What is a Canine Behaviour Problem?

Many people seem unsure as to what can be classed as a ‘Canine Behaviour Problem’ and I think it’s why many behaviour websites have a list of common ones on their page. It’s as if they feel they need to remind people what they feel you should consider a problem, and whilst I understand that approach I feel it can also serve to put other people off in making them think that theirs isn’t on the list, so it might sound silly if they mention it to a professional!

Whose problem?

The thing is, any behaviour can be a problem depending on whose perspective you are looking at it from. That, for me, is really important. Are we asking if it’s is a problem for the owners, the people around them in daily life or for the dog itself, or other animals in the household or who come into contact with that dog?

What is a problem for one person may be no problem at all to another. It might be a problem for the dog however. Or for the neighbours around them. Or for other members of the family. Let’s look at a common scenario to see how that can happen.

Scenario One

A dog is howling and barking every day when the owners are out. There is only one neighbour and they are hard of hearing, so are not bothered by the noise the dog makes. The owners are not bothered by it either as they are not present and unaware it happens when they leave. The dog, however is having a major problem being left alone and is struggling to cope.
At this point this is fine for the people as they have no problem but bad for the dog who has a big problem.

Scenario Two

The same dog is howling and barking every day when the owners are out. There is a new neighbour next door who hears the dog and is bothered by it, so they report it to the owners, who are unaware of the problem as they are out when it happens and the previous neighbour never heard anything. From their perspective it is a new problem that has only just happened or the new neighbour is being really unreasonable!
The dog still is having the same level of difficulty as in the first scenario but now people are realising it.
This is now better for the dog, who is no longer suffering in silence, but it’s not good for the owners, who now have a problem and have to find a solution so their neighbour isn’t constantly disturbed when they go out.

Dog problem or human problem? Which is actually the cause?

So, for me, there are always two sides to a situation to consider. That of the people and that of the dog. I find that people often become consumed with the idea that the dog is causing a problem but forget that the reason for that is because the dog has problems of it’s own.
We have to remember that we take them into our homes and then we control everything they do. We limit their freedom to indulge in normal canine behaviours at will and often forget they have needs too in order to live a fulfilled and contented life.

Can you imagine if someone took you to live in their house and then locked you in. They decide what food you eat, when you eat it and where. They decide when you go to the toilet or not and where and how long you get to do that. They decide if you get to go out today and where and for how long.
Imagine being taken shopping every day but going to the same place for only 15 minutes. Or being taken out for an hour, marched down the road without being allowed to look at anything then locked in again.
Dogs aren’t allowed to chase anything or bark at anything or scratch or chew or dig anything. All are normal behaviours when in context with everything else happening in a day. There are so many things they cannot do that they would choose to do, that I find it amazing all dogs don’t have problems.

“I just want them to stop doing it!”

This is a sentence I hear very often. I understand it, the person is tired and frustrated and fed up of dealing with something the dog is doing that is really annoying. I get it, I really do. Ive been there myself and its how I came to be a canine behaviourist (read the About page).
BUT!!
If we want a dog to stop doing something we have to figure out what they can do instead and enable them to access it and do it. So, rather than endlessly saying ‘Stop it’ and leaving it there, we should say ‘Stop that and come and do this instead’. It’s about supplying an outlet for the frustration that works and is practical for all.

Our responsibility

We have to accept responsibility for satisfying the needs of a dog if we choose to take one into our home. They have urges and wants too and if we want them to be happy we need to make sure we take care of as many of those needs as possible, and believe it or not , that really isn’t as daunting as it sounds much of the time.
If we are preventing them from carrying out behaviours they are designed or bred to do well and enjoy, we are asking for trouble. Now, obviously we don’t want our dogs chasing everything in sight out on a walk or around the house but we can indulge that a little in other ways and also tap into other skills the dog has. There needs to be an outlet for that need or the end result will be frustration and escalation of other behaviours we find equally inappropriate, but which are normal for a dog.

If we don’t look at the dog and figure out how to make their life better and more complete then nothing will change, because they cant change without our help. Remember we control all of their environment, so we need to make sure if is supplying what they need. That requires an honest appraisal by us as to whether we can do more or better.
Often a dog is just prevented from doing the thing that is annoying humans without considering the impact on the dog or how things may then develop in the future. The people are then happy but the dog is still having a problem. Its just not a problem for you anymore.

