Your dog is a wiggly ball of furry love, a four-legged member of your family. But sometimes he can test your patience. His bad dog behavior can drive you crazy in countless ways. But no matter whether your pup is guilty of archaeological digs in your garbage, putting his paws on grandma's shoulders, or nearly pulling your arm out of its socket on walks (squirrel!), you love him. However, that doesn't mean you can't curb the bad dog habits that drive you batty.
So how do you get him to stop? Understanding why your dog behaves the way he does goes a long way to figuring out how to curtail bad dog behavior. Check out these common bad dog habits, why they might be occurring, and how to finally put a stop to them.
Common Bad Habits and Why They Occur
Destructive dog behaviors can almost always be traced to an underlying issue. A dog suffering from behavior problems perhaps is bored, is being accidentally encouraged, or might even be suffering from a medical condition. Here are three causes of the most common bad dog behaviors and what you can do about it.
Dogs get bored when they don't get enough exercise or mental stimulus. Most dogs thrive on physical exercise and time with their owners. If you are not exercising your dog regularly or finding ways to play with him, your dog might be suffering from boredom. Boredom can result in bad dog behavior such as nonstop barking, chewing the legs of your dining room table, or digging holes in your prized flower bed.
- What to do about it. Offer him the mental and physical stimulation he craves. Take him for regular walks or find another exercise you both enjoy. Offer behavior enrichment activities that challenge him mentally, such as a treat puzzle or a new chew toy with an interesting texture. You don't have to spend money. Try freezing some of his favorite toys, which gives him a whole new experience to explore or set up a backyard obstacle course with household items you already own. You can also teach your dog new tricks, which strengthens your bond and keeps your dog's brain working. Another suggestion is to find ways to let your dog release some of his natural tendencies. If your pup is a digger, for example, redirect him from your garden by giving him his own sandbox where he can dig up toys, or assign him a corner of the yard where you don't mind if he digs holes to his heart's content.
You might not realize it, but you could be encouraging bad dog habits. For instance, if you allow your dog to jump on you to give you a "hug," you are encouraging him to do the same to your guests. If you "just occasionally" give in to those sad puppy eyes and sneak your dog a table scrap, you're rewarding him for his behavior. If he barks when he can't reach a toy and you get it for him, you're unintentionally teaching him barking is a way to get your attention.
- What to do about it. You'll have to re-train your dog (and yourself) to stop a bad dog behavior you've accidentally encouraged. Consistency is key to training. You'll need your family's help and the help of any other people you and your dog encounter. If you want your dog to stop begging, no one, not you, not your kids, not your neighbor, can feed him from the table. Also, make sure you're not accidentally rewarding your dog for his bad behavior. If a dog is barking and you tell him no but then soothe him with a pat, you're accidentally rewarding his behavior. Lastly, make sure to positively correct bad behavior immediately, or a dog will not link your reaction to his action.
Possible Medical Issues
Dogs that suddenly show a change in behavior might actually be suffering from a medical issue. For instance, a dog that you believe simply seems to have "forgotten" that he's housebroken might have a bladder infection. Or if your dog is suddenly showing aggressive tendencies when he's always been calm before he might be in pain or suffering from a thyroid issue, according to The Whole Dog Journal. A dog that is driving you crazy with his constant scratching and licking is likely suffering from some sort of skin issue ranging from parasites to food allergies. A dog that scoots his behind on the floor might be suffering from an anal gland disorder.
- What to do about it. If you think your dog's bad behavior might be due to a medical condition, see your veterinarian. After all, if you are being driven crazy by your dog's constant scratching and itching, think about how he feels! A vet can help you determine the cause of the underlying issue causing the behavior and the proper course of treatment that might be as simple as changing food or treating a parasite.
The ASPCA notes a study, conducted by the Humane Society, that calculates 10 percent of animals are given up to shelters each year because of behavior issues. Most of those issues can be solved by taking a step back and determining why a dog has the bad habits he does. Once you know the why behind a behavior, you can figure out how to solve the problem. With consistency, positive reinforcement and patience, you can change your dog's behavior. And never be afraid to reach out for help. If you're at your wit's end, take an obedience class or visit your vet.
Just remember: changing your pet's bad behaviors can be a rewarding process and, when done with positive reinforcement, care and love, you may forge an even stronger bond between you and your four-legged friend. Dogs are not necessarily destructive or acting out, they just simply do not know any better. Just like children, dogs require help understanding what they can and cannot do. The more you work with them, the better chance they have at turning out to be a little gentleman.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.