The importance of treating dog behaviour problems early

dog behaviour problems

In a recent blog I discussed how dog behaviour problems in adult dogs often start due to a number of key reasons.

These include the dog having an aversive experience or series of events, poor leadership and/or handler/owner inconsistency, long standing behaviours that have been exhibited over an extended period of time (ie: from puppyhood), a lack of proper socialisation as a puppy and even genetics.

The key to addressing  dog behaviour problems is to prevent any inappropriate behaviour from becoming an established ‘habit’. For example, in the case of a puppy that jumps up for attention or mouths and chews things,  owners often thinks that the puppy will “just grow out of it”. However,  if it is allowed to continue or is reinforced, it will often persist and may become a significant problem down the track.

In both puppies and older dogs, the majority of behaviour problems do show early warning signs, so it is really important to notice when your dog is starting to display behaviours such as excessive barking, whining or crying, destructive chewing, scratching or digging, mouthing and biting, or anxiety.

Problems such as submission, aggression, separation related behaviours, leadership issues also virtually always have early warning signs.  The earlier we begin treating dog behaviour problems the easier it is to eliminate or significantly reduce it successfully – no matter what their age.

Even in an older dog, if a problem can be addressed in its early stages, the treatment process will easier, quicker and more likely to be a success.

The important role of environmental enrichment

Whilst some dog behaviour problems will definitely require the help of a qualified trainer and some intensive training processes, particularly if they have been going on for some time, a lot of common problems that cause owners (and neighbours!) grief can be nipped in the bud with the right environmental enrichment plan and good leadership.

The aim of environmental enrichment is to provide the dog with the mental stimulation and exercise they need to help keep them happy.  If we don’t provide them with this then they will look for it within their environment…which is where problem behaviour can begin.

Obedience training and socialisation

Obedience training also plays an important role in keeping dog behaviour problems in check, as it gives the dog something to ‘think’ about and provides both mental and physical stimulation.

It’s never too late to start obedience training with your dog, but of course ensuring you give your puppy the right start in life with training and proper socialisation during the critical period of development, (approximately the first 16 weeks of its life) will help set the right foundation and establish ground rules and manners.

Training also helps develop a good line of communication between owners and their dogs and also assists in establishing and maintaining the pack hierarchy.

This brings me to my next important tip about ensuring you are have good and leadership as a way to keep unwanted dog behaviour or issues at bay.

Being a good leader

Many problem behaviours are constantly reinforced by owners. Often owners are unaware of the impact of their behaviour on the dog and, what may have started off as a minor issue that could have easily been treated with little effort, can turn into a major problem that requires substantial behaviour modification.

Being an effective leader is not about domination or being the ‘alpha’ dog.  It is about establishing rules and boundaries so that dogs understand what is expected of them i.e. what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours are not.

This is achieved by teaching them appropriate behaviour in a fair and consistent way, and ensuring unwanted or bad behaviour is not actually being reinforced.   It is also about keeping the relationship balanced so that they don’t start to develop attachment issues, which can lead to separation anxiety or jealousy which can lead to resource guarding (ie: aggression or guarding of you!).

Again, the earlier you start training and have good leadership with your dog the easier it will be for you to notice and immediately address any behaviour issues that could otherwise turn into a major problem if left unchecked.

If you are having trouble establishing the boundaries with your dog, or have noticed some problem behaviour starting to present itself, be honest with yourself as to whether they are really getting the environmental enrichment that they need – which includes daily exercise, a good diet, outings outside of the home (assuming they don’t have severe anxiety or reactivity), interactive toys when left alone.

It is also important if behaviour suddenly changes, to have your dog checked by your Vet to ensure they aren’t in pain or a medical condition is not causing the behaviour change.

It is also important to engage the services of a qualified positive reinforcement trainer to assist with understanding and treating problem dog behaviour before it gets worse.  It will save you money and you and your dog a lot of stress and problems down the track.


About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog

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