Behaviour problems can be seen in dogs from all walks of life - not just those from Rehoming Centres - and may appear to be more common than in the past. This could be due to the way that our lifestyles have changed. Many more dogs are left alone at home whilst we are out at work and in the home they are treated as members of the family, rather than a worker or 'just a pet'. There was a time when an aggressive or problem dog would have immediately been destroyed. Fortunately these days, owners give dogs a chance and work to resolve problems before turning to rehoming or even putting the dog to sleep as a last resort.
Why do problems occur?
Problems occur for a variety of reasons. Each dog and case is different and causes can be very simple or complicated. Your dog's problem(s) could be caused by one or several of the following factors:
- Lack of socialisation - From 3-14 weeks of age, puppies need to be safely exposed to as many different and new experiences as possible to prepare them for later life. Dogs that have not had this early socialisation may grow to be fearful of people, things and places and this can lead to many problems including aggression.
- Boredom - Dogs that are bored through lack of mental stimulation might amuse themselves with destructive behaviour, for example.
- Excess energy - A lack of physical exercise can also lead to 'bad behaviour', as a dog must find other ways to get rid of his pent-up energy.
- Owner behaviour - Owners can train their dogs to behave 'badly' by accident, simply by giving attention at the wrong time.
- Unrealistic owner expectations - Because we tend to get very close to our dogs, we sometimes forget that they are still animals and may treat them more like children. We may think that they have more 'intelligence' or 'awareness' than they really do and these unfair expectations can lead to disappointment.
- Breed specific traits - Certain types and breeds of dog have been bred for hundreds of years for specific tasks, which might be incompatible with living in a typical family home.
- Bad breeding practices - Unscrupulous breeders might have indiscriminately bred their dogs purely for money, without considering temperament.
- Diet - It is thought that some dogs' behaviour may be affected by what they are fed. It is possible that diets that are too high in protein or the wrong type of protein may cause hyperactivity in certain dogs. Allergies to certain ingredients may also adversely affect behaviour.
- Inadequate or incorrect training - Without proper training, dogs can be uncontrollable.
What should you do if you have a problem with your dog's behaviour?
- Take your dog to the vet - Some behavioural problems can be caused by medical conditions or illnesses, so it is essential to rule out this possibility.
- Ask your vet to refer you to a reputable behaviourist – You and your dog will need to have a personal consultation with the behaviourist so they can accurately diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment plan for you to follow. With some problems you may need to attend follow-up consultations, or keep in contact by phone if any difficulties occur. Going to a behaviourist can be quite expensive so please make sure that you find a reputable one, such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists (UKRCB). If you have pet insurance remember to check the policy details, as you might be able to claim for the cost of consultations.
- If you have adopted a dog from Dogs Trust and are having problems with his training or behaviour, please contact the Rehoming Centre that you adopted him from for free help and advice.