Dog sitting and waiting for treat.

Dog Behavior

If your dog has shown some unusual behavior lately, whether it is separation anxiety or something else, you've likely turned to the internet for answers. We understand that troubled behavior in your dog is upsetting, and, as a concerned pet parent, you want to nip this in the bud sooner rather than later. We’re glad you found us! At Veterinary Medical Center, we work extremely hard to bring you facts you can trust instead of unreliable online information that often comes from ill-informed, albeit well-meaning, pet parents and bloggers. That's why we've taken FAQs about dog behavior and answered them as thoroughly and accurately as possible to ensure you have the facts you need to help your faithful canine companion.

If you're looking for a highly trained and compassionate veterinarian in Union City, CA, we'd love to see your dog and discuss any behavioral concerns you may have, so please call us at (510) 441-8500.

If my dog is having behavior problems, are they capable of change?

Yes, absolutely, your dog is capable of changing behavioral issues. Regardless of the specific problem, we can do training and other things to change that negative behavior. Certainly, the earlier you notice a behavioral change and try to modify it, the better. That's why we emphasize teaching puppies good manners when they're little instead of teaching an old dog new tricks, as the saying goes.

Dog training outdoors with person

When should I start obedience training with my dog?

You can't start too early with dog socialization and behavior. It's a lifelong process, but the earlier we start having a positive influence on them, the better off they will be long-term. Be very consistent with what you say in your body language. For instance, if you don't want your dog to do something, saying "no" might be a good example instead of "don't bark" or "get off the couch." It's too much vocabulary for a puppy. As veterinarians, we've long believed that dogs learn something new every day when they are puppies. So what we want them to do is learn the right things every day and not bad behavior, which is why starting obedience training right away is so imperative.

What are dogs' most common behavior problems, and how can they be addressed?

There are many dog behavior issues. When they're puppies, the most common behavioral problem you'll see is incessant biting. Thankfully, puppy biting is easy to address by finding appropriate things for them to chew on. Sometimes they're sleepy and just need to be put in a crate as it's time for a good nap.

In adult dogs, the things we see are barking and separation anxiety.

As the ASPCA notes, the signs of separation anxiety in your dog may be:

  • ??Urinating and Defecating - However, if your dog urinates or defecates when you're around, the house soiling probably isn't caused by separation anxiety and warrants a call to your veterinarian.
  • Barking and Howling - If your dog doesn't do this when you're around but your neighbors tell you it does this when you're away, it's likely due to separation anxiety.
  • Chewing, Digging, and Destruction - Not only can these behaviors ruin your property, but they can also result in injuries in your dog, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws, and damaged nails.
  • Escaping - The dog often does this by chewing or digging, so, again, your dog can injure itself by doing this due to anxiety.
  • Pacing - Some dogs walk in straight lines while others may walk in circles, but they don't do this when their owner is around.
  • Coprophagia - When some dogs get separation anxiety, they'll defecate and eat their excrement, which is never good!

Addressing these issues is tricky because all dogs are different or respond better to certain training habits. And each behavioral disorder does better with one specific type of training. In general, though, when it comes to separation anxiety, you want to start associating something positive with leaving. In other words, the dog gets their favorite treat or toy, like the best little Kong toy with squeeze cheese in it out of the freezer that the dog only gets when you put them in their crate. So, we're associating something very positive with something very negative. Sometimes, however, we get to the point where we have to use some anti-anxiety medicines.

Another type of behavior issue is aggression with other dogs. At that point, it's best to seek out some professional advice. What a trainer or behaviorist will often tell you is that we give dogs the wrong messages. For example, we'll see another dog across the street, and we'll get anxious ourselves. We'll pull on the dog, and our voices change, and we sound like there's a problem going on when perhaps all we needed to do was pretend we didn't see the dog. Instead, we can distract our dog with food, and then they'll associate, "I saw a dog across the street, but my owner is happy, I'm going to get food, and we're going to go the other way." So there are many things we can do to limit or eliminate dog behavioral problems. Talk with your veterinarian about the issues that you have with your dog. They will consider your dog's personality and behavior issues and help formulate a plan for changing that.

Can behavior issues in my dog ever indicate that they are sick?

Absolutely. That's essential to remember, especially if a behavior problem comes up relatively suddenly with no apparent cause. If your dog's drinking more, not eating, not interacting with the family, sleeping more, urinating in the house, or scooting their rear end on the ground, those are all signs of something that could be happening with them. We want to check the dog out and ensure nothing else is going on. We would see common things causing significant behavior changes would, be neurologic problems and sometimes pain. That can be arthritic pain or gas pain. As dogs get older, cognitive decline can also play a role in behavior changes, and we want to rule out all of those things before we develop a behavior management plan because those health issues could be factors.

What are some behavior problems that may be associated with a medical condition?

Many behavioral problems can be associated with medical conditions, so again, it's always best to err on the side of caution and check with your veterinarian.

Some behavior problems that may be associated with a medical condition are:

  • Urinating in the house could indicate a UTI.
  • If they're scooting on the ground, they may have some anal sac issues that get clogged and may need to be expressed.
  • If your dog is snippy or bitey whenever you're touching a particular part, they may be painful there, letting you know, "Hey, don't touch me. I'm in pain."
  • Lethargy and not eating or drinking are common symptoms of medical issues in dogs.

Puppy looking up at owner and waiting for treat

How can a veterinarian address my dog's behavior problems?

First, we'll examine your dog and make sure it's not a medical issue. And then we can talk about the problems that you're having to see if we can resolve them. If we can't resolve them, we have professional dog behaviorists we can refer you to. Ultimately, we may turn to medication, although that's usually a last resort.

What are other dog behavior management options available?

Talk to your veterinarian about the many different options. There are so many dog trainers out there, and anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, which is why it's so critical to talk with your veterinarian and see which ones they would recommend. They'll typically have worked with a trainer or organization. Usually, these referrals will be certified behavior trainers who use positive reinforcement instead of punishment.

What should I look for in a trainer?

While you'll find many different opinions on this, nearly every veterinarian will tell you to find a positive reinforcement-based trainer, as just mentioned. There is no room in any situation for punishment-based training. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell when you're evaluating a trainer on their website what their training methods are. One thing to watch out for is using an e-collar, essentially a shock or vibration collar. Also, avoid anyone that calls themselves a balanced trainer. In most of these situations, they are using aversive training (meaning uncomfortable or scary negative reinforcement of behaviors), and there's a lot of data out there that says that not only do these techniques not work long-term, but they can actually worsen behavior issues. Instead, look for positive reinforcement; if you need more clarification, contact them. Ask for references, ask what their methods are, and always check in with us if you're not sure.

When might my dog need medication for behavioral problems?

That's an ongoing discussion that comes down to figuring out how much this behavior affects your or your dog's quality of life. In some situations, behaviors are particular to triggers. So, some dogs are fine in their house and very happy, but when they go out and see another dog, it becomes an issue. Or some dogs are wonderful, except when they come to the veterinary hospital. In those situations in which a dog is stressed, we sometimes use short-term medications. But for dogs that are anxious daily, that's an awful way to live. Nobody wants to be scared and nervous all the time. Those are situations in which trying some anti-anxiety medications for long-term use can make a quality of life difference. There are pros and cons to the different medications, and when we use them, so we would always chat about them during a behavior consult to determine the best choice for your dog.

If you're looking for a highly trained veterinarian in Union City, CA, we'd love to see your dog to discuss any behavioral concerns you may have, so please call us at (510) 441-8500 or email us at [email protected].