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If, after reading through the common behavior problems and situations below, you have additional questions about your pet’s behavior, please call to speak to an MD SPCA behavior expert at 410-235-8826, ext. 151 or email [email protected]. Our behavior experts are available to pet owners to help work with them on animal behavior problems. Correcting behavior issues improves the relationship between owners and animals to ensure the animal stays in that loving home.

Behavior Library

Exercises to Reduce Jumping Up

Pre-train a solid sit behavior using food rewards until the dog will sit when you ask him to every time. Then, whenever you come home and greet the dog, ask for a sit. If he jumps up, immediately go back outside, closing the door behind you. Now, being greeted by you is his reward. Wait a few seconds and try again. After a few tries, most dogs sit. (But it’s trickier because he’s excited, so be patient.) When he does sit, greet him by crouching down so he can lick your face (often a big piece of the motivation to jump up) and, if he does particularly well, give him rewards stashed in your pocket.

Barking

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons:

  • Watchdog Barking serves the dual purpose of alerting pack members that there is an intruder and warning the intruder that they have been noticed.
  • Demand Barking is the dog’s way of communicating to the owner that he would like something NOW. Typical requests are “open the door NOW,” “pay attention to me NOW,” “let me out of here NOW,” “I wanna see that dog NOW” etc.
  • Spooky Barking occurs when the dog is uncomfortable about something in the environment and barks to say “I’m dangerous! Don’t come any closer!”
  • Boredom Barking can result when the dog’s daily needs for exercise and social stimulation are not met. The dog has gone mad from boredom.

Happy on the Inside: Indoor Cats

Indoor cats have a lifespan that is 4 - 6 times greater than a cat who goes outdoor (studies show indoor cats can live twenty years or longer, while outdoor cats rarely live past five years.)  In addition, they aren’t exposed to disease, won’t fall victim to predatory animals (or humans), can’t get stuck in traps, be hit by cars, get lost, be stolen, or suffer frostbite or heat stroke...

Shy Dogs

Dogs bond strongly to humans. They can learn to be alone for moderate periods but it doesn’t come naturally. It’s not surprising, then, that about one in five dogs show symptoms of separation anxiety when alone: uncontrollable urinating or defecating; destruction of furniture, walls, windows or flooring; self-injury while attempting to escape kennels; vomiting and drooling; or long periods of barking and crying.

Don’t Touch My Food!

If your dog has been labeled as having a bad habit that animal behaviorists call Food/Resource Guarding, please know that it’s not an alarming issue, but it does need careful management. The program is simple—teach your dog that people approaching the food bowl is a good thing!

Choke and Prong Collars - How Do They Work

When choke or prong collars stop a dog from pulling on a leash, they do so because they hurt. The dog learns that it hurts to pull and so he stops. The reason you sometimes see dogs gasping away on one is that sometimes the collar doesn’t hurt enough to dissuade a particular dog from pulling. This is a matter of individual pain thresholds and the technique used. For instance, sometimes owners start out with a regular collar and, when that doesn’t work, try a choker and then, when that stops working, go to a prong collar. Ironically, although they are trying to be kind by gradually escalating the painfulness of the device they are using, they might be desensitizing their dog to the pain and so end up using alarming levels of force to get the job done. 

Play-Biting in Puppies

Almost all puppies play bite. They do it to other puppies, to adult dogs who'll let them and to their owners. It's important to distinguish this constant biting from bona fide aggression, where a dog threatens or bites when guarding his food, when uncomfortable about someone touching him or when uncomfortable about strangers coming too close. Aggression is less common in young puppies than in adult dogs but is not unheard of. If you think your puppy is showing signs of aggression, get yourself into competent professional hands. Many kinds of aggression can be resolved.

Kong Stuffing

We humans tend to be chronically over-stimulated—we crave down time. It’s understandably difficult for us to empathize with our dogs, who have the opposite problem. One of the most pervasive and serious welfare issues for dogs is under-stimulation. Dog brains evolved to handle the juggling act of 1) hunting and scavenging for a living and 2) dealing with the social complexities of running into other dogs while hunting and scavenging. A lot of domestic life, safe and secure as it is, flies in the face of this genetic legacy; most dogs have little opportunity to exercise their hunting and scavenging propensities or are punished if they try. They also endure lives of relative solitude from both their human families and from the company of other dogs.

Managing Your Puppy’s Behavior

Puppies come with a set of pre-installed behaviors: urinating and defecating when they feel the urge, chewing anything that fits in their mouths, whining and crying if they find themselves alone, eating any food they encounter (not to mention many NON-food items!), greeting by excitedly jumping up, and play-biting all living things. These are all normal behaviors for any puppy or untrained adult dog. Notice that there is little on this list that humans approve of.