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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


Dogs are naturally clean animals: given a choice, they will urinate and defecate away from their sleeping and eating areas. However, it is not obvious to dogs that carpets and floors are inappropriate elimination sites. They must by systematically taught to discriminate indoors vs. outdoors and to exclusively use the latter. The key to housetraining is getting a history of rewarded trials in the desired area.

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.

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.

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.

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. 


There is good news and bad news about time-outs. The good news is this: they work really well to reduce behaviors like play-biting, pestering, or watchdog barking (friendly dogs who bark at the doorbell). Essentially, every time the dog play-bites, pesters or barks you calmly put him in a “penalty box” like the bathroom or a boring, dog-proofed space away from you for 30 seconds. A crate is fine, too.

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. 


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.