What is the solution?

It always comes down to the dog. A dog who has all needs met will be contented and fullfilled in life. They are then much less likely to cause you any problems. If the dog in the above scenario was prepared for spending time alone properly then they wouldn’t need a human constantly around them to make them feel safe and relaxed. They would also be a more robust and confident dog in general and a dog more capable of coping with life and making better decisions.


Being in a state of constant stress when left alone takes its toll on the dog. Chronic stress is as debilitating for them as it is for humans. Their general health will suffer, so they are more likely to develop chronic health problems, which is bad for them and expensive for the owner. They are likely to never feel very confident or safe, even when people are present. This is because they worry every time you get your coat or keys that they will be left. They become clingy and very dependent, and this is a problem for you and the dog then in many other situations.

When does a normal behaviour become a problem?

Obviously many canine behaviours are normal for any dogs. Barking is normal and howling can be but we have to look at it in context. If a dog has a quick bark when someone walks past the window this could be normal behaviour. If lots of people pass the window every day it can then become a problem as the dog will be barking frequently and it could become more intense and hysterical.

From the perspective of the dog, they may be very troubled by potential intruders and cannot relax when they are constantly triggered. This isn’t great for them and not for an owner trying to relax in their presence.
The dog may have very little stimulation or interesting activity in a day and so becomes obsessed with barking at passers by as a way of occupying themselves and to satisfy a need not being met. This also is not great for the dog or the owner.
The dog may be getting over-stimulated and be unable to relax or ignore anything happening around them. Again, not great for them or an owner.
It might not be great for the person walking past every day with their own dog who is upset at the dog that barks at them as they pass by and starts to bark back or refuse to walk past.

There could be many other reasons for the behaviour, or escalation in behaviour, that are less obvious, and this is why it is important to bring in a professional to figure this out with you. You can ‘Google it’ and get lots of potentially great advice and lots of not so great. How do you know which is correct? If you apply the wrong thing first you may get a negative result that could add even more problems to the existing one.
The problem is that no-one on line who has not seen your dog in the flesh can possibly say what is happening to them with any degree of certainty anymore than your doctor can diagnose your illness without seeing you.

So, what IS a behaviour problem?

Absolutely anything can be classed as a behaviour problem if it is causing a problem for any person, dog or other animal involved.

If you walk with a stick then having a big dog pull you on the lead is a problem.
The dog could be having problems using their hindlimbs and so is pulling on the lead, or they could be sustaining damage to their neck because of the constant pulling. That means you and the dog both have a problem.

A dog barking when someone knocks at the door can be a problem if they do it all the time but can be comforting if they do it briefly if you live alone and worry about safety.

A dog who steals socks might be considered cute and comical until a new baby comes along and they then steal their toys or items of clothing. When you are tired and stressed out with a new baby those things can seem less funny that they did before!

So, when we ask what a behaviour problem is, we generally think in terms of the problem for the people, not about the underlying problem the dog is having. If we help the dog to feel happy and content then the problem and all other knock on problems cease to exist for everyone.
If you are putting up with certain things at the moment be sure that those things wont become a future problem when circumstances change. That wont be the dog’s fault if you have indulged them but then want them to break the fun habit of half a lifetime overnight by getting mad with them. Be careful what you encourage!

In short, if you are getting fed up with something, even a little bit, you might benefit from some help. Especially if you find yourself being often frustrated or angry with your dog. It should be a great partnership with moments of frustration (we are all human and dogs will be dogs!) but the vast majority of the time with your dog should be enjoyable.

If in doubt – ask us. Whatever the problem…….

Does Your Dog Need Physiotherapy? Part Two.

Julie Moss BSc. Hons., AdvCertVPhys, Dip.APhys.

Dogs can go through life coping with underlying physical conditions and many of these go undiscovered for many years. Many of my canine physiotherapy patients originally come for behavioural therapy where we discover the behaviour problems are a result of hidden pain.

In part one we looked at behavioural signs of hidden musculoskeletal problems and how they can be misunderstood. In part two we will be looking at postural signs that can indicate an underlying problem which may be causing your dog difficulty.
Most people assume that if their dog can run and jump they do not have any musculoskeletal problems. Surely if they were in pain they wouldnt do that would they?

