Defining Dog Behavior Problems
Dog behavior problems are any pattern of behaviors that sufficiently stray from the owner’s preconceived notion of what acceptable behavior is. In a nutshell, whatever the owner believes to be normal behavior, according to his or her own system of values is acceptable, and everything else is believed to be abnormal behavior and objectionable.
One of the issues with subscribing to the philosophy above is that, some of the behaviors initially believed to be “problems” may simply arise from an owner’s misunderstanding of what normal canine behavior is, rather than from symptoms of actual behavioral disorders.
In some cases, owners may regard a specific behavior as being “problematic” until they fully understand the dog’s functional reasons to engaging in that behavior. Once they gain that level of understanding, the dog behavior problems may be viewed somewhat differently.
Therefore, it is very important, when learning how to treat dog behavior problems, that owners gain an understanding of normal dog behavior, and adjust any preconceived notions of what is or isn’t acceptable behavior.
If you read Part II of our article on “How Dogs Learn“, you saw how the process of training a dog can be broken down into a series of smaller and more manageable pieces. In doing so, the trainer is provided with an efficient, progressive manner in which to teach the dog, and one, which limits the possibility of the dog becoming overwhelmed and stressed.
While the steps themselves aren’t meant to be firm boundaries that the dog must pass without flaw or error, they are to be used as a training framework to help build and organize a training plan into more manageable, productive pieces.
Overcoming Dog Behavior Problems
Using a similar methodology, teaching a dog to overcome problem behaviors can also be broken down into a series of smaller, less-stressful training steps or components. Each step will focus on different pieces of the problem to try and teach the dog more acceptable ways of behaving. The goal of each of each component will attempt to treat each problem’s root cause and not just their symptoms.
Since dog behavior problems can present themselves in many forms and varying levels of intensity, it’s often helpful to examine each of the behavior problems both individually, and collectively, to determine if the solution to dog’s problems revolve around a single, main underlying factor or a series of solutions designed to treat a variety of individual behavior problems.
In being able to treat your dog’s behavior problems, one of the things you’ll need to do is be able to spot the clues that provide valuable insight into the root of your dog’s problems.
Your Dog’s Environment
Dogs really are products of their environment, and it’s the environment (whether it’s the dog’s immediately family, other animals, external objects, occurrences, etc.) that usually holds the clues to what’s really going on inside the dog’s head.
During your environmental assessment, ask yourself the following questions:
- What events, or triggers are occurring, or have occurred, in the dog’s environment to cause him to act in a certain way?
- When did you first notice the dog behavior problems?
- What types of problem behaviors are you inadvertently rewarding?
- Is it common for this breed of dog to behave in this manner?
“Remember, the goal is to treat the root cause and not just the symptoms.”
Try to identify which events precede other ones in relation to your dog’s behavior. Try to spot patterns of behavior and notice the things your do will do consistently as part of his behavior problem pattern. By spotting patterns and repetitions of behavior, you’ll be able to interrupt or redirect the dog to perform another set of behaviors in place of the problem ones.
This is very important when trying to work through Compulsive Disorders, such as problem licking or tail chasing.
Medical Conditions and Physical Exercise
Along with environmental conditions, two other important factors to consider, which can significantly contribute to the onset of behavior problems are medical conditions and lack of physical exercise. Medical problems can cause or contribute to host of dog behavior problems due to the pain or discomfort the dog may be experiencing.
Abnormal licking disorders, aggression, mental or emotional instabilities, among others can be caused by undiagnosed medical issues. If you suspect that the onset of your dog’s behavior problems may be caused by a sudden medical problem, you should schedule an appointment with your vet for a thorough examination.
As in the case of undiagnosed medical problems, the lack of physical exercise can either cause or contribute to a large number of behavior problems. Dogs with a large amount of stored mental and physical energy need to find ways to release that energy.
If you, as the owner, do not provide outlets for them to do so, they’ll find ways all on their own to accommodate their needs. This can result in a very strained relationship between owner and dog. By providing your dog with the proper amount of mental and physical stimulation, many or all of the dog’s behavior problems may take care of themselves.
In summary, understanding how dog behavior problems develop is crucial when trying to develop successful behavioral treatment plans. Examining areas such as the dog’s possible genetic predispositions, interaction with family members, social and environmental triggers, and health and nutrition are all good starting points to begin putting the clues together to build your case.
In addition to analyzing the various clues and behavior patterns mentioned here, there are a series of steps or components that can be used as a framework in devising a successful treatment plan. These components will be discussed in Part 2 of our series on “Dog Behavior Problems – Training Framework“.