What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?
Dogs can develop a wide array of behaviour problems, for a lot of different reasons. Some of these problems are easy for us to solve, while others can take prolonged behaviour modification programs to fix.
If you are beginning to experience problems with your dog, don’t wait! The longer a problem has been going on, the more challenging it is to fix.
That being said, don’t despair if you’ve been living with a problem for a long time. Every dog and situation is different, and your willingness to work and make a change will go a long way.
Here are some of the most common behaviour problems that we work with, but there are many more, and we work with them all!
Anxiety is extremely common in dogs, particularly small dogs or dogs who have histories of abandonment or abuse. A certain amount of anxiety can be in-born into dogs, however, so even dogs who have been loved and cared for all their lives can develop it.
Signs of Generalized Anxiety:
- Frequent trembling/pacing
- Hypersensitivity to sights or sounds
- Clingy behaviour
- Multiple phobias
- Fear of unfamiliar places/going outside
- Lack of confidence with strangers or strange dogs
Generalized anxiety not only reduces the dog’s quality of life (who wants to spend life being worried or frightened?) but it can drastically affect the owner’s quality of life. Many owners find themselves increasingly confined by their dog’s anxieties, as they make more and more accommodations to keep their dog feeling comfortable.
Our job is to help give your dog – and you – a new lease on life. Our goal is to help your dog build confidence, face fears, and discover that the world is a fun place to be.
Phobias are more specific than generalized anxiety. A dog with a phobia might be happy and well adjusted in other settings until faced with a thunderstorm or person in a hat. Some dogs may have a history of abuse which leads them to fear a person wielding a bat, or a metal ladder. Others may simply have had a single bad experience at a sensitive age, and every re-exposure has simply resulted in worsening the fear.
Fears tend to self-reinforce, because every time the dog experiences the fear, it makes the dog even more afraid of encountering the trigger for it.
Signs of a Phobia:
- Repeated, predictable fear response to a certain object/event.
- Trembling, hiding, or barking/aggression in an otherwise well adjusted dog.
- Inability to relax or respond to owner commands in presence of object/event.
Our job is to help your dog face his/her fears and gain confidence with positive associations. A systematic desensitization program combined with high levels of reward for confident behaviour is usually required.
Many owners come to us and say, “my dog is great with other dogs at the park, but you should see what he does when he’s on the leash!”
This is not as unusual as people might think. Being on leash ties the dog to the owner. This can make some dogs feel territorial, and other dogs feel trapped. They don’t have the confidence that comes with being free and able to run away if necessary, and may even feel the need to “protect” the owner.
This can get worse with time, because owners of leash aggressive dogs naturally begin to feel stressed whenever they see another dog coming, and their pet misreads that as fear of the oncoming dog.
Other dogs just want to go up and say hi to the dogs they see, and lose all self control, barking and lunging in an excited way which can sometimes appear aggressive to people with less experience around dogs.
Signs of Leash Aggression:
- Barking/Lunging when on leash, but relaxed and calm when off-leash
- A tendency to bite or attack when approached while on a leash
Our job is to help teach your dog to control him/herself on leash, and to help feel confident and relaxed. At the same time we will teach you how you can manage your own behaviour to help your dog understand what you want and expect from him/her when on leash.
The vast majority of aggressive dogs act out of fear. When dogs are frightened, in pain, or feel cornered, they bite. Many owners accidentally make this worse either by responding to the dog aggressively in turn, because they think the dog is trying to dominate them, or by soothing the dog when it behaves aggressively, which actually rewards the dog’s behaviour.
Signs of Fear Aggression:
- Growling or snapping when approached or cornered.
- Hiding or attempting to retreat while growling or snapping.
- Attacking people or other dogs for no clear reason.
- Adopting a hunched body posture or flattening ears when approached.
- Attacking when someone walks away.
Fear aggression needs to be handled extremely delicately. On the one hand, you need to teach the dog that the aggressive reaction is inappropriate. On the other hand, punishment can make the fear even worse. Also, punishing warning behaviours, like growling, can just result in a dog who bites with no warning at all.
Our job is to remove the root cause of the fear with systematic desensitization, while the dog is taught how to behave in a calm and friendly manner.
Dominance or Territorial Aggression/Resource Guarding
True cases of dominance aggression are rare, but they do exist. Some dogs are generally aggressive towards their owners or certain people (who are usually afraid of them) or may only show aggression when certain high-value objects, such as the dog’s bed or favourite toy, are approached.
These dogs believe that they have the right to growl at or even attack a person who threatens their perceived property, whether that might be the dog’s paws, favourite toy, or food resources.
Signs of Dominance/Territorial Aggression:
- Guarding toys, locations, or food from owners, children, or visitors to the home.
- Attacking when the owner tries to move the dog from a location.
- Attacking visitors.
- Direct eye contact and erect body posture accompanied by growling, lip-lifting, or attempts to bite.
Our job is to help turn the dog’s attitude around, and help him/her realize that aggressive behaviour is not the way to get what he/she wants. At the same time, we teach owners how to resolve conflict and take back control over the dog, while building the dog-owner bond.
The average city dog is under socialized, and this causes constant problems. Even if you take your dog to puppy classes and off leash dog parks, a couple of bad experiences with someone else’s poorly socialized dog can make your dog afraid of other dogs, and begin a spiral into aggressive behaviour.
As dogs age, too, they often begin to lower their tolerance levels and may be less willing to tolerate the clumsy overtures made by a goofy puppy or exuberant teenage dog.
Signs of Dog Aggression:
- Growling, snapping, or attacking other dogs both on and off the leash.
- Poor ability to handle awkward social advances from other dogs.
Our job is to help build your dog’s confidence around other dogs while teaching your dog appropriate behaviour. Depending on the situation, this can happen very quickly, or be an ongoing process. We may employ systematic desensitization, or Constructive Aggression Treatment (CAT for Dogs). Often we will combine the two.
Bad Habits (Barking, Digging, Elimination In The House)
Many of the calls we get about behaviour problems are actually matters of poor obedience and bad habits.
The dog has gotten into the habit of barking at every passing bird, breaking into the garbage, surfing the kitchen counters for food, digging in the garden, and other types of mischief.
All of these problems are solvable, but depending on how deeply ingrained the behaviour is, they can sometimes take a fair amount of work. If your dog has picked up a bad habit, call us now! The sooner we see it, the faster we’ll be able to help you fix it!