Behavior problems seem to spring upon us before we realize there is something wrong. Our dog has been walking nicely and having fun. They sniff the ground, and keep themselves busy while we are having a walk. Then one day the puppy is a lunging, growling threat at the end of the lead. Nothing happened. No one threatened them.
Our puppy has been good in the house, then one day it tears up the couch. Or maybe your puppy has stopped coming when called. The list of unacceptable behaviors is almost limitless.
Dog Behavior Problems
Almost all dog behavior is the result of a dog trying to meet a need. If a dog has been taught to communicate with you, and you have learned how to meet your dogs needs, then you probably have not reached this point.
Human skills are important. This is especially important with high drive, and working breeds. This can include Shepherds, Border Collies. But it can also be important for people with fearful dogs like Chihuahuas.
Sometimes these sudden behaviors have been building for a long time but instead of ‘reacting’ strongly when the dog needs a need met, your dog may have shut down. This dog has let the problem build up for a few weeks to a few years, then everything explodes at one time.
Where Do Behavior Problems Come From?
When needs are not met problems arise. When the dog is allowed to run free or is ignored then the dog starts to take responsibility for meeting their own needs.
Handlers need to understand that dogs do not assume that we are going to protect them. They do not know that we are going to return home after 8 hours. They do not know that we will provide food. We need to teach this.
Logically we feel that because we put a food bowl on the floor every day then the dog should understand that we will feed it. This isn’t always how dogs understand things.
These are the simple reasons, but you must always keep an open mind. Your dog’s problem may stem from isolation in the whelping box,
- Lack of mental stimulation before 13 weeks resulting in lack of neurotransmitters
- A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries, boosts, and modulates signals between neurons and other cells in the body.
- Lack of problem solving before 13 weeks and thickening of the cerebral cortex.
- The cerebral cortex is the largest region of the mammalian brain plays a key role in memory, attention, cognition(thinking), perception (is it scary? is it danger? Am I safe?), awareness, thought(problem solving), language (obedience) and consciousness (making good choices).
- Chemical Imbalance: either from birth, environmental, learned/conditioned
- causes disease, irrational or unpredictable behavior. Serotonin plays an important role in the neuro-chemical control of aggression in the brain, especially with a dog that lacks impulse control or self-control.
- The family of SSRI drugs, medications such as Prozac or Zoloft have had the most success in combination with “therapy” i.e. behavior modification techniques in treating aggression in many dogs.
- Toxins, Sugar, etc. in dog food ant treats.
- Toxins cause immune problems and chemical imbalances that can effect behavior.
- According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, high sugar content and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which in turn leads to falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia causes the brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks and an increase in suicide risk. Repeated hypoglycemic episodes increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer‘s disease, Parkinson‘s and ALS
How to Help Your Dog
The first thing is to realize that there is a difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviorist. Dog trainers may not be able to help. Behaviorists may be able to help, but remember that not all behaviorists understand all breed types. The first step is to find someone who can understand your dog and help it.
The first thing you need to know before you can help your dog is that it is a thinking, emotional being with its own personality, likes, and dislikes. Too many people feel that animals are like toys. You can bring them out to amuse you and then put them away. If you bring a dog into your life then it is your responsibility to rearrange your life to create a nurturing and safe environment that is pleasant for both you and your dog.
Step #1: Meeting Safety Needs (Environmental Control)
Dog behavior is shaped by environment and how your dog is permitted to engage in, or prevented from engaging in, the world around it.
The first thing is to keep your dog safe. Even before you contact a canine behavior expert. If your dog doesn’t feel safe going for a walk then don’t take it for a walk. Instead go to a park that is unpopulated. Go to a dog park before everyone comes in the morning. Find a place where you can walk where it is unlikely to encounter something it is afraid of.
The first step is to stop the behavior. Don’t let your dog try and fail. Do not let the dog rehearse the bad behavior. Accept that something is wrong and make your dog’s environment ‘safe’ for the dog.
- Learn to understand dog body language. You can learn this on youtube.com. Your dog will tell you when it is stressed, or its needs are not being met.
