Problematic Canine Behaviors: Roles for Undesirable, Odd, and Management-Related Concerns

Chapter 5

Problematic Canine Behaviors

Roles for Undesirable, Odd, and Management-Related Concerns

Problematic behaviors can be loosely divided into two groups: (1) variants of normal behaviors that annoy clients but that respond well to understanding and management and (2) truly abnormal behaviors that are distressing to dogs and humans. Both of these sets of concerns can result in a dead, abandoned, relinquished, or euthanized dog. Where dogs fall on the continuum of “normal” to “abnormal” behaviors will determine the best types of interventions, as shown in Figure 5-1.

Management-Related Behavior Problems and Concerns That Do Not Rise to the Level of a Diagnosis

Behavioral concerns that don’t rise to the level of a diagnosis and management-related behavior problems are usually variants of normal behaviors that annoy clients but that respond well to understanding and management.

This chapter addresses the following common canine behaviors about which clients often have questions or complaints:

The information and techniques in this section can be applied to any canine behavior that the client does not want or like and which is not due to underlying pathology. If dogs’ behavioral, cognitive, and physical needs are met, dogs can learn to substitute different behaviors for those which the clients dislike, will not tolerate, or wish to stop. An expanded version of the information in this section is found in the client handout, “Protocol for Understanding and Managing Odd, Curious, and Annoying Canine Behaviors.” Remember, the keys to successful solutions always involve a humane human response that meets the pet’s needs.

All the behaviors discussed in this chapter are normal canine behaviors. As with all behavioral concerns, the extent to which we understand the behavior to be “normal” depends on:

All of the behaviors discussed here could become so extreme that they would meet the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Because we do not understand the early stages of OCD and how it develops, it is important that any client whose dog is exhibiting any of these behaviors should be encouraged to discuss them with their vet, and any dog exhibiting these behaviors should be screened for more serious behavioral issues. Anticipatory guidance is important for management-related concerns.


Most dogs dig, although some do so zealously. Digging can involve raking or scratching a surface a few times before sniffing, eating, defecating, urinating, or turning in a few circles before sleeping.

Why Do Dogs Dig?

Dogs dig:

Roles for Olfaction

• When dogs dig, they aerosolize scents that may have been hidden.

• Most of the information dogs obtain about their physical and social environments is likely done through olfactory means. This may be why dogs sometimes scratch before they eliminate: in addition to learning about who was there before them, they contribute to the olfactory environment when they eliminate, and they wish to gauge how to spend their “olfactory currency.”

• Scratching before and after elimination may convey considerable olfactory information itself about a dog’s seasonal behaviors, estrus states, social companions, and intruders.

• Dogs tend to scratch more when they are not on their own property or in areas where other dogs pass frequently.

• Scratching is another form of marking that has both visual and olfactory components. We know little about scents that are transferred from dogs’ paws, but we do know that this is one body region where dogs can “sweat” and that there are sebaceous glands between the dog’s foot pads. Sebaceous glands are the source of oily secretions that may be largely invisible but heavily informative to dogs because of the sensitive canine sense of smell.

How Can We Meet a Digger’s Needs?

• Bury rawhides or other treats or toys in a bucket or tub of dirt/sand and let the dog find them.

• Fill small, sturdy plastic pools with water and float food toys (at least one model of Kong floats) and/or “food-sicles” (treats frozen in broth in yogurt containers). “Food-sickles” are mentally stimulating and helpful in the hot weather and can use the same skills involved in digging.

• For dogs who like to dig in really wet areas, fill a kiddie pool with water. Other objects that they find interesting can be added.

• Some newer food toys have expanded on the idea of the original Buster Cube, providing both easier (Roll-A-Treat Ball) and harder puzzles. The premise for all of these items is that when the toy is batted or moved, the treats fall out. The dog is rewarded for getting the exercise of chasing the toys and for the intellectual part of figuring out how best to get the treats.

• For dogs who dig to thermoregulate, provide other thermoregulation choices (e.g., pools, fans, digging pits created by filling kiddie pools with wet sand and placing them under shade trees, allow the dog in or provide a heated dog house in the winter, et cetera). Some vets have cooling/warming packs, if additional heating and cooling is needed.

Jumping, Scratching, Bolting, and Barking at the Door

Jumping can be a normal behavior, and for some smaller or herding dogs we have encouraged that the dogs jump for work, and we have encouraged jumping in play. Sometimes we think it’s cute that dogs will jump. Jumping, barking, lunging, and bolting are all behaviors that commonly occur at doors and annoy humans. Unfortunately, humans exhibit behaviors that accidentally encourage these patterns and teach the dogs to perform better the exact behaviors the humans find most annoying.

Following are common situations created by humans that turn into problems for the dogs.

• Problem A:

• Solution A:

• Problem B:

• Solution B:

• Ask the dog to sit quietly, as noted, or use a physical cue to stop the dog. The client can place a hand gently against the dog’s chest so that the dog backs up.

• Clients concerned about grabbing, biting, or fleeing have two other choices.

image Isolate the dog behind a baby gate elsewhere before they expect guests. The dog can be let out to join the people when the door is closed, the greetings are completed, and people are calm and sitting down.

image Put a head collar on the dog when home to supervise him and allow him to drag a light lead that slips through furniture. When someone comes to the door, clients can do the aforementioned plus:

image Take the lead.

image Ask the dog to sit and ensure that he does so by gently pulling up on the lead.

image Close the dog’s mouth by gently pulling forward on the head collar. The dog can then have a toy. If he doesn’t like toys, he can have a treat for being quiet. The dog must have a reward once he is calm and quiet; praise is not enough.

image If clients believe that the dog might snap at or bite the person at the door, they should not have the dog at the door. The dog should be behind a baby gate, in a crate out of the way, or locked behind another door. Visitors need to know that the dog might snap or bite and not be able to interact with the dog. Some dogs are too reactive to humanely introduce to visitors, even when on leads and head collars. These dogs are best protected from people, which, in turn, protects the people, too.

Aug 15, 2016 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Problematic Canine Behaviors: Roles for Undesirable, Odd, and Management-Related Concerns
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