Does my dog need to see a behaviourist?
How to spot the difference between natural and escalating behavioural issues.
We love our dogs and their whacky behaviours – they make us laugh, melt our hearts and enrich our lives, but how can you tell when your dog’s wayward behaviour is becoming a problem?
These are my sure-fire tips on how to spot the symptoms of a behavioural issue before it has escalated.
Is there a problem?
If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re already feeling unsure about your dog’s behaviour. If so, welcome! I’m so glad to have you here.
First thing’s first, it’s important to really analyse your feelings about your dog. As with many things in life, the first step is admitting that you need a bit of help.
There is no shame in that.
We love our dogs unconditionally – sometimes this means they get away with things they shouldn’t.
Many people genuinely believe that “dogs will be dogs” and will always be loose cannons in one respect or another. We put it down to their breeding, their DNA or their past. However for many of us, our dogs can cross the line between horseplay and becoming a danger to others.
As a dog trainer of 10+ years, I would argue that it doesn’t need to be this way. Dog training is such a magical thing – it can totally transform your relationship with your dog and turn them from a sassy diva or a naughty teenager into Lassie. Even the most dangerous dogs can show a miraculous turnaround with the right trainer. The price we pay to get the results are time, patience and most importantly – know-how.
If you feel unsure about your dog’s behaviour, its a great idea to take them to the vet for an MOT to make sure there is nothing medical affecting their behaviour. Headaches, ear infections, urine infections, thyroid issues, dental issues, old age and arthritis are common explanations for lots of “bad behaviour” and once remedied can have a huge impact on your dog’s mood.
Here are some behavioural and emotional symptoms that I would highly recommend any dog lover addresses with a trusted behaviourist.
Feeling nervous/worried or out of control
Picture this: you’re at the dog park with your pet, and they come across another dog – play commences and you already have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that this could go one of two ways. All of a sudden there is a scuffle or a yelp and you’re on the receiving end of British tutting and some very disapproving looks. You try to call your dog back and they won’t come. It’s embarrassing and by the time you go to apologise, the other walker has vanished. “Next time” you tell yourself, “they will be on a lead.” You feel guilty that your dog won’t enjoy their on-lead walks, and find yourself travelling to secluded locations to avoid others.
If you find yourself
- Dreading your dog’s behaviour in public
- Feeling highly anxious about interactions with others
- Avoiding busier walking routes
- Feeling a lack of trust in your dog in distracting environments
It’s definitely time to speak to a dog behaviourist.
Your relationship with your dog should be one of trust. If you don’t trust them or feel like control is out of your hands, it’s really important to speak to a professional and lay your fears to rest.
Good behaviourists are non-judgemental, realistic compassionate and will be supportive regarding your needs. Be aware that you may need to take responsibility and face up to some truths – some of your dog’s naughty behaviour could be down to you. We don’t mean for this to happen, but facing the truth, letting go and moving on is often a big part of dog training.
You may well need to adjust your own behaviour or routine to see improvements. Trust me, it’s so worth it when you see the results.
Do not blame yourself or beat yourself up about “getting it wrong”. Raising a dog is a massive learning curve for everyone (even behaviourists need help sometimes). All dogs are different, as are people!
Nipping and biting
Nipping is a very common and natural puppy behaviour, however it must come to and end quickly. This doesn’t always happen on it’s own and it’s of vital importance that puppy is taught bite inhibition from the moment they come home.
Q: What is bite inhibition?
A: Bite inhibition is the learning process a puppy goes through to learn that biting is not allowed. In a litter, if a puppy bites too hard during play, their littermate will cry out to say “ouch, stop that!” to educate them.
How to stop puppies nipping and biting
We must continue this training at home. I recommend teaching puppies that even teeth lightly touching any person’s skin will incur a big scream or loud “OUCH!” Puppies need to learn that people are wimps and can’t handle ANY contact from teeth.
This requires consistency – everyone in the house must follow this rule 100%. This means noone is allowed to play the “tough guy” rough-housing with the dog and allowing biting because “it doesn’t hurt”. This will teach the dog biting is okay and that excuse unfortunately, doesn’t stand up in court if they hurt someone.
When to see a behaviourist for nipping and biting
- Your dog has drawn blood play biting a person or dog
- You feel worried/out of control when your dog is too hyperactive or boisterous during play
- Your dog has bitten onto someone’s clothing and refused to let go
- You don’t know how to calm your dog down without bribing them with a treat
- Your dog has bitten a stranger
- You feel guilty about your dog’s mouthing
Struggling to get results
If you have been working with a dog aged 9-18 months old for more than a month or two on specific commands and find yourself getting nowhere, it wouldn’t hurt to call in a professional. Lots of people don’t want to do this because they feel like it would be giving in or worse – failing. On the contrary – I like to see it as outsourcing. You want to fast-track your results. It’s just like hiring a personal trainer when those last few pounds just wont seem to melt! A really good dog trainer will be your cheerleader as well as saving you a hours of hard graft with their specialist knowledge.
Two really common reasons my clients come to me:
- Recall with distractions seem impossible!
- Their dog doesn’t know their own strength on the lead and it’s impacting the enjoyment of walks or the safety of children.
Most dogs have bags of energy and seem to never stop when it comes to walkies, swimming or fetch. They are always eager to see who is at the door and have a funny five minutes at some point in the day zooming about.
