Dog Behaviour Problems
If your dog has been rehomed or came to you past the puppy stage, they may still display some behaviour quirks. Dogs often share a honeymoon period with a new owner only to have a few wobbles later on. Pet behaviourist Claire Hargrave addresses common issues for owners in the first year with their dog.
It’s important to remember that if your dog has been rehomed from either a charity or an unsuitable home, they will have come from a stressful environment – sometimes one with dogs competing with each other in a highly emotional state.
Therefore your dog may well have some resource-based issues. This is when a dog’s instinct to guard the things that it values – such as food bowls, toys, territory, and people – leads to behaviour problems.
These are avoidance or distancing techniques. Remind your dog that hands give food – rebuild the association by letting them see you put their food into an empty bowl. They should then be fed the food, one piece at a time from that bowl.
If there is any danger of the dog snapping at you or biting, you may need to seek the advice of a professional behaviourist. In the meantime, they can be scatter fed – the food thrown into the garden or onto the kitchen floor – so that the bowl becomes less valuable to the dog.
If your dog has gone through the trauma of a rescue environment or an unsuitable home, he or she will be looking for a secure social base. Rehomed dogs can be prone to forming hyper-attachment (being excessively needy) to new owners.
Make sure your dog has its own space to go and consider a collar that contains Dog Appeasing Pheromone (marketed as Adaptil) in a new environment. These collars help dogs feel at ease as they contain a synthetic version of the chemical that a mother dog releases naturally.
It’s important that your dog feels secure. If he or she doesn’t, then your pet might develop one of the conditions that result from anxiety such as irritable bowel diseases and paw licking. Behavioural problems might also emerge such as swallowing inappropriate material (which can cause intestinal obstruction,) destructive behaviour during owner absence, house soiling or loud barking.
Try to find out what’s triggering the barking. Maybe your dog isn’t coping as well as you thought at night, and it’s important to find out why.
It could be because the relationship between you has become more intensive than is healthy and the dog hasn’t developed sufficient independence – and doesn’t like to be separated from you. Or it could simply be that something is happening outside to frighten him or her.
To help your dog settle, you could:
- Put a roof or a soundproof cover on your dog's bed.
- In their sleeping area, add old towels that have been in the linen bin for a while and have your scent on them.
- Give your dog a puzzle feeder so they can amuse and comfort themselves.
It could be worth trying short periods of absence to get your dog used to being apart from you. Try to make your meeting and greeting quite boring and low-key.
Remember that by cuddling and comforting an anxious and needy dog we are rewarding this behaviour. Instead, save attention for when the dog shows signs of coping and relaxing and simply move him or her away from situations that induce worry. It is more important to make sure they are comfortable in their new environment.
Pulling on a lead may be an avoidance strategy. Go back to a place where your dog can be relaxed and where you can manage his proximity to other dogs.
Start the lead walking process from the beginning if necessary, which involves taking him out on a relaxed lead and dropping treats as he gets used to walking swiftly alongside you.
As you retrain him, watch out for cues that your dog is finding it stressful, such as putting his ears back or down, licking his lips and nose, and blinking. Move away from the stressful situation and practise further away from it until you reach a point where your dog can ignore the problem and concentrate on you and your treats or toys.
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