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All pet parents know their dogs should never be neglected, but some dog behaviors demand more serious attention than others. Because dogs can’t speak (despite daily “conversations”), they have to let their actions do the talking. This means that if a dog is acting out, they’re probably trying to tell their parents something.
The good news is that bad behavior can alert pet parents to their dog’s needs. Knowing the difference between normal behavior and warning signs can help them help their pet and learn how to correct unwanted dog behavior.
Understanding dog behavior problems can be tricky, even for professionals. Sometimes a dog behaves badly because they’re feeling bored or unhappy. Other times, misbehavior can be a warning sign that something isn’t right with a dog’s health. Dogs want to please their owners, so getting to the bottom of bad behavior — and encouraging alternative behavior — will benefit pets and pet parents alike.
Dogs are creatures of habit. This means they won’t change their routine behavior without a reason. When a dog starts doing something unusual, these are the dog behaviors that shouldn’t be ignored.
Although barking is a natural behavior for dogs, excessive barking can be a frustrating behavioral issue for pet parents and their neighbors, too. But remember — this is one of a dog’s ways of talking, and it’s a pet parent’s job to listen. Much can be learned from both the pitch of a dog’s bark and what's causing it. The pitch of a dog’s bark can convey their meaning. A deeper growl usually means something serious is afoot, and some dogs will utter a higher yap when they’re feeling playful. Here are the most common reasons dogs bark:
Need. To figure out what a dog needs, survey their surroundings. If they’re standing near the door, they probably need to go outside. If it’s nearly dinnertime, they might be asking for food.
Observation. Maybe someone’s walking their dog by the house or the mailman is dropping a package on the doorstep. If a dog hears a sound or sees something interesting, they want to keep their parents in the loop.
Fear. If a dog has anxiety, they might be barking because they’re frightened. If they’re waiting to see the vet or in the middle of a stressful encounter with an unfriendly dog, a dog is likely barking out of fear.
Boredom. A dog could just be entertaining themself in lieu of engaging activities. If a dog seems to be barking for no reason, they could be asking for more stimulation — like a game of fetch or some good, old-fashioned attention.
Warning. Sometimes, a dog barks to signal that they’re frustrated or upset by their current circumstances. In this situation, the best thing to do is give them time and space to calm down.
Panting is normal behavior if a dog has been running around or simply sitting in the sun on a hot day. Dogs don’t sweat like humans do because their fur would prevent the sweat from evaporating efficiently from their bodies, which is the aspect of sweating that lowers body temperature. Dogs pant to cool down instead.
If pet parents notice their dog panting excessively without an obvious reason, it’s generally a cause for concern. Some veterinarian-prescribed medications may cause panting, but there are many other reasons a dog is panting abnormally:
Illness. Panting could be a dog’s attempt to lower a high fever or convey discomfort due to medical conditions like Cushing's disease (caused by overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol) or laryngeal paralysis (which weakens or paralyzes the throat muscles).
Pain. Dogs can tolerate a lot of pain, but panting is a sign that it’s become too much. If panting is accompanied by other warning signs like loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s time to seek help.
Stress. If a dog is in an uncomfortable situation, panting may be their way of dealing with it. A stressed dog may also be nervously licking their lips and avoiding looking at whatever is upsetting them.
Heatstroke. Panting is one sign of heatstroke, which happens when a dog’s body temperature rises above 105ºF. If a dog starts panting excessively in the sun on a hot day, it’s time to find shade and fill the portable water bowl. If this happens at home, pet parents should set up a fan and gently press a wet towel to their dog’s underside. If pet parents suspect heatstroke, they can also check for any bright red coloring of their dog’s gums and tongue to confirm.
When abnormal panting progresses to true respiratory distress (meaning a dog is having trouble breathing or their tongue and gums are turning gray or blue), pet parents should seek emergency care immediately.
Some dog breeds are more prone to snorting — think Bulldogs, Pugs, and any other breed with a squished snout. But for most dogs, snorting is a rare occurrence. If pet parents notice their dog is suddenly snorting, it could be due to factors like:
Seasonal allergies. Yes, dogs have seasonal allergies too! If a dog’s uncharacteristic snorting is accompanied by watery eyes, sneezing, and scratching more itches than usual, pet parents can bet their dog is reacting to the same allergens they are.
Change in environment. Dogs can experience respiratory issues due to fire smoke or a change in location. If pet parents are struggling with the air quality, their dog probably is too.
Something in the way. It’s possible a dog is snorting because something’s stuck in their nose. They could’ve inhaled a blade of grass or a bit of dirt while playing outside. This usually isn’t a big deal. But if the snorting is accompanied by a bad odor or nosebleeds, there could be an infection blocking their nasal passages.
As long as a dog’s snorting stops after a short period of time, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If it continues for more than a couple of days, it may be time for a check-up or virtual vet consult.
Aggressive dog behavior is never a good sign, and it can be scary — especially when a dog is normally sweet and gentle. A dog’s body language undergoes distinct changes when they’re exhibiting aggression. Specifically, they'll lower their head, pin their ears back, bare their teeth, and growl.
There are different types of dog aggression. Sometimes, a dog is being protective or territorial. Other times, they're acting out of fear or frustration. Pet parents should pay attention to what sparks their dog’s aggression so they can determine how to address it. Although not all dogs can be entirely cured of aggression, their parents can still work to eliminate triggers and reward good behavior.
Many pet parents understand the nuisance that is destructive behavior — and have the chewed up shoes to prove it. Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, but when they take to damaging household items, it can be a sign of excess energy, boredom, or separation anxiety. To fix this behavior, pet parents should keep tempting objects out of reach, provide appropriate chew toys, and make sure their dog gets enough exercise.
If a dog gives their parents puppy-dog eyes anytime they open the refrigerator, it’s for one simple reason — most dogs love food, and they know where to find it. But begging can become a bad habit, and rewarding it with human food can increase a dog’s risk of health problems like obesity or more disruptive begging behaviors.
Pet parents should avoid giving in and, instead, tell their dog to go lie down. If they listen, they may have earned a tasty dog treat as a reward.
A dog needs a daily dose of exercise, and if their parents have spent most of the day inside working on a laptop, the dog is likely feeling cooped up. Giving the dog ample opportunity to burn off excess energy with vet-recommended dog toys for mental stimulation and walks means they’ll be happier, healthier, and far less likely to form any of the bad habits above.
If pet parents sense something’s up with their dog, they should analyze their dog’s body language. Relaxed posture, a wagging tail, and a squinty-eyed “smile” are signs that a dog is happy. Stiff posture, a rigid tail, and raised fur all signify that a dog is feeling upset or uncomfortable.
Not everything a dog does can be decoded. But having dog behavior explained by a trained animal behaviorist can shed some light on puzzling developments. Pet parents of dogs exhibiting worrying behavior should chat with a Fuzzy vet to get to the bottom of it and figure out the next steps.