Hyperactivity is a problem when it impacts your life through safety or control. If you feel like your dog is just too excitable when people visit, meeting other dogs, or on walks it is a good idea to speak to a behaviourist about how to calm them down.
Most owners accept hyperactivity as a natural behaviour and a personality type, which it is not. This is mainly due to the stigma that people do not want to label their dog with a dreaded behavioural issue. You may even have friends with dogs that are “complete nutters” that bark for ages after you visit in a borderline scary way (even though they’re friendly) or that knock kids out of the way in light of a particularly neon tennis ball flying through the air…
The bottom line is behavioural issues can be resolved (often quite easily).
To combat hyperactivity, look to increasing your dog’s walking time and increase the time they have to concentrate in a day. If that doesn’t work, they need to see a behaviourist.
Here are some signs to look out for:
- Jumping up excessively at guests despite being told not to
- Not listening on walks or always seeming to have their nose on something else
- Intimidating other dogs or being “too full on”
- Rushing around or constantly looking for something to do or a person to follow
- Barks for a long time when people visit the house
- Can’t wait nicely to get out of the car for walks or come off lead
- Pulls you very hard on the lead when something out of reach is very interesting
Aggression towards other dogs
This is a big behavioural issue that often goes untreated. Aggression, also known as reactivity in dogs can come about for all sort of reasons, and many people believe that it cannot be rehabilitated. 9 times out of 10 it can with the right training.
Reactivity comes about for all sorts of reasons.
The most common reason people give for their dog disliking others is negative experiences in their early-life. Being attacked as a puppy is very common. Very scary experiences also affect owners and it can be difficult to get back on the horse and socialise your pup when things have gone so wrong in the past.
Although your fears are valid, it’s important for both dogs and people to let go of the past and move on. Owners with reactive pets will often avoid so much on their day-to-day life. It limits options and many people live in a constant state of worry because of their dog.
Speaking to a behaviourist is the first step to taking back control of your life and giving your dog good experiences to create peace in their life.
Some breeds are barkier than others, however it is always interesting to see how much barking people will tolerate. Personally, I prefer a quiet home and walk. As a Terrier owner and dog boarding hotel, you may be surprised to hear that the dogs here bark very little. This is down to two things; the amount of exercise they recieve and training.
If you are experiencing a lot of barking or your neighbours have complained, it’s time to speak to a professional. The following symptoms are often the last straw for a lot of owners.
- Barking at strangers on walks
- Can’t be calmed verbally
- Barking for an extended period in the garden
- There have been complaints from neighbours
- Over-excited behaviour towards guests
- Excessive noise when people walk past the house
- It makes you feel uncomfortable
- The postman is wary!
Growling around food and toys
Resource guarding is a natural behaviour, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be rehabilitated. Although it’s wise to give animals space when they eat, it’s our responsibility to ensure they feel secure and are not a danger to anyone.
Dogs displaying this behaviour have learned that showing aggression can help them create a boundary. It is often born out of a mixture of things, fear, lack of impulse control, lack of trust and sometimes hunger. It’s commonly seen in puppies who missed out at mealtimes with their breeder or rescued street dogs who learned to fight to survive.
It’s important that if you experience any growling, teeth baring, snapping or biting around food or toys that you contact a behaviourist immediately. This behaviour is dangerous and can escalate extremely quickly in puppies.
This is another symptom that people seem to secretly tolerate behind closed doors. Adult dogs urinating indoors can be a very embarrassing topic, but it’s important to address.
If your dog is urinating indoors, I would suggest that you visit the vet first. There are a multitude of conditions that can affect dogs in this way, so best to rule it out.
Dogs are habitual animals and will go in the same place over and over, whether they are scent-marking or not. Thoroughly cleaning the area they have marked is important – professional carpet cleaners or hiring a rug doctor often helps enormously.
Ensuring dogs have ample opportunity to go outside and do their business is important. If your dog is at home a lot during the day, a pet sitter or dog walker is a great opportunity to help them get outside, exercise and remind them to do their business on the grass.
If you’re still struggling, it’s time to see a behaviourist.
There are many symptoms of dog behaviour that can escalate to become dangerous or difficult, impacting our lives. Here are a few more to look out for and be aware of.
- Refusing to be groomed
- Biting a specific family member
- Destruction of furniture, shoes or bedding
- Stealing human food
- Fear of strangers
- Cannot be left alone
- Night-time barking
- Rejecting a new puppy
If you’re feeling anxious about your dog’s behaviour, a behaviourist can help you overcome your fears, make a plan of action and work with your dog’s psychology to create zen, understanding and great behaviour. It’s a brave step to take but so full of rewards. Don’t be afraid to shop around and speak to lots of different dog trainers. Finding someone you really click with is important.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s blog. If you’d like your dog to experience some specialist treatment at Jarvis Dog Boarding & Training, you can read more about what we offer in our dog training and boarding programme.
About the Author
Head Trainer – Jarvis Clothier
Jarvis has been training companion dogs professionally for over 10 years. To date Jarvis runs Jarvis Dog Boarding and Training, an exclusive dog hotel based in Hampshire specialising in residential training as well as providing course content as senior tutor for Pet Business Courses. New blog posts are published on 1st of every month at midday.