- Improve consistency. Make sure everyone in the house is using the same rules for the dog. Feed the dog at the same time. Walk the dog at the same time.
- Do not use punishment. Most people are too slow in their rewards and punishment. They are actually rewarding or punishing the wrong behavior. For example, your dog moves out of the heel looking at a child. You punish the dog for looking at the child, so the dog associates children with being punished. It is amazing how many behavior problems disappear when punishment is eliminated from training.
- Socializing. Teach the dog to handle stress. This is fairly easy. Take the dog to different environments and play with the dog. Do not force the dog to engage with the new stressor. So if you want your dog to be good with children let something happy happen when children are around. Do not force the dog to endure patting from children.
- Do not let strangers pet your dog. You wouldn’t let a stranger pick up your child, or kiss your spouse. You’d never give the keys to your car to a stranger. But we want to force dogs to endure petting from strangers even though it is against all a dog’s natural instincts.
- Do not let dog’s greet on a leash. This makes dogs feel stressed. Many dogs like strange dogs when off leash, but are aggressive on leash. I personally do not risk my dog being attacked. I will only greet dogs that I know will be welcoming and playful with my dog. There is no benefit to greeting strange dogs. Your dog only needs 1 – 3 playmates. The best place to teach dogs to accept other dogs is a controlled environment, like an obedience class or puppy socialization.
- Be predictable. Use words when you are communicating with your dog. Tell your dog you are leaving, then praise the dog when you return. Tell the dog it is time to start working, and let the dog know when it is time to end training. Words that are in my home: bedtime, last throw (of ball), ready (to work), break (we are taking a break from working), done (we are done work)
- Give your dog choices. Letting dogs choose whether they want to approach a stranger, dog, or other scary thing can make a big difference between a great dog and a nervous dog. If you give the dog the opportunity to say ‘no thank you’ then your dog will trust you when it is necessary.
If a puppy cannot play, eat, or fall asleep in an environment then it is ‘over threshold and should be removed.
Step #2 – Let Your Dog Say No
We push dog’s far more than we tolerate being pushed. We expect them to tolerate being molested and annoyed. We expect them to tolerate being bullied and abused. We expect them to tolerate long periods of isolation, lack of exercises, play, mental stimulation, and enrichment. We expect them to deal with frustration without giving them stress coping skills or outlets for frustration. We expect them to learn without being given an opportunity to learn. We expect them to know something after 1 or 2 sessions when it took us years to learn the multiplication tables.
Despite all this, they are continually trying to communicate and tell us what they need. In many cases people do not understand how dogs say ‘no please’ or ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ At least, we don’t listen until the dog becomes aggressive or displays Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
If your dog needs help then learn to hear your dog. Make everyone ‘back off’ and give your dog space. Let your dog relax and keep your dog safe until you find a behaviorist that you can control.
Step #3 – Nature vs Nurture
Humans are variable. No matter how great your dog’s pedigree and socialization, how we interact with our dog will limit, or develop, their ability to tolerate today’s Urban Environment.
“The heritability for most behavioral traits is rather low. This doesn’t mean that genetics isn’t important for behavior, but that our ability to infer the genetics of an animal from observations of behavior is limited because environmental factors produce so much variability that the fraction of total variation that can be attributed to genes is small.” Carol Beuchat, PhD (Scientific Director, Institute of Canine Biology)
When looking for a behaviorist don’t look for someone who promises to fix your dog and then give you 1 or 2 sessions to catch up. That sounds easy, but the problem is that the #1 factor in your dog’s behavior isn’t being addressed – you.
This is why many obedience classes are a waste of money. Learning how to do 1 or 2 favorite ‘tricks’ that gets a dog to do a task, without building the behaviors, will not result in ‘reliable obedience.’ We need to understand that when dogs ignore us, they are bad, but the environment is too distracting. We have simply not taught them how to act “properly” in this situation (build coping skills) or we have not made it “worth” their time (teamwork mindset with us) in this situation.
If you can achieve these things your dog’s behavioral modification therapy will be more effective, and you will see permanent changes in your dog’s behavior sooner.