or chewing. Not enough exercise results in your dog becoming bored and inventing his own games to play (which I'm sure you would not like too well!). Even if your dog spends his day in the yard while you are away, he is not exercising himself. He certainly isn't tired when you come home, is he? A young dog needs a minimum of two to three exercise periods a day that involve aerobic activity. A good rule of thumb for exercise is when you've given your dog enough activity; he will lie down and not move for a minimum of 20 minutes. Adult dogs need at least two sessions per day (AM & PM) and while older dogs still need those two sessions, keep them shorter.

Good ways to exercise your dog are throwing a ball or Frisbee, teaching him to swim, blowing bubbles, teaching him to chase a soccer ball or having him chase a toy tied to a string. Be inventive when thinking of ways to exercise your dog. Fido will appreciate it, you'll have some fun, and because you will be spending time with him, your dog will become even more bonded to you. Avoid wrestling, tug of war and chase games as these teach your dog to pit his strength and TEETH against you. Walking your dog is fine, but usually will not result in getting him tired enough unless you are walking four to five miles a day. For young dogs less than 18 months of age, please consult your veterinarian before starting a jogging program. Jogging with young dogs is not recommended as it can damage your dog's skeletal and muscular system. Wait until Fido has completely finished growing before you take him out running with you.

Lack of consistency: Problems often develop when your dog is allowed to do something one week, then the following week he is severely scolded for repeating the same behavior. This causes a lot of confusion for your dog. For instance, when your dog was small, he probably was allowed to jump on you (as it was easier for you to pet him). Perhaps he was allowed up on the furniture (after all he's just a little guy) and he was allowed to nip at your ankles (how cut and playful). Well, now that your Labrador has gained 50 pounds, and 18 inches in height, you find these habits annoying, not to mention dangerous. Even an adult, ten pound Toy Poodle can be quite bothersome jumping on you, ruining your good pants, and he can be quiet painful when he is biting at your ankles! Your dog's only crime was that he grew up. Your crime is that you did not treat Mr. Puppy as Mr. Adult right from the beginning. Dogs learn rules quickly if they are taught right from the start what is expected of them.

Make sure everyone in your family understands and enforces your household rules for Fido. (It's a good idea to post a list on the refrigerator to remind everyone.) Dogs learn to test to see what "rules" are in effect, especially if different family members have been allowing assorted behaviors. They learn who is easy prey for a sad look or a tentative paw up on the couch. Enforcing household rules becomes harder because your dog is confused as to what exactly is or is not allowed. Your dog needs to have rules he can count on from day to day.

Schedule your dog's life so he knows when it's time to eat, play, sleep, and work. Fido will become calmer and much more confident because he knows what to expect and when to expect it. When changes do occur in your household, such as a marriage, divorce, a new baby, change of residence, or a new cat or dog added to the family, you can expect your dog to exhibit some changes in behavior. Keeping the routine the same will help reduce his stress.

Lack of Leadership: Dogs are pack animals and look to one leader for guidance and structure. All dogs love structure and guidance! If there is no strong leader in your dog's pack (your family) then he will then be forced to place himself as leader. Leaders pretty much do whatever they want, whenever they want. If your dog has this dictatorship view of life, then he probably has more than one habit you do not like. Start by taking your dog to a humane, positive-approach training program so that you, as a leader, can understand how to clearly communicate with your pet in a safe, non-threatening manner.

Lack of social interaction: It is estimated that 70% of all problem behaviors are due to a lack of social interaction or isolation. Dogs are very social creatures, more so than humans. They would always choose to be with you if possible. Therefore, all dogs need daily social interaction or they can become stressed. Stress in a dog exhibits itself in many ways. The most common signs are digging, chewing, escaping and barking (what do you know! Those sound like behavior problems!) A dog that lives exclusively in your backyard (alone) is going to be stressed as being alone goes against his very genetic makeup! (If you are thinking perhaps you should get another dog to keep your dog company, think again. In most cases, adding a second dog to a first dog who has behavior problems can mean that you now have TWO dogs who dig, bark & chew!

Leaving your dog in the backyard or garage will not prevent destructive habits from developing unless you take preventive steps. Because you do not live in your yard or garage, you are not there to supervise your dog. So excessive barking, territorial aggression, escaping, digging and chewing can develop quite easily. Dogs not educated in proper household etiquette must be safely confined to limit damage, not only to your property, but to themselves as well. Many common plants in your yard are poisonous to dogs; there are many toxic substances in your garage and yard (such as snail bait, fertilizers, paint thinner, antifreeze and rat poisons to name just a few). Outdoor dogs are subject to teasing or harassment by children, prone to theft, and poisoning form an outside source.

