Common behavior problems

Aggression

Aggression is a term used to describe threatening behaviours that are intended at INCREASING distance to the trigger such as another dog or a human. Dogs display a wide array of ritualized aggressive behaviors: freezing up, staring, growling, snarling, attacking, snapping = air-biting and biting (inhibited or uninhibited). These behaviors escalate in intensity; a human analogy would be first just swearing at someone, and if being provoked finally pulling out a firearm. With many dogs aggressive behavior often consists of all, or some of the above behaviors. Other dogs, on the other hand, give very little in the way of warning; they seem fine and then just suddenly explode. The more levels of clear threat behaviors and the slower the escalation to each successive threat level, the better you can predict your dog's behaviour. Therefore, you never want to punish your dog for growling because your dog may go straight to biting. The concept is the same as taking batteries out of a smoke detector!

Why do dogs behave aggressively?

Aggressive behaviours are the result of emotions, such as fear/anxiety/frustration. The reason why dogs behave aggressively is that it works for them! As soon as the dog sees their trigger, such as another dog or the postman, their emotional brain kicks in and they start reacting. And usually when they do this, the person/dog leaves and the socially uncomfortable situation is avoided. The dog doesn’t understand that the trigger would have left anyway; they think that the threatening behaviors made the scary thing away. So next time they react even more strongly to try and get the threat to leave.

How to modify aggressive behavior?

Imagine if you’re afraid of a spider and every time you see one you get a smack on your cheek. This is not going to make you less afraid spiders, quite the contrary! If, however, you get $50 every time you see a spider, your emotions will sooner or later start to change. To change the dog’s behaviour we need to, first of all, manage the environment so that the unwanted behaviour doesn’t happen any more, and second, start working on changing the dog’s emotions towards their triggers. It is imperative to do this work when your dog is under threshold, in other words not reacting yet, so that they are able to learn. We teach them that the triggers make good things happen, such as meatballs/chicken/steak and then we teach them to do alternative behaviours, which are incompatible with the aggressive behaviours. For example if your dog sits looking at you, they cannot bark and lunge at another dog.

Counter-conditioning:

Other methods:

  • Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT)
  • Separation Anxiety

    Some dogs can develop very strong phobias for being left alone at home. For most of us being able to leave our dogs is a must and it is important to thoroughly change your dog's emotional response to you leaving. Here is Pat Miller's article on the causes and behavior modification for separation anxiety.

    Jumping

    Some exuberant greeters easily develop an art-form out of jumping on people in order to get attention. And they tend to get it every time, even negative attention is still attention. Training your dog to do something else instead like to offer a solid sit when visitors arrive is the key in getting a polite greeter instead.

    Counter Surfing

    Many dog owners complain that their dogs steal food from kitchen counters or even the dinner table.

    Demand Barking

    Getting a collar etc. on your dog

    Mounting

    We humans are often embarrassed about our dogs mounting. Contrary to what is thought mounting often is not a sexual behavior, the reasons can vary from anxiety/arousal to actual play.