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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

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.

Aggression in Dogs

Aggression is normal, adaptive behavior in virtually all animal species and domestic dogs are no exception. Animals have a variety of aggressive behaviors in their repertoires, to defend themselves from perceived threat as well as to compete for resources such as food, mates and territory. Also, as predators, dogs may chase and bite in the context of hunting for food. Selective breeding—domestication—has toned down or stylized aggressive and predatory behavior in most domestic dog breeds. Behaviors like watchdog barking, herding, pointing, compulsive fighting and retrieving are all modified forms of either aggression or predation. Most aggressive encounters are ritualized. Growling, snarling, snapping and biting without maiming force are all examples of ritualized aggression. Ritualization allows contests to be decided without the use of (more “expensive”) fatal or maiming force to either participant. We humans would like no aggression, even of the most ritualized sort, directed at us. To achieve this “no arguing” standard requires pro-active prevention programs for all dogs

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.

Top Ten Dog Behavior Myths

#1: Dogs are naturally pack animals with a clear social order.

This one falls apart immediately upon scrutiny, because all the evidence suggests that free-ranging dogs (pariahs, feral and semi-feral populations) don’t form packs. Dogs actually form loose, amorphous, transitory associations with other dogs.


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.

New Dog on the Block: Adding a New Dog to Your Family

So you’ve decided to add to your family. You’ve talked about any extra financial burden, and how you’ll stretch your time, and you know there’s enough love in your heart for another dog. Of course, you didn’t clear this with your current pup, but she loves other dogs... doesn’t she? Maybe, but remember that meeting someone out at a park and going for a walk is very different than having them move into your bedroom.

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...

Confinement and Crate Training

Owners are often unsure whether they need to crate train their puppies or newly-adopted dogs or whether to simply confine them in a dog-proofed area during the early weeks or months following adoption. Crate training helps with the following:

  • Housetraining: prompts the dog to hold bladder and bowels when unsupervised
  • Chew-training: prevents the dog from chewing furniture, walls and anything else except the chew toys he is crated with so good habits automatically form
  • Settling down: patterns dog to be inactive when alone
  • Preparation for possible close confinement: dogs that are used to crates are less likely to be stressed when caged during a hospital stay or travel

Why Train with Food?

  1. Most dogs love food. This makes it an excellent training reward.
  2. Food is easy to carry and very convenient.
  3. There is a huge variety. This makes it easy to adjust the value of the reward based on level of difficulty. Coming when called mid–squirrel chase needs a higher reward—steak or chicken—than sitting on cue in the living room.
  4. Food makes dogs happy. Using food to train results in dogs who happily anticipate the next training session.
  5. Food can be used to change a dog’s emotional response from fear to joy using a technique called counter-conditioning.