Well yes, they would, and they do. As we discussed in part one, dogs are amazing creatures with four legs, which means they can shift weight off the bad limb/area and carry on. This is how they manage to go on for many years without anyone realising. They can do this until the other limbs suffer from the extra strain, which is when they become obviously lame. However, there are signs much earlier on, if you know what to look for.

Foot Placement

Watch your dog in different situations and notice whether they are pointing one or more feet out to the side or in towards the opposite leg. Are their feet very close together or far apart when they stand still? Do they seem to be leaning to one side slightly and leaning more on one limb at the front or back? Do they keep their hind limbs forward under their body rather than slightly behind them when they stand? Are the nails scuffed or excessively worn or long on any of the toes? Are any of the pads worn to one side? Look at your dogs footprints when they are wet, walking in snow or sand. Are they even?
These things can all indicate under or over-use of a limb and can indicate increased or reduced weight bearing. It can also tell you if they are not picking certain feet up cleanly or if they have altered they way they stand on a particular limb.
Look at them at different times or in different positions as sometimes things are more obvious than others, for example, when they are tired.

Jake before a walk
Jake after a walk

Asymmetry

Look closely at your dog from in front, behind and above. Do they have bigger muscles on one side than the other? Use your hands to feel both sides at the same time. Do they feel bigger on one side than the other? Common places to notice this are over the hindquarters and the shoulders.
Again, these observations can tell you that they are using one side more than the other. look for subtle differences to catch the early signs. See if you can feel the bony areas around and between the muscles slightly on one side more than the other.

Muscle wastage on the right limb, which is the side of the weaker hip.

Coat changes/patterns

Notice coat changes. These can creep in very gradually or be dramatic changes that come in quite fast. taking regular photographs of your dog can help you see if something is new or not.
Does the coat feels brittle, dry or scurfy in specific areas and different in others? Are there areas of fur that constantly stick up or out? Are there swirls or partings where the hair changes direction or lies flat or raised? Is it harder to run your fingers through the coat in certain places?
These signs can all indicate signs of strain in nearby or underlying soft tissues where circulation may be compromised or there is muscle tension. The patterns may not be where the problem is but they could tell you your dog is using their body in a way that is putting it under strain. Combined with the other observations we are looking at, they can give you extra information and clues.

Note the swirls and partings in the coat along the length of the spine

Lying and sitting

Does your dog always lie on one side? Do they always sit on one side? Do they always get up using the same leg first? If you are training your dog do they seem ‘stubborn’ or ‘slow’ when you ask them to sit, lie or stand? Do you have difficulty getting a tidy, even sit? Do they take their time getting up or down? Do they fidget?
Maybe they cant use one or more of their limbs properly. Perhaps there is a joint problem preventing them from flexing and extending their limbs to the extent needed to sit or lie correctly or get up efficiently.

Lying with one hind limb positioned to make getting up easier. Just the paw pads are in contact with the floor for easy push off whilst sparing the more worn hip on the right side.

Movement

Filming your dog can tell you a lot. If you have a slow motion function on your phone you can use that. If not you can run normal film through one of the many slow motion apps available. Slowing it right down can help you see small signs as your dog moves. It can also be really useful to show your vet to illustrate what you are seeing as these things are rarely picked up in a vet consult room,especially if the signs are subtle.

Can your dog turn both ways easily? You can use widely spaced weave poles to check if your dog can do this. if you do agility does your dog tend to go wide one way on weaves, or both ways? Do they struggle to come round for jumps or obstacles from the right or left? Do they always turn one way during everyday activities? Look closely.

Can your dog get in and out of the car or on and off the sofa easily and cleanly or do they catch their hind limbs or pull up with their front limbs? Can they climb the stairs slowly? Many dogs run up and down to minimise the discomfort and may ‘bunny hop’ through most running and jumping exercises (using both hind limbs together to push off).
Does your dog pull on the lead? This may be because its uncomfortable to load the hindlimbs, causing them to lean forward and be unbalanced.

Leaning on the forelimbs causing pulling on the lead.

Activities

Does your dog not want to do things they used to? Have they changed their patterns? Maybe they are choosing to lie in unusual places or on unusual surfaces? Do they seem more nervous or afraid than they used to? Have they always been nervous or afraid? Have they stopped interacting with other dogs or have they always been reluctant to do so? Are they growling at the groomer now? Have they always growled at the groomer? Do they seem afraid to go for a walk or stop and refuse to walk part way through? Many so called ‘stubborn’ dogs actually are having problems doing what you want them to do.


