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What’s Normal Behavior for My Dog?

What is behavior in the first place?

Animal behavior is noted as “Ethology” in the scientific world. It is the scientific and objective study of animal behavior, usually with a focus on behavior under natural conditions and viewing behavior as an evolutionary adaptive trait. 

Behavior in itself the way in which one acts, in this case the way a pet would act, or conduct oneself towards other animals, pets and people, including the owner. 

What does behavior have to do with your dog?

The answer is actually very simple, behavior has everything to do with your dog. Dogs have many unique behaviors that come from areas of their evolution. It is important to know your dog's background before choosing to adopt because often owners are unaware of the behaviors that they may experience in the dog that they are about to bring home. For instance, an owner may be so excited to bring home an American English Coonhound but find that their dog reacts quickly, usually with barks and a strong stance, every time a new sound or scent is in the air. This is actually, to the surprise of many owners, normal because this behavior has a lot to do with the genetics and how they were bred. Some of the behaviors we find to be abnormal or distracting are actually just a sign of your dog's inner history.

What are the common dog behaviors that we see? 

Common behaviors we see in dogs are: 

  • Digging
  • Chewing
  • Playing with toys or other pets 
  • Running 
  • Chasing things
  • Fetching or retrieving items
  • Barking 
  • Sniffing
  • Licking 
  • Whining 
  • Tail wagging
  • Curling into a ball formation to sleep
  • Nesting with blankets or sheets
  • Urinating on objects (scent marking) 
  • Cuddling with owners
  • Paw handling or giving paw
  • Howling (for certain breeds)

A lot of these common behaviors can be tricky to work with. Some might even call them bad behaviors or may not want the dog to do them because they can be a major disturbance, but have no fear, hope is not lost. For instance, urinating on objects can be a very pesting behavior and can be very frustrating to owners, rightfully so. It is actually a very common behavior amongst many dogs, as it is something they do for scent marking or marking their territory. Some owners even have new items “ruined” because they're dog decided to scent mark. As frustrating as this behavior can be, it is considered normal and it happens from time to time. The best way to deal with behaviors like this is to give your dog an understanding and try to be knowledgeable about the behavior at hand — you can help them process the world around them, even if they’re not familiar with things. For example, if you buy new sneakers, try spraying them with your perfume or cologne to help your dog recognize their smell. This may discourage territory marking since they have a familiar smell. Other preventative measures include minimizing your dog’s access to your items, walking your dog more often so they have plenty of opportunities to mark their territory outdoors, and using pet-safe sprays designated to discourage urination. If urination frequency becomes excessive or suddency changes, check in with your vet, as this could be a sign of a UTI or another medical issue. 

Another could be messing around with your sheets. A lot of dogs love to nest and dig through sheets to get comfortable — it's a natural occurrence and something that makes them feel safe especially when they are young. Dogs will often dig to find things or to make themselves at home in your bed. As much as it may seem odd to many owners, it is a weird yet totally normal thing for your dog to do. Similar to how we fluff our pillows, dogs will fluff the sheets to get good sleep.

SEE ALSO: Why is My Dog Not Eating or Drinking?

How can you be knowledgeable about your dog’s behavior?

The one thing most owners do when learning about pet behavior is to go to the experts, usually veterinarians and behavior specialists. But, as long as your dog isn't showing signs of illness, fear, or aggression, you don’t need to rush a call to the vet right away. The best thing to do when with your dog is to spend time observing. Sit for a bit and watch how your dog acts and question what they could be doing and why. Another great thing is to be knowledgeable about your pet’s background, such as their genetics and hereditary story. 

If you're choosing to get a beagle, read up on scent dogs and how their behavior is noted. If you're choosing to adopt a Border Collie, read up on dogs that were bred to herd. In the long run, it will help you know what to expect and how to handle their behaviors at home. In turn you can learn more about your dog's genetic breeding background. 

Dog behaviors can be very complex. Not only can our dogs do tricks, sit on command and fetch a toy and bring it back, but they also can show behaviors that may mean something more than we think. The world of dog behavior is a fascinating one, due to the fact that each behavior is a way for your dog to tell you something. Although dogs cannot talk, most of the time their behavior will speak for them. Some bad behaviors can be difficult to deal with, and it may seem like they have no reason or a solution. In fact, there can be many reasons why a dog exhibits bad behaviors — we’ll explain below and provide solutions to these bad behaviors. 

Bad Behaviors of Dogs

Some bad behaviors of dogs consist of behaviors such as:

  • Territoriality 
  • Aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Cognitive dysfunction due to age  

Each subject has specific behaviors of their own to understand and solutions to deal with the behaviors specifically. Usually if a dog is chewing at the wall, excessively barking and shaking, an owner may become worried or even confused as to what’s happening. This is actually a sign of anxiety, which isn't exactly behavior but more of an emotional state. This is just one of many examples of an “abnormal” behavior that some owners may come across.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs 

Dogs are truly a best friend, and they can become very attached to their owners over time. Sometimes they become too attached, and it can result in anxiety once you leave. For owners who can not always be home or with their dog, this can be an issue. This behavior is usually paired with your dog barking as soon as you leave them, whining or crying out loud, urinating or defecating uncontrollably, shaking excessively, destructive behavior, and even running away. 