Let your dog belong to your family: By having your dog live with you in your house, he can learn what is expected of him and he won't be so isolated which reduces stress. Inside dogs have fewer problem behaviors than outside dogs, and because you have a better relationship with your dog, problem solving becomes much easier. Inside the house you can control the environment to solve problems that may develop. Inside dogs bark less since they cannot be teased by the neighborhood kids; they are inside the "pack's den" and therefore feel more secure, and they have less "territory" to protect form real or perceived threats. An outside dog is not a good theft deterrent since what most burglars want is inside your house, not in your yard. Only a dog INSIDE your house will deter a burglar.

As a minimum, your dog should be kept inside your house whenever you are home, including sleeping inside at night. If you must keep your dog outside during the day, then put up an escape proof dog run, away from the yard fence. This will keep your dog from ingesting toxic substances or plant, keep him from being teased, keep him from being a theft object, and keep him from destroying your yard. The dog run should be large enough so he has amply room to do his business in one end and still have room to walk and stretch in the other (in general a dog run should be 6' by 14' minimum). Provide enough shade in the summer months and a doghouse to get out of bad weather in cooler months. make sure that your Fido has had plenty of exercise before he is confined as well as leaving several stuffed chew items such as KONGs or Buster cubes.


The best way to solve a problem is never to let your dog acquire unwanted behaviors by training and managing your dog the minute he is adopted into your family (or follows you home!) All dogs can learn as young as 6 weeks and as old as 12 years (provided they are still healthy and have some eyesight or hearing left.) Sometimes that is not always possible or perhaps you have adopted an older dog who was never trained properly, so what can we do now that Fido has a habit we do not like? There are actually several different ways you can deal with problem behaviors. The best results are obtained by combining several of the different methods below.

Prevent Access (use management): This simply means we do not let our dogs practice the behavior we don't like. We use indoor crates, baby gates, secure dog runs, a leash, a head collar and SUPERVISION. We may use all of the above, a few of the above but always at least one… supervision. Until your dog is adequately housetrained and understands household rules, then he should not be left alone loose in either the yard or your house, for ANY length of time initially. If you can't watch your dog, then crate train him so he can be indoors while you are gone or for those times you are busy doing something else. (See our crate training for proper use and training of a crate.)

  • Use baby gates to restrict access so he can't steal the kid's toys, chase the cat, dash out that front door or leave the room you are currently in.
  • A leash is helpful in preventing jumping, stealing food from the kitchen counter or running away at the park.
  • A head collar is very helpful when teaching your dog to walk on a leash without pulling or when you have any aggression or control problems.

Management does not have to be forever if you take the time to properly train your dog and reward him for good behavior throughout his lifetime. Just as you keep earning a paycheck for working, your dog's good behavior needs to be noticed and rewarded. Otherwise, it will not remain "good" for his lifetime.

Prevent the behavior from happening by removing the motivation that starts it. Think of it this way, dogs do what works. Dogs will repeat behaviors that they can get a reward from (just like kids!). Identify the reward and remove it. For instance, your dog jumps on people. Every time he jumps, people pet him and make a fuss over him. Your dog is being rewarded for jumping. Remove any physical or verbal attention when he jumps (ignore him like a ghost dog!) but praise and give treats & pets when he is standing quietly or sitting.Pretty soon he will be doing much less jumping and a lot more sitting!

Another approach along the same lines would be that if a behavior is not dangerous to your dog or any human, ignore the behavior. A behavior that is not rewarded in any way will start to die out (this is called extinction). For example: you have a dog that loves to steal socks. Do you react to Fido's sock stealing by chasing him all over the house? He probably is doing it because it gets your attention and a good game of chase then happens. Try ignoring him when he has a sock and see what happens. Does he become bored and drop it? Pay attention to him when he is playing with his own toys and ignore the sock stealing (as long as he does not swallow the fabric). Soon he will be playing with his own toys and leaving the socks alone.

Change your dog's behavior (or TRAIN): Dogs do not understand English unless we make it a point to humanely teach them what certain sounds (words) mean. When you talk to your dog, think of him like a distant foreign exchange student who only speaks "Ruffwoof". For instance, we need to methodically teach our dogs that the sound, "sit", means put your rear on the floor by putting a treat just out of reach over his head. When his butt hits the floor the treat gets delivered immediately and your dog will start to make the connection that hind end to the floor is a very good thing to do. By training your dog, you establish a common language so your pet understands how to act and what will be rewarded (sit when greeting humans, down/stay when dinner is served, open my mouth when told to "drop", wait quietly at the door to be let in/out, etc.) Training isn't hard when using positives (such as food & toys) and is a great way for your pet to bond with your family as well

Accept the behavior/change your lifestyle: Sometimes it is easier to accept the behavior, rather than try to change it. I have a wonderful adult Boxer at home who loves people and other animals. But she is a full blown addicted counter-surfer. Any food item left on the counter will be consumed when she is left unattended for even one minute. Rather than put up elaborate booby traps (see below), I have learned to put the bread away, put the dog treat canister out of reach and close the door to the office were the cat feeding station is. Any time she steals something, I consider it my fault and I laugh at how clever she is in finding that one item I left out. To try to change her behavior would be difficult at best since she has been rewarded so many times for it (my bad memory you know!) and personally I don't want to have all my counters covered with Booby Traps! So I changed my lifestyle, now I am a better housekeeper!

