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Dog Behavior Problems: Could Have Seen It Coming Had I Known That

As a professional dog trainer at A Canine Experience Inc., we help people solve all types of dog behavior problems. Often times our customers feel that a new behavior has appeared from no where and is a complete surprise to the owner. After a thorough evaluation, we find that there have generally been warning signs leading up to the "new unwanted behavior." Below are some of the most common warning signs you should be aware of.

I will frequently refer to leadership. It is important that you are the leader of your dog pack and understand the importance and obligations of this job. Dogs need leadership to feel confident and secure. The leaders job is to protect and discipline the pack and they are counting on you to do this for them. If you don't take the leadership role, they will, which means they feel it is their obligation to protect and to discipline. Without proper guidance of a leader, all types of behavior problems can arise. The following behaviors are warning signs that should be taken seriously before a major incident occurs.

When a dog puts its mouth on you in any way they are being disrespectful to you as a leader. This includes mouthing your hands, your clothing or even grabbing the leash. Even if the dog puts his/her mouth on you "in play," it is a sign of disrespect. "Play" mouthing is testing. Dogs, like children, will naturally test their boundaries. If they are putting their mouth on you in any way and you are not stopping it, they are not going to see you as a leader. Leaders do not allow subordinate dogs to put their mouth on them, so neither should we.

Growling, snapping or baring teeth toward people are serious warning signs that should be dealt with by a professional trainer immediately. These warnings WILL turn to biting if the behavior is not corrected.

Biting is an obvious warning sign, but often times owners are embarrassed or concerned with what will happen to their dog if they seek help. Professional dog trainers can often times correct biting behaviors if dealt with immediately, but the longer the behavior exists the lower the rate of success. It is best to get help when your dog exhibits the above warning signs of growling, snapping or baring teeth, but if you have waited too long and your dog bites some one get help NOW! We have seen many cases of friendly dogs who have bitten for a variety of reasons. There is no need to get embarrassed, just get help. If you would like more information on this topic, Nancy Baer from A Canine Experience Inc., wrote a book "When Friendly Dogs Bite." Her book speaks of common biting occurrences, why they happen and how to correct it. References to actual cases that we have experienced are included.

Dogs who become possessive over people or items can be a serious threat. We see possessive behavior over their toys, food, owner, sleeping space or things they have stolen. In the dog world, the leader gets what they want and the best of everything. If your dog is acting possessive over you, they are not protecting you, they are owning you. Possessive behavior can be very sporadic, which can makes it hard to predict. Signs of a dog being possessive can come in many forms: baring teeth, growling, snapping, lunging or biting when you get near their sleeping space, owner or item of choice. Possessive aggression is very difficult to correct and takes the help of a professional trainer.

Stealing items and running away with stolen item can lead to coming problems and to possessive aggression. We have come across many situations where someone got bit over a stolen tissue or some other silly item. This is very serious and you should seek professional help immediately.

A less obvious warning sign is bursting through doors. Many owners find this behavior annoying, but don't realize the implications of this act. In the dog world, leaders go first. The leader will be the first to go through small openings, lead the pack where they want to go, decide when they want to go and determine the pace in which they move at. If you have multiple dogs, you may have experience chaos at the door as they charge out it. Generally the leader of your pack will be the first one out the door and the last to come back in. This makes sense because the leaders job is to protect the pack. They go out first to be sure it is safe and come in last to be sure everyone got in safely. When your dog bolts out your door they are not being respectful to you.

Some dogs like to run off, explore the neighborhood and come back when they feel like it. They ignore your frantic calls for them to come back. Not coming when called is mostly a training issue, but is also blatant disrespect to you and your leadership. Like bolting through doors, running away and not coming when called can be very dangerous for your dog. We have heard many stories of dogs getting hit by a car as a result of these behaviors. Properly training the come command to become a conditioned response and other obedience can help with this problem. As with any behavior problem, the sooner you start the better. Once a behavior becomes a habit, they are much more difficult to correct. Take your time teaching the come, there are no short cuts to conditioning them to come.

Dogs chasing kids, bikes, joggers etc. can quickly become a serious problem. This behavior is brought on by their natural prey drive. In this state of mind, their instincts are telling them to grab a hold, resulting in a bite. Chasing can also be territorial - they chase the jogger down the fence line and the jogger goes away. They don't know the jogger was leaving any way, in their mind the tactic worked, so the behavior is learned. This may seem like a harmless game until they get loose and grab a hold of the intrusive jogger. Dogs need to be taught how to control these instinctual urges and be kept in an area that does not encourage these behaviors.

Showing overall lack of respect to owners should not be taken lightly. Dogs should respect their owners as they would a pack leader, which means the owner needs to act as a leader.

Dogs who are out of control on a walk can be the result of a variety of behavior issues. The bottom line is LEADERS LEAD! Who's the leader on your walk? Out of control barking and lunging on a walk can be the result of aggression or possessiveness over the owner, but most commonly it's a lack of trust in their owner to act as a proper leader. If your dog can't count on you to be the leader, they will take it upon themselves to do so.

Jumping on you or other people is another blatantly disrespectful behavior. A pack leader would seriously discipline a subordinate pack mate for this action unless the leader was in the mood to play and perceived the action as play. Leaders do not allow pack members to jump on them, put a foot on them or even place their head over them in a dominant way. Your dog should never be allowed to jump on you or other people, even when they are eight weeks old and your just bringing home that adorable puppy you can't say "No" to. If you allow them to jump on you or the freedom to climb all over you, you are setting a precedence for your future relationship.

Any disrespectful or aggressive behavior needs to be looked at as a warning sign. If your dog is showing any of these warning signs, you should get a behavioral evaluation with a professional dog trainer who has experience with the behavior you are experiencing. A trainer can help you understand the severity of the problem and guide you on how to resolve the issue. You must understand these are basic warning signs and you must look at the overall picture not just one point. However, if behavior problems are ignored, they can turn into a horrible nightmare.

We offer free behavioral evaluations. Please call contact us below.

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About the Author

Trina Eddy, A Canine Experience Inc.
17125 SR 9 SE
Snohomish, WA 98296

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