A Guide to Common Dog Behaviors

A Guide to Common Dog Behaviors

Discover the secrets behind common dog behavior (especially the things that drive you crazy!) and what you can do about it.

Dog behavior can run the gamut from endearing to perplexing to downright infuriating. It's a good thing they're so cute and affectionate! But is Fifi deliberately trying to antagonize you when she destroys your favorite pair of shoes or growls when you reach for her toy? 

The truth is that common dog behaviors are largely driven by instinct. Left to their own devices, dogs have no idea what their humans consider to be appropriate or inappropriate actions or responses to certain situations. Fortunately, however, they have the capacity to learn — and it's up to their humans to teach them. 

What Drives Dog Behavior 

Dogs live so closely with us, often as members of our families, that it's easy to think of them as four-legged people. As such, it's tempting to ascribe human motivations to their behavior. But it's important to remember that your canine baby is a different species with different ways of communicating. What might look like deliberate misbehavior is often simply your pup's attempt to communicate her needs, desires and mood. 

As pack animals descended from wolves, dogs instinctively relied on body language and facial expression to communicate with other members of the pack. So when your dog jumps up on you, this is dog-speak for, "I'm glad to see you!" Chewing the living room rug says, "I'm bored!" And when she growls if you get too close to her food or a favorite toy, a behavior known as resource guarding, this is her way of saying, "Mine!" 

This behavior goes all the way back to when dogs in the wild needed to protect their food and territory from predators and other threats. Keep in mind that this sort of behavior is deeply ingrained in her species. It has nothing to do with her loving her food or toy more than she loves you. 

What to Do About Dog Behavior 

One of the best things about dogs is their eagerness to please. Your dog wants to make you happy, and is willing to learn how. Here are a few steps you can take to help your dog understand what is or isn't acceptable: 

Set clear boundaries. Be consistent about reinforcing them. If the couch is off-limits, make sure everyone in the family enforces the rule with Fido. 

  • Praise good behavior. Use treats, toys and affection to help reinforce that she's doing something right. 

  • Ignore inappropriate behavior. Never hit, spank or use physical force or intimidation on your dog. This will only teach her to be fearful, which could lead to worse behavioral problems in the future. 

  • Give her plenty of play, exercise and attention. In general, dogs tend to be calmer once they've had a chance to burn off excess energy. Plus, a dog who receives plenty of physical and mental stimulation tends to be better behaved than a dog who's left to find her own cure for boredom. 

Ideally, your dog will learn much of what she needs to be well-behaved as a puppy during obedience and socialization training. But if you're dealing with an adult dog, or if behavior problems persist or become extreme, you may need to seek the help of a professional such as a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. 

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