Separation anxiety can be difficult to control, but a good start is slowly build your dog's tolerance to you leaving. The ASPCA wrote, “doing a behavior that may cause your dog's separation anxiety may be beneficial” —  so if you were to normally put shoes on and leave, then your dog starts to cry and bark from anxiety. Try putting shoes on and not leaving — just sit and maybe drink coffee as a way for your dog to learn that putting shoes on doesn't always mean you’re leaving. This can allow your dog to become comfortable and more relaxed. 

Another thing that can help your dog is letting them spend time alone so they can see it is not as bad as they think it is. It is always beneficial to reward good behavior, especially with separation anxiety. If your dog doesn't bark when you leave the room, be sure to say good job and offer a treat when you return. This will allow your dog to remember that if I do this behavior more,  my owner comes back and I’ll also get a treat too. It's a win-win for both you and your canine.

Why a dog may become territorial and how can you help the situation 

We all like our spaces — dogs are very similar! Dogs showing territorial behavior often excessively guard toys or areas, bark at people and other dogs, growl and even bite. This is not the result of bad manners but rather an instinct going into overdrive. 

A lot of territoriality has to do with environmental surroundings. Many rescue dogs are known to be territorial because their environment was either very stressful and/or filled with aggression from other dogs. If a dog is surrounded by a stressful environment that sparks a need to protect themselves, they may guard and become territorial as defense or protection. 

If a dog is exhibiting territorial behavior, give them their space and allow them to calm down. Try to speak calmly to a territorial dog and never yell or get loud, as it can have a negative effect on them and their behavior. You can also allow your dog to have many toys and reward them with food when training with them. For instance if a dog that is experiencing territorial behavior plays with another dog successfully, then reward them with many treats. It's like saying “Good job, I'm proud of you for doing that behavior!”

It is also important to do research when getting a puppy, because some breeds historically bred to be guard dogs are great for protecting areas and are very alert but can be territorial. If you’re getting a puppy that may have the instinct to be territorial, it can be helpful to develop training techniques early on so your dog uses that instinct for a good reason, protecting a home or just being a support dog. Being territorial isn't always bad; it can be useful when it is put to use properly and safely. 

Cognitive Behaviors That Correlate with Age 

Behavior can vary with age and time in dogs. As a dog becomes older, their body can go through many changes, some of which correlate to brain or cognitive function. An older dog may have less energy, may not see as easily, may become weaker, lose balance or be prone to medical issues that can cause a change in behavior. Cognitive behaviors can be worrying because sometimes when a dog's motor or mental state changes, it can be the result of a medical issue. If you see your dog with a quick behavior change, like suddenly losing balance or walking into walls or being incontinent, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. 

Helpful Medications 

To correct bad behavior, a veterinarian may recommend prescription medications. One recommended medication is Trazodone, which can help relax your dog, reducing anxiety and stress. But keep in mind that this is a mild sedative, so your dog may be tired when given a dose of Trazodone. This is a normal reaction and is nothing to be concerned or worried about. 

Helpful Procedures 

It may be hard to believe, but surgical procedures can help with certain behavior problems. Some behavior is regulated by hormones and organ pathways. For instance, if a female dog is being aggressive towards other female dogs, this may be a sign she is in heat. Due to fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones, a dog’s behavior can vary. For male dogs, it’s testosterone that’s released, signaling to the male that it is time to mate with a female. 

Spaying and Neutering 

Spays and neuters are fairly simple and routine procedures. A spay is a procedure during which the uterus and ovaries are removed — only removing one would not have the same effect hormonally or behaviorally. After a spay, the female dog will be sterile and will not carry future litters. The same goes for neutering, the procedure where a male dog’s testicles are removed, making them sterile as well.  

These procedures have been known to greatly impact behavior in both dogs and cats, which allows them to be calmer and less aggressive. Spays and neuters are typically recommended around 6 months of age, but your veterinarian can discuss precise timing based on your dog’s breed and growth.

Learning to love your dog’s unique behavior

Behavior is an amazing thing — it makes every dog unique, yet also part of this broad species, and it forms the bond between owner and dog, making it that much more special. The more owners can understand their dog’s genetic background along with how their environment and surrounding might affect their behavior, you will notice that you will feel so much closer to your pet. You’ll understand them on a new level, which will help ease the stress of knowing if your dog is healthy or not when it comes to behavior. Try to understand their behavior and in order to further understand your pet. The key is to always be knowledgeable about and observant of your dog's behavior, and if there is anything alarming or different, you can call a vet. Always know that as an owner you can bond with your dog and embrace their behavior. Owning a dog is an amazing experience, filled with joys and wild times with your canine.

SEE ALSO: Why Is My Dog Scratching His Ear?

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