Important Factors

The reasons for behaviour problems arising in dogs are many. Some important factors include:

 Health and well-being

If a dog has a clinical condition which makes it feel less well, less mobile, which changes its pattern of toileting, etc., this will often result in behavioural changes which may persist as a serious behaviour problem.

For example, if a dog has an ear infection  and a member of the family approaches to rub that dog, the dog may react aggressively because they have just been hurt by the owner rubbing them, or alternatively because they anticipate feeling pain when the owner rubs them. This may then develop into a habitual response every time the owner approaches to stroke the dog.

In order to eliminate clinical problems, I require all owners to speak to their own vet about their dog’s behaviour problems, so that their vet can examine the dog, to identify any clinical causes which may be responsible for the dog developing behaviour problems. These clinical problems need to be treated before the behaviour problem can be resolved;  

 

Genetic makeup

As result of their inherited temperament, some dogs are more likely to display certain behaviours than others.

For example, a Collie dog is genetically wired up to carry out herding behaviour. The Collie dog, kept in a suburban setting, may progress to displaying the same herding behaviour, which they are designed to do, but towards people, for example creeping up behind passersby and nipping them on the calf!

 

Previous experience

Until they are quite old, dogs are continually learning. This learning allows them to navigate their way through life, often living with a group of human beings, rather than with their own species. Dogs are extremely adept at learning which behaviours are successful for them.

For example, if a dog is in the back garden, and has very little to occupy them, they may bark, simply as a means of recreation, or in response to a noise in the environment. If the owner, concerned about disturbing neighbours, opens the back door, and brings the dog inside, or alternatively gives the dog some attention, even in the form of a reprimand, that dog is likely to learn that this behaviour will successfully get the owner to pay attention to the dog, so the dog will begin to bark more frequently.

Many problem behaviours occur because the dog has learned in the past, that that particular behaviour gets a beneficial result for them.

 

Confusion!

For many years, scientists have been aware of the fact that animals become stressed if some aspects of their environment are difficult to predict or to control. In recent years, attention has been paid to the likelihood of inconsistent behaviour by owners towards the dog, causing the dog to become confused, and therefore somewhat stressed over a long period of time.

This situation has been shown in other species to cause the performance of a range of inappropriate behaviours, which the animal carries out in order to try to reduce its stress levels. It is likely that the same thing is happening on a frequent basis within our pet dogs.

Even the most devoted of owners can, unwittingly, give out mixed signals to their dogs, thereby causing some confusion within that pet.