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Behavior or “What the heck?”

Spontaneous Recovery, or “What the heck? I thought we were over this!”

Sometimes when owners decide to fix bad behaviors, the behaviors seems to take a while to disappear, or the bad behaviors still keep cropping up. In fact, sometimes owners get frustrated because at first the behavior may even get worse. – Dr. Sophia Yin, How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves

43_dog_it was an alienWhen a bad behavior gets worse rather than better while an owner is trying to correct it, the owner may feel that positive reinforcement training is not working, and it’s now time to “get serious” about training. But, generally, I have found that what is really needed is a better understanding of behavior. We all try harder to get what we want when what use to work isn’t working any more. For example, when you put your $2.00 into a pop machine and press the button for the cold drink of your choice, you expect the machine to burp and grind and shove an overpriced sugary drink at you within seconds of inhaling your hard earned cash. If, after pushing the button, the machine does not perform correctly, you do not shrug your shoulders and say “Oh well, I didn’t need it anyway,” and walk away. No, if you are like 100% of the population, you will push the button again. When that doesn’t work, you push it again, harder, and maybe call the machine names it doesn’t understand. You might even hit the button, shove the machine, stick your hand up it’s throat, etc.* In other words, you try the same behavior repeatedly, or more intensely, because in the past it has worked and it ought to work this time!

Similarly, if you are trying to correct a bad behavior in your dog, such as barking at you at 4:49 am because it just might be breakfast time, you need to understand that when you ignore this behavior in your dog, he will try harder (ie: bark more or louder) to get what he wants because the behavior worked in the past. “How hard he tries depends on how much he’s had to bark to get his way in the past.” (Dr. Yin). Understandably, many people give into the dog at the peak of his bad behavior, just to get him to stop. Unfortunately, having rewarded the bad behavior at its worst, they have now succeeded  in making the behavior stronger and more obnoxious. What is actually needed here is to stay the course. Do not reward him for the undesired behavior by reacting to it. Instead, wait for the desired behavior and reward Kitchen Buckleythat. Thus, in the case of the early rising Bernese Mountain Dog, what I did was ignore his huffing and puffing until he was quiet for about 10 seconds, then I invited him onto the bed. He snuggled in and slept until I got up at 6:00.

Another misunderstanding that owners sometimes have is the idea that when a dog learns an incompatible behavior (such as sitting to be petted rather than jumping on guests) the bad behavior (jumping) is somehow eradicated from memory. The reality is: behaviors are not un-learned. Moreover, given a strong enough motivation, or if the new behavior is not reinforced adequately, the undesired behavior will rear its ugly head. As Dr. Yin puts it,

information is never erased from an animal’s brain. Instead it lurks there, and when inexperienced trainers least expect it, the behavior bursts out…If the desirable behaviors are reinforced frequently in a short period of time and the undesirable behaviors are not reinforced at all, then the new behavior may become a habit. But if training is inconsistent and the dog’s motivation for the undesirable behavior is extremely high, then the training may need to be lifelong. (emphasis mine)

So, what’s an owner to do? First of all, remember that most of Fifi’s bad habits are annoyances, not truly dangerous or destructive behaviors, so keeping  your sense of humor and perspective will aid you in staying the course and getting through the extinction burst and the spontaneous recovery of a bad behavior. (Nota bena: If your dog’s behaviors are dangerous or destructive, talk to a positive reinforcement trainer for help on how to handle these problems. To find a trainer in your area, go to

2) Work to consistently prevent reinforcement of the undesired behavior in order to extinguish it, and

3) Reward the desired behavior in a way that is meaningful to your dog. For example, our early rising Berner is motivated by snuggling with us and by food. So, when he barks to get up on the bed, I do not let him on the bed, but when he is quiet, then he is invited. Thus, the next time he wants up at 4:49, I expect the huffing and puffing to be shorter in duration, and the quiet to come sooner and longer. Now, he will have to be quiet for 15 seconds before being allowed on the bed. My goal is to get his signal down to one little “woof”. With that he can join us. Mr. Bingley my flat-coated retriever, on the other hand, is motivated by balls and I have used this motivation to successfully get him to sit, stay, lie down, or sit at side, instead of jumping or barking to get me to play with him. When he is very excited however, he may resort to jumping or barking. Nothing fun happens when he does that. Instead, I wait until he offers me a behavior such as sit. Then, when he does what Mom wants, he gets what he wants: to chase his beloved tennis ball.


