Dogs are intelligent creatures. You can harness the potential of your dog’s mind to teach it tricks and responsibilities such as guarding or hunting. The many ways dogs have complemented humans’ lifestyles are proof of this. Think about guide dogs, dogs used in the armed forces and therapy dogs.
In the same way dogs can be taught amazing lessons, their capabilities can also turn into habits. Habits can be positive or negative. Knowing why your dog may develop certain habits can help you understand it better. You could guide your dog towards healthy habits. A dog has various needs and the way you handle these needs could affect its behaviour:
- Health needs: When a dog doesn’t get proper nutrition it may act out. This could be due to frustration with an itchy, allergic skin condition.
- Exercise: Your dog needs regular exercise otherwise it will become bored and act out due to pent up energy (Huskies are prone to this).
- Emotional needs: Dogs want to know they’re loved and that you’re happy with their behavior. Bad habits could be the result of nervousness, fear of being punished or lack of attention.
You can enforce tricks and positive habits when you want them to stay part of your dog’s life. This is done by praising or rewarding them when they do something you prefer. You can prevent bad habits from forming through the correct stimulation. Let’s look at a few common habits, their causes, consequences and how you can handle them.
Many dogs chase their tails and its occurrence shouldn’t be seen as a problem immediately. Many puppies chase their tails during their phase of discovery. The activity usually becomes less interesting and can completely disappear.
If chasing continues well into adulthood you should consider whether one of the following scenarios applies. If it does have negative implications, deal with it accordingly.
- Boredom: Some dogs develop habits when they’re not stimulated enough. Stimulation should take place in the form of exercise, toys and social interaction with other dogs and humans. Chasing its tail could be your dog’s way of communicating boredom, seeking attention or getting rid of its excess energy. Don’t see this as a problem on his side, since dog owners can counter this by increasing exercise and play time.
- Flees or worms: If it seems like your dog is chasing its tail and biting it out of frustration, it may have flees or worms irritating the skin. Check your dog’s coat and stool. Contact your vet to see if medication is necessary.
You may think your dog is fearless, especially when you own a large dog. You’ll be surprised to know that dogs can be intimidated by people or objects quite easily. As a pet owner it’s your responsibility to help your dog overcome this fear, especially if your dog reacts in an extreme way.
Dogs tend to fear vacuum cleaners and other objects which make loud, harsh sounds (like fireworks). Even a camera’s flash can set them off barking or hiding. Your dog’s senses play a huge role in these cases. Sharp light, harsh sounds and unfamiliar objects tend to be intimidating to your dog. Your pet needs to figure out whether there’s any threat it needs to defend himself and you against.
If your pet had a negative experience with an object it could cause a defensive fear. Getting hit by a car or punished with a certain object can instigate a fear for the rest of its life.
You can eradicate your dog’s fear by desensitizing it. Bring your dog into close proximity of the object while comforting and rewarding it. In due time your dog will feel less threatened as he associates positive experiences with the presence of the object.
Having a dog which often shows aggression can be quite a challenge. A small dog barking at people or dogs can easily be controlled or removed from the scene. A large dog with the same habit can become quite problematic. You don’t want your dog to be the cause of a fight or another dog’s injuries when aggression leads to fighting.
Understanding your dog’s reason for aggressive behavior is only half the battle. Aggression isn’t necessarily connected to your dog’s breed. Its circumstances play a much larger role in its behavior. You can make adjustments to its routine to counter aggressive habits. Here’s how.
Aggression due to frustration
If your dog doesn’t get enough exercise it will become frustrated because of the pent up energy. One way of communicating its frustration is becoming aggressive. Counter this behavior by increasing your dog’s exercise of running and playing.
Some dogs show aggression when in the presence of other dogs. Dogs are aggressive when they’re unsure who the dominant pack leader is. This is a role you as a dog owner need to fulfil.
Your role in these circumstances is to stay calm and take charge of a situation. If they sense fear on your part, your dogs will feel insecure and go into attack mode to determine dominance. As long as your dog knows you’re in charge and will protect it, it won’t feel the necessity to attack other dogs out of self defense.
Normally you’ll see that your dog acts differently when on a leash compared to when it walks free. This is because your dog feels:
- Trapped: Dogs aren’t able to move about and experience tension because of a tightened leash. This creates frustration which can turn into aggression.
- Unnatural: Dogs want to greet other dogs in their own time and way. Restricted and forced movement on a leash result in frustration & aggression.
You can solve this problem by seeking out parks where dogs are allowed to walk off leash. You’ll see an immediate change in your dog’s behavior.
Your dog’s bad habits aren’t necessarily a sign of bad breeding or personality. More often than not its exercise schedule and home environment results in behavioural problems. Take an honest look at the causes of your dog’s actions and you’ll see how small adjustments in your own behavior can have huge positive results for your dog.