Behavior Problems

Behavior: The Good, the Bad and the Bewildering

A wise scientist once said, “Behavior is 100% nature and 100% nurture.”

Your dog’s behavior is an interactive dynamic between his genetic inheritance, all the learning he has done since he was born, and the affects of nutrition, health and environment on his mind-body.

Normal dog behavior covers a very wide range. From the Chihuahua to the Saint Bernard and all the mixes in between, dogs differ as much in personality and natural talents as they do in shape and size.

For the pet owner, the important thing is that traits that would serve a great purpose in a working dog or a survival situation often create disturbing, even dangerous, problems in a pet environment. The terrier whose genes tell him to dig holes to kill vermin may delight in the soft loam of your beautiful garden or become wild with predatory yearnings over your son’s pet hamster. The herding dog who wants to keep his flock together may become frantic, nipping when the kids are racing wildly around the yard. The dog who wants to protect his owner from harm may bite visiting Uncle Bill who sweeps through the front door and embraces you. The hunting dog may feel the call of open spaces and disappear into the nearby park and create havoc. In fact, most behavior “problems” are natural behaviors that have no natural outlet in the activities we provide for our pets.

Actual abnormal behaviors can arise from malfunctions with the brain, the hormones, and certain diseases. A dog with a urinary tract infection won’t be house trained. Some dogs with thyroid deficiency may exhibit aggression or even seizures. There are many more examples of physically mediated behavior problems.

Still other problems come from the home environment and interaction with the family and friends. The vast majority of dogs with behavior problems are simply victims of long term confusion. They don’t know how to consistently earn praise or avoid punishment. What is abundantly clear in the owner’s mind can be as clear as mud to your dog. While no one means to cause the dog stress, it just happens because of the disconnect between demands made on the dog vs. what the dog really understands. But don’t feel guilty. Most of these dogs respond rapidly once you learn how to communicate with them clearly.

Common Causes of Behavior Problems




Acute or Chronic Pain

Insufficient Supervision

Confusing the dog

Hormonal Imbalances

esp. Thyroid

Insufficient Exercise

Assuming the dog knows what you want

Nutritional Imbalances: junk treats, poorly digestible



Expecting too much reliability too soon




Adversarial Training

Neurological Problems

Too much time isolated

Lack of Leadership

Vision & Hearing Problems

Un-enriched environment/


Excess focus on dominance

Illness: kidney, bladder, digestive,

No respect for dog’s boundaries, esp. with children

Dog has learned associations that trigger adverse

Maturation Stages – Pup, Teenage,


Old Age

Abuse – either physical or emotional

Failure to Train Systematically,