As I said at the beginning, dogs can go for many years of their lives with a hidden condition. So if they have always struggled with handling or interactions with others then it is worth getting them checked over thoroughly. Even if they ‘have always been like that’. If there are sudden changes we tend to suspect a problem easier than if the problems have always been there but vary in degrees of severity. Remember dogs can be struggling with these issues from a very young age, even as a very young puppy. As they grow up, people then think its just how they are, as musculoskeletal issues are not considered unless dogs are older. So, its possible that a dogs life and happiness could be completely changed if a condition was discovered at a very young age, the pain was managed and the dog could feel comfortable and capable of everyday activities without painful repercussions.

I hope this gives you some pointers as to signs of hidden problems in your own dogs. If you want to know more you might like to come to a one or two day talk or workshop at Canine Mind and Body Balance.
Visit the ‘Events’ page on the website for further information and to book on any educational days.

Posted on February 3, 2019 by caninemindandbody

Does your dog need Physiotherapy? Part One.

Julie Moss BSc.Hons., AdvCertVPhys, Dip. APhys.

If your initial response is an immediate “no” then keep reading because I may change your mind!

When I mention canine physiotherapy to people I often see their eyes glaze over, or a look of confusion appear on their face. I mean how on earth do you get a dog to do physiotherapy and why would it ever help them?

Well you would be surprised how many dogs out there actually really need it and would benefit from it. The problem is that, because it is so misunderstood, it constantly gets overlooked as a viable treatment for dogs. In addition to that, lameness and musculoskeletal conditions in dogs often go undiscovered until there are very obvious and visible signs of pain. Both vets and owners alike can struggle with the idea that many dogs are coping with various levels of disability without it ever being noticed. I mean surely you would see it if a dog was lame – right? Or surely it would be picked up at the annual vet check?

Wrong! Many dogs have a subtle lameness that is invisible to the untrained eye in most situations. They appear very active and even extremely fit and healthy from the outside. They don’t hold a limb up or fall over and they don’t cry out in pain. They will chase a ball all day and seem to never be tired. They may even compete in sports and win! However this doesn’t mean they have no pain or difficulty.

They also can be missed at the vet health check. A 10 minute vaccination appointment is not adequate to see subtle lameness. In fact, even half an hour in a standard vet consulting room can also reveal nothing. The dog is in a state of high arousal, the room is small, they might be scared. All these things mean you struggle to ‘see’ the signs in that environment.

So what are the signs……..?

The vast majority of my behaviour cases over the last couple of years have had pain as a cause or contributing factor without anyone realising, despite annual vet health checks. Now you might be thinking that your dog does not have a behavioural problem and isn’t limping and therefore they have no need of physio. Hopefully that is true, but my experience tells me there is every chance it isn’t, because the behavioural signs can be misinterpreted. Let me explain.

“He has always been like that” is an expression I hear over and over again from an owner, when I broach the subject of their dog’s behaviour being a clue to a deeper physical problem. For example, the dog that has always barked hysterically when it is playing. Its just having fun – right? Well maybe not. It may be that, via that very behaviour, the dog is displaying signs of not coping due to a physical problem. From the owners perspective it is just something the dog has “always done” and is just “who he is”.

What is very possible is that the dog has “always been like that” because, for example, they have ‘always’ had a luxating patella (kneecap), or mild hip dysplasia, or arthritic joints. They bark hysterically when they play because they are in pain and/or feel unbalanced or unsafe. It doesn’t necessarily mean they would refuse to play. If they are very driven to pursue a behaviour they will often work through a great amount of discomfort to do so. They will also work very hard to please us when we ask them to do something, despite their own discomfort, and this is why it is possible to not ‘see’ considerable pain suffered by them, because they don’t react like we would.

Case Study

Jake. 8 year old male collie cross

At around 8 years of age Jake was stuck in a rescue centre because he had been repeatedly returned, due to behaviour problems. He would guard the stairs at the top and guard the sofa. He would be unpredictable and could snap for seemingly no reason. Yet he was friendly, in that he seemed to like people, as long as they were in his space on his terms. He also loved to play with a football and could certainly run – fast!