Dog Behavior - How to Prevent & Address Dog Behavior Issues

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

They certainly are. Behavior's a really difficult topic; it takes a long time to instigate change when it's been there for a long time, so you're much better off correcting unpleasant behaviors earlier rather than later. If the opposite of the behavior you want has been there for three weeks, it can take you three weeks to correct it. If your problem has been there for three years, it might take you three years to correct it. So this is something you want to jump on early before it becomes an ingrained behavior.

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

When should you start obedience training with your dog?

Straight away. When they're puppies and you first get them, you can start with some basic toilet training— sit, stay, basic commands like that. Once they've completed all their vaccinations, you'll be able to take them out of the safe environment of the house to a behaviorist or a trainer and do puppy classes. But you start basic stuff as soon as you get your puppy.

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

There's a huge list, but if we think of what makes a dog hard to live with, separation anxiety is a big one. That often goes two ways; we get very attached to our pets. We have a dog that goes everywhere with us. Separation anxiety can be challenging. It can lead to destructive behavior: urinating in the house, scooting on carpets, chewing the trim off of door frames, and other behaviors. They could also be aggressive towards other dogs or animals around food. They might bark, which could annoy your neighbors. We could also look at mounting other young pets. Lastly, there are a lot of dogs that will chew objects like your slippers or shoes due to boredom.

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

They certainly can. Maybe a dog is dragging their anus across the carpets—that can be a sign of infection with parasites. You could get more severe signs, such as your dog is walking in circles or engaging in a head tilt, these could be signs of neurologic disease or an infection. Sometimes there are medical causes behind these behaviors. Urinating in the house could be a sign of a urinary infection, or it could be a stress behavior.

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

We touched on a couple of those. If your dog is urinating in the house, or maybe having an accident in the bed, that can be a sign of incontinence or an infection of the bladder. If your dog is walking in circles, pressing their head against the wall, this could be a sign of a disease in the brain itself, such as a brain tumor or an infection.

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

The first part of any consultation will be a physical exam to make sure there are no underlying health issues. If your dog is urinating, we are going to palpate the abdomen, which means we’ve got to feel through the abdomen for any masses or abnormal changes. We'll collect a urine sample so that we can check for signs of crystals, stone formations, and infections. If we rule out a medical cause, we could be left with a behavior issue and, at that point, we would either direct you to a behaviorist, or we may be able to help with those questions ourselves.

What other dog behavior management options are available?

In this area, we don't have any specialized behaviorists; you have to go over to the Bay Area. There are some dog trainers who are great, although they're not licensed veterinarians and behaviorists. A lot of behavior issues come from boredom and neglect. Good exercise can really help them. You can go online; there are several resources that you can research through Google. If you come into the vet, then we can direct you to the right area to help you.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Behavior - FAQs

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

When should my dog start obedience training?

Straightaway. The first time you get a new dog from the shelter, or you get a puppy from a breeder, you're going to want to start training them to fit in with your lifestyle. That's going to involve feeding at set times, taking them out to the bathroom after you have fed them, or when they wake up from a nap. All of that is part of the training to get them used to your lifestyle. Once they've completed all vaccinations and your dog is safe to be around other dogs, you can also take them to a trainer, and that will depend on how old your dog is.

What are the most important basic commands my dog should know?

"Sit". If your dog can sit on command, they're pretty well trained. You want your dog to lie down. That isn't quite as useful. "Come" is another crucial command for your dog to know. If your dog is running in the park and they see another dog, you need them to come back. "Heel" or "here" are also useful commands. When my dogs were younger, we taught them to go potty outside, so that was a useful command. If we go through the airport, I can find some grass and say to my dog, "Let's go potty." And we'll find a little patch. And hopefully, that means that he goes on the grass and not on the airplane, which wouldn't make him popular.

How can I socialize my puppy?

Having another dog helps. I have two dogs so, if I got a puppy, they would get to socialize together. If you don't have a second dog at home, you could take your dog to a friend's house, to a relative who has another dog that is friendly, calm to be around, and of course vaccinated so that they don't risk infecting your new dog. Once they're fully vaccinated, you could go to a dog park, join a socialization or a training class with your puppy, or go on a walk. One of my dogs, Mowgli, likes to stop and sniff and say hi, and if the other dog looks friendly, then we'll let them greet each other.

Should my dog be punished for bad behavior?

It can be tempting to want to punish your dog when they misbehave, but really, it means that your dog is not trained appropriately. So punishment isn't really the best way to train your dog. The best option is to provide them with the appropriate instruction so they get it right. For example, when puppies wake up from a nap, they're going to need to go pee. It’s much better to take your puppy outside, tell them to go potty, and then praise them. If you're still busy making your coffee and your puppy's sniffing around the corner inside the house, is that the puppy's fault or is that your fault? This is why it’s best not to punish them.

They're going to learn much more quickly from positive reinforcement. There is some training you can do with a clicker. You can train them to respond to a click or a sound, and that can be a negative stimulus for them. Clicker training needs to be done correctly, however, or you can actually make it much harder for them to understand what is going on. So you should really only use more advanced techniques from a special trainer.

Is my dog too old to be trained?

Old dog, new tricks. It's probably much harder. As I mentioned in a previous video, the longer a dog has a negative behavior, the longer it's going to take to retrain that. If the dog has been sleeping or getting on your couch for five years, and you want to train your dog not to get on the couch, you're not going to teach them that in a week. That's going to take many weeks or months of consistent messages to them that that's not appropriate. So it's never too late to train a dog, but it does become harder when they are older.

What should I look for in a dog trainer?

You want to see someone that isn't yanking a dog around, being aggressive with them. If they're punishing the dog a lot, that's not where I would want my dogs to go. You want to put them in a loving environment. How would you pick a school for your child? You don't want the teachers to be mean to your child for no reason. There are rules that they have to follow, but you want your dog to be in a safe environment to learn.

What vaccinations are needed for dog training classes?

They should have all their core vaccinations. Your dog will need four vaccines to be safe around other dogs. The first is a rabies vaccine. Dogs can pick up rabies from wild animals or other dogs, so rabies is a must. They can pick up parvovirus. That's the most common infection that we vaccinate for. That's part of a combo vaccination called a five-way. So we would make sure they all have the five-way vaccine and rabies.

And then for dogs that are socializing, there are two respiratory vaccines—bordetella, otherwise known as kennel cough, and canine influenza. Just like social distancing for COVID, if the dog is not socially distant and they are socializing, then they need those vaccines.

What is environmental enrichment, and how can it help my dog's behavior?

If your dog is bored, they're going to enrich themselves. If we look in this room, it's not a very exciting room, but this door handle looks pretty chewable. This trim looks nice. My in-laws' dog ripped all of those things off their house. What are you going to give your dog to keep them happy? Lots of attention. You want to make sure that you are not leaving them alone for prolonged periods. If you can give them toys that are safe to play with, that can help. However, you should first observe them play with said toy to make sure the dog isn't going to chew the toy to pieces and swallow bits. Otherwise, that could be a risk. Think of agility dogs. They have holes and tunnels to weave through. You could have rope ties for tug-o-war. You could use a ball to play catch with them, or maybe a paddling pool.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.