*Interestingly, vending machines kill about 2-3 people per year. According to the website,, “how do people die from a vending machine? Vending machines are not known carcinogens. I imagine that the machine takes someone’s money and malfunctions. The customer then shakes it to free the snack, whereupon the machine tips over and crushes the hot-tempered purchaser.” (emphasis mine)

Behavior or "What the heck?" Blogs with book recommendations General Informational or Doggie Demographics4 comments

Santa Paws is coming to town!

76C_dog_cat_xmas-01Earlier this year (Sept. 23rd to be precise: I published “Fido’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday, early edition!” hoping to motivate people to start preparing sooner rather than later for the Holiday season. Now I have no way of knowing if anyone, or everyone took this advice, but I have to assume that some took it, and some did not. So, I decided that perhaps reiterating some of the advice (and adding in some new items, yay!) might be handy for those of you who perhaps had good intentions, but somewhat less than perfect execution.

1) When it is dinner time for people, prevent canine catastrophes at the table by feeding your dogs stuffed Kongs. Kongs come in a variety of sizes and are readily available at most pet stores. Recipes for stuffing a Kong can be found at: And, be sure to check out my September 2nd blog, “Whoever said breakfast had to come in a bowl?” ( for more recommendations on intelligence toys you can use instead of Kongs.

MerryXmasFireplace_ACD_Page_12) Give Fido a happy place. I insist that each of my dogs have a place in the house that is his “Do Not Disturb” zone. Give your buddy a comfy place to curl up, a special treat to chew on, and perhaps some lavender oil on its blanket, in a quiet place in the house. If you need Fido to leave Nirvana, call him to you, and offer a tasty treat for his co-operation. Don’t drag Fido out of his comfort zone as it might lose its specialness and he will no longer have that safe place to re-group. If Fido seems too excited or restless during the festivities, consider giving him that tasty Kong in his special spot or crate as a way to decompress and get himself re-oriented and ready to join the fun.

3) Careful of small toys! Your dog may decide that the replica of the Starship Enterprise, or Diagon Alley in Legos are chew toys. If your dog does swallow plastic do not immediately induce vomiting as sharp edges on chewed plastic can cause serious problems on the way back up. They can also cause gastrointestinal blockages, which can become quite serious quite quickly. (We lost a beloved dog to a blockage due to eating chicken bones he heisted from the trash. In 24 hours he was gone.) Please call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, and be prepared for an emergency vet visit.

4) Rich foods can cause tummy problems! I have posted a lot about toxic materials during the holidays (See Sept 23 and Dec. 75C_dog_thanksgiving-01, but many things that aren’t toxic, should be monitored so Fido does not get an upset tummy or diarrhea. Christmas Cookies, eggnog, candy canes, holiday breads, candy, turkey skins, or anything that he does not normally eat and is high in fat and/or calories can cause tummy upsets. I had a Shih Tzu once who LOVED chocolate. My sister-in-law failed to tell me one of the presents she sent was a two pound bag of M&M’s. Bilbo found it under the tree, ate the entire thing, and promptly threw up all of it on my white rug on Christmas Eve. Luckily he did not poison himself, and my neighbor loaned me her steam-vac, so it all ended well enough, but I certainly don’t wish that on any of you!

What I do wish is that you and your pets have a wonderful, safe Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I also hope that you all know how very grateful we at A Positive Connection for all of you and your delightful dogs. We look forward to serving you in 2014.Happy Hollydogs for website

Behavior or "What the heck?" Care and management or living together in harmony Stress: signals, management, & warning signs4 comments

Decompression is not just for divers…

Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services is located in Pennsylvania and is headed up by Illana Reisner, a board certified Veterinary Animal Behaviorist. There are only 50 (or so) of this highly trained professionals in the nation and we are