I get it. Dogs do some weird, annoying, and downright bizarre things (Poop eating anyone? Gross!). But here’s the thing. We’re not dogs, so we don’t have to understand what they do. It’s dog stuff. Just like we do human stuff. But what we can do is to try to understand the need and the why, accept them, and let dogs have opportunities to do “dog stuff” without any judgment or shame.
What do I mean by dog stuff? Usually all the stuff that us humans either don’t understand and would prefer for them NOT to do. The usuals like: barking, biting, chewing, scavenging, humping, growling/snapping at other dogs and people, chasing things, killing things, eating nasty things, rolling in nasty things, and other general nastiness or naughtiness by human standards.
Here are a few examples of normal behaviors, why they are probably occurring, and what we can do to support our dogs:
My puppy is biting me/my clothing/my children/the wall, etc.
Why: Puppies don’t have hands, so they experience the world through their mouths. Licking and chewing are two activities that can be very soothing and mentally enriching to dogs and especially to puppies when they are teething (before the age of about 6 months). When puppies are overstimulated, this can cause nipping and biting. They may need a quiet place to nap or relax or another more appropriate activity to do.
What to do:
-Redirection onto something else such as a toy, rope, bone, or flirt pole.
-Disengage/ignore when puppy starts biting.
-Ensure puppy has plenty of other appropriate things to chew on and mental enrichment needs are being met.
-Ensure puppy is getting enough rest and quiet time. Over tired puppies can sometimes get cranky and mouthy. They may need to go down for a nap or have some quiet time.
-Appropriate ways for kids to interact with puppy. Chase can sometimes be too high energy of an activity and over stimulating for puppies (especially those who are herding breeds).
-Work on impulse control and boundary training skills such as stay, wait, leave it, drop, and mat/relaxation work.
My dog is growling/snapping at dogs/people.
Why: Dogs will growl and snap when they are uncomfortable or concerned with a situation. This is the equivalent of asking for space and distance from someone or something. It can look scary and aggressive and is often misinterpreted as being automatically aggressive. Dogs communicate mostly through body language and this is how they communicate a need for space and distance or for someone or something to go away.
What to do:
-Accept, knowledge, and understand this is a completely normal and appropriate way for dogs to communicate!
-Learn how your dog communicates and what situations may make them uncomfortable.
-Avoid putting them in situations they could be uncomfortable-crowded places with other dogs and people, on leash greetings, places where there are a lot of bikes/scooters/skaters, etc., allowing other people to interact with them/try to pet them to name a few.
-Never punish a growl or a snap. We want dogs to know that it is okay for them to communicate their need for space. If we punish a warning, they could eventually stop using the warning and may go straight to more extreme measures such as contact with their mouth, teeth, and body.
My dog is stealing/scavenging/counter-surfing!
Why: Dogs are opportunistic and will seize any and all opportunities that present themselves: including stealing your socks if they have access to them and stealing food off the counter tops if they have access to it. It’s a part of who they are and some dogs are more opportunistic than others. They can sometimes use these behaviors as attention-seeking as well! If your dog has something you don’t want them to have, how likely are you to chase them?
For example, at the dog park the other day, I had a dog literally steal my treat pouch right off of me! Yes, this actually happened! I couldn’t find my one that snaps around my waist, so I used one that just clips onto my belt loop. What did I learn? I won’t be using that treat pouch again!
What to do:
-Environmental management will be your best friend here! Dogs can’t get certain things if they do not have access to it in the first place! Use baby gates, fencing, close doors, etc.
-Teach your dog some important life skills such as leave it and drop it/give/trade, etc.
-Make sure that your dog is receiving appropriate levels and a variety of activities to keep them mentally enriched and stimulated. Bored dogs often get themselves into trouble.
-Do not engage in chase with your dog. There is a time and a place to play this game and it isn’t when they have something you don’t want them to have. Only engage in chase if the item your dog has is downright dangerous.
We usually approach things from a human perspective. It’s important to take a moment and reflect on where the dog might be coming from because they are dogs after all, not humans. It’s beneficial (and crucial actually) for us to take a more active role in learning how they communicate, why they may do the things they do, and how we can provide appropriate guidance, feedback, and support in a world that is designed for humans, not dogs.