Now, I need to point out that when you adopt or buy a dog, your lifestyle DOES have to change. You can no longer work 12 hour days (the dog need to be walked and fed and trained and exercised daily you know!), you can not leave your $200.00 dollar pair of hiking boots out for your brand new puppy to use a chew toy (this WILL happen as all puppies think ALL items are chew toys until we give them guidance!). You do need to supervise your children whenever they are with the dog (kids also need training as how to interact appropriately with pets and you do need to find a pet sitter if you take a vacation without your dog. It is unavoidable. Just as when you decided have a human child, a dog child also demands that you make some changes in your life.

Get rid of your dog: Let's face it. Some of you may have read through this entire handout and realized that you had no idea what a dog was or what they needed to thrive and be happy before you acquired one. A puppy or newly acquired adult dog takes as much time as an active human toddler. They required guidance (training) and time (socialization). Rather than isolate your dog outdoors or neglect their social needs, perhaps you should be thinking about re-homing your pet if you have not the time or energy to properly care for him.

You do need to understand though that if your dog has an existing aggression problem, you can still be held liable even if your dog is in the new ownership of someone else. The problem originated with you and the law has upheld that original owners can be held responsible for preexisting serious behavior problems such as aggression. Do consult a professional trainer before giving up on your dog. They may be able to help you with some of the problems you are experiencing so that you can keep your family pet or make your pet more adoptable so someone else will want him (After all, if your pet has behavior problems severe enough that you don't want him, why would anyone else want him? Take the time to make him more adoptable before giving him up to someone else.)

Special problem solving tools - Booby traps: Booby traps are anything negative that happens to your dog at the precise moment he is exhibiting an unwanted behavior. They are initially used when you are home with your dog but are not watching him directly. Once your dog's problem behavior is reduced by the use of booby traps while you are home, you can then start to leave them up while you are gone form the house. This progression is done so your dog does not learn to set the booby trap off and still continue down his "wicked path" since you will initially be there to see if the whole process worked.

Examples of booby traps are putting chicken wire on the couch, piling empty soda cans on a piece of paper on the counter (so when Fido puts his paws up, they come tumbling down), putting Tabasco sauce or bitter apple on your shoes laces or table legs, using motion detectors on counters and putting mouse traps in the trash with a light sheet of paper over them. The effect is that your dog thinks the environment is delivering punishment,

not you! The key here is that you are no way connected to the punishment. Booby traps can be very elaborate but the important thing to remember is that they are not to injure your dog in any way. Their purpose is to provide a very unpleasant experience to your dog and prevent him from wanting to experience doing it again. BUT if the motivation behind the unwanted behavior is so great, most booby traps, short of injuring your dog, will not work. (Most dogs will go through fire to get a nicely roasted turkey just sitting on your table left unattended!)

Sound booby traps should not be used with dogs under six months of age or with very shy dogs as they can cause problems with extreme fearfulness. Booby traps are NOT things that are thrown or shaken by a person. They are remote devices.


There are some common solutions to all behavior problems. They are:

  1. Spend time humanely training your dog. Stick to methods and trainers that use primarily positives such as food and toys. Avoid any method or trainer that tells you to use a choke chain or pinch collar, hit or yell at your dog or that you cannot use food to train with.
  2. Make your dog more a part of your family; bring indoors!
  3. Manage your dog; don't let him practice the unwanted behavior. Keep him leashed, use baby gates, head collars, and/or an indoor crate.
  4. Increase daily exercise.
  5. Reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior unless it is dangerous.

The first two points on the above list should be emphasized. Most dogs develop problems because they were never taught what to do or what not to do because they were never allowed to be part of a human family! Take the time to train your dog so he does become the perfect, well-mannered pet that you have always dreamed about. Behavior problems are never solved by isolating your dog to the backyard, in fact, they may become worse. You are your dog's pack and it is up to you to teach him the correct way to behave, by making him more a part of your family.

Web Link:

Ahimsa Dog Training

Recommended Reading:

Dog Problems, The Gentle Modern Cure
by David Weston & Ruth Ross

The Tool Box for Remodeling Your Problem Dog
by Terry Ryan

The Bark Stops Here by Terry Ryan

Dogs Home Alone (dealing with separation anxiety)
by Roger Abrantes

I'll Be Home Soon (dealing with separation anxiety)
by Patricia McConnell

Dealing with Your Dog's Aggressive Behavior
by Cornell University

Cautious Canine (fearful behavior)
by Patricia McConnell

Leader of the Pack: How to take control of your relationship with your dog
by Nancy Baer & Steve Duno