ABCs of Common Canine Behavior Problems

Anxiety, barking and chewing are all behaviors that you can help your dog overcome — with a little bit of work and a lot of patience.

Dog anxiety can manifest in many forms, like lowered head and even aggression. By: Engin_Akyurt

Does your dog’s behavior sometimes make life difficult?

Whether it’s anxiety, barking or chewing, certain dog behaviors can make life tricky at times.

If your dog has a habit you’d rather they didn’t, here’s a brief first aid guide to dealing with them.

A Is for Anxiety

Anxiety takes many forms. From the dogs who shiver like jelly to the pooches who pee themselves, anxiety has many faces. Sometimes, the signs are obvious (such as shaking or involuntarily releasing their bowels), but it can also be more subtle.

Body language signs that a dog is anxious include:

  • Lip-licking
  • Yawning
  • Lowered head
  • Turning away
  • Aggression

Yes, aggression can be a sign of anxiety. It falls into the “attack is the best form of defense” category, when the dog is faced with a situation outside their control.

If you have an anxious dog, be careful about when and how you reassure the dog, and never force the dog to face their fears.

Loud noises may freak your dog out, but don’t reward that behavior. By: LauraTara

Don’t Accidentally Train the Dog to Act Anxious

Let’s say your dog hates thunder. A storm approaches. The dog cowers under the bed. You reach under and stroke them, talking in a soothing voice. Perhaps you try and attract them out by offering favorite treats.

Big mistake! Despite your best intentions, these actions accidentally reinforce fear and train the dog to be anxious.

Think of reward-based training. This uses a reward (such as attention, praise, treats or fuss) to tell the dog they did well. This makes them want to repeat the action again in order to get that reward.

Oops. You just rewarded the dog for being anxious and made this behavior OK.

So what “first aid” actions should you take?

  • Create a relaxing environment: For a thunderstorm, this means closing the curtains, playing music quietly and giving the dog a safe den to escape to.
  • Act normal: The dog takes their cues from you. If you act anxious, they read there’s something to be worried about. Act as normal as possible and reassure the dog.
  • Reassure with scent: Give the dog something that smells of you as a comforter in his bed. Also, consider using synthetic dog pheromones, such as Adaptil. These send out soothing scent messages.
  • Dodge the issue: If your dog is anxious about visitors, then pop them in another room when guests are due. This simple action can stop a situation from deteriorating into barking and aggression.
  • ThunderShirts: The dog equivalent of swaddling bands can work well for some. The presence of a snuggly, fitted garment can reassure sensitive souls.
Give your chew-happy dog some excellent toys — instead of your furniture — to gnaw on. By: PublicDomainPictures

B Is for Barking

Barking is a big problem to solve, especially if you live in an apartment with neighbors on the warpath. It’s wrong to say there’s an easy solution; however, there are corrective steps you can take.

  • Don’t reward barking: Stop reacting to the dog’s barks. A well-established barker is set in his ways (it’s a self-rewarding hobby), but for those pups testing their lungs for the first time, it makes a difference. Quite simply ignore the dog when they bark. Also, never fall into the trap of giving the dog a chew stick to occupy their mouth so they stop woofing (this rewards barking with a treat, hence making the issue worse in the long term).
  • Remove triggers to barking: If your dog barks at people passing by the window, then block the view. Get some curtains to block the lower view, but so you can see out. Also, remove furniture that the dog sits on to get a better view.
  • Up the exercise: A pleasantly tired dog is going to settle down and sleep rather than bark.
  • Teach the “quiet” command: First, reward the dog for barking and add the cue word: “Bark.” Then, when the dog is quietly eating the treat reward, gently hold their muzzle and say, “Quiet,” then reward with another treat.

Check out the body language of these anxious dogs:

C Is for Chewing

Dogs love to investigate things with their mouths. They learn about the world this way — plus chewing is the dog equivalent of a child sucking their thumb. It’s a soothing behavior.

Bear in mind that a teething puppy is the canine equivalent of a paper shredder, so go with the flow and provide appropriate things for them to vent the need to chew on.

  • Give appropriate chews: Dogs need to chew, so give them something good to gnaw on, like one of the innumerable dog chew toys out there. Praise and reward the dog when they chew on this rather than the furniture.
  • Remove temptation: Sadly, sometimes you just have to protect the dog from themselves — and puppy-proof a room or 2.
  • Plenty of exercise: Again, being pleasantly tired means less need for chewing as mental stimulation.
  • Puzzle feeders: Dogs in the wild do a lot of crunching and chewing. When you give canned food in a bowl, it barely needs to touch the sides on the way down. Replace a plate with a puzzle feeder so eating is more of a mental challenge and ticks boxes for satisfying other natural behaviors.

By following these suggestions, at the very least, you stop a behavior from getting worse. However, if your dog has an ingrained bad habit, you may need to get help. Seek the advice of a certified animal behaviorist who can help get you and the dog back on track.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 29, 2018.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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