Dog Behavior FAQS

Does your dog’s behavior have you stumped? If so, you are like so many dog owners! We have compiled some of the most common dog behavior questions below with our experts' answers.

What is the most common dog behavior?

One of the most common dog behaviors is barking. Dogs bark to communicate effectively. In some cases, barking is used to seek attention or related to social interactions- the invitation for attention, petting, or play (and often during play). Sometimes dogs bark to communicate a need that requires a human’s help—opening a back door, filling a water bowl, or unlocking a crate or kennel door. Lastly, dogs bark to alert an owner or tell an unfamiliar person or dog to go away—the sound of a doorbell or an unknown person or dog on a leash.

How do you know if your dog likes you?

The easiest way to measure whether your dog likes you is to consider where they spend their time when you are both at home. Do they spend time close to you? Do they seek you out if you have been away? Do they attempt to get your attention to play or to be petted? If the answer is yes, you can assume your dog likes you!

How do you stop aggression in dogs?

The easiest way to stop aggression in dogs is to use classical counterconditioning and desensitization. Pair food with the presence of whatever elicits the aggression (i.e., a trigger) at a distance that your dog can tolerate (i.e., is alert but not aggressive). Start with a hungry dog and lots of small, tasty treats. When the trigger enters your dog’s line of sight, begin feeding your dog quickly. Stop feeding once the trigger goes away. Repeat this every time your dog sees the trigger. It is important to control those exposures if you cannot run the treatment (e.g., block your dog’s access to the front window of your home).

Why is my dog becoming aggressive?

Dogs become aggressive to get the trigger (i.e., whatever elicits the aggression) to go away. Your dog has a history of the trigger leaving, intentionally or unintentionally, when they become reactive or aggressive. That behavior has paid off! Unfortunately, if it stops paying off, a dog’s behavior intensifies, and they become even more aggressive. Those more intense periods of aggression often result in a dog bite. Do not worry! Aggressive behavior is treatable with a solid plan, and we can help!

What are the signs of a reactive dog?

The most obvious signs of a reactive dog include barking and lunging with intensity. Before dogs barking and lunging, they engage in precursors to reactivity. Precursors include direct, hard staring, a stiff body posture, mouth pulled tightly closed, and ears and tail erect. In some cases, the fur on the dog’s body will piloerect—or stand up on end. Dogs do not have to engage in all these precursors, but simultaneously engaging in several behaviors can predict reactivity. Each dog’s precursors are slightly different; just because a dog engages in one of the above behaviors does not mean they are reactive!

Can a dog overcome reactivity?

A dog can overcome reactivity! It takes a good treatment plan—one based in classical conditioning—and lots of consistency. Dogs do not naturally overcome reactivity without intervention, and reactivity typically gets worse as dogs become mature. Getting a professional’s help is critical in most cases.

How do I correct bad behavior in my dog?

The first step in correcting bad behavior in your dog is to define the behavior. What precisely is the behavior, and in what context is it occurring? Next, using the context under which it occurs, try to identify what happens immediately after the behavior. What falls typically under one of the 4 categories:
  1. application of attention and something social,
  2. the removal of someone or something,
  3. access to something like food or a toy, or
  4. a change within your dog’s body.
Do they get attention? Does something “scary” go away? Do they gain access to food or a toy? Do they get to do a fun activity? Does their body feel better? Once you identify what happens to your dog following the behavior, think about what your dog could do instead to get the same result, if not better. Teach your dog a behavior that will compete with bad behavior. For example, if your dog jumps on you and gets physical contact and some attention, they could be taught to sit instead of jumping for attention. Your dog should be given lots of high-quality petting if they sit and remain sitting. This method will teach your dog what is expected of them and alter their environment in a way that produces the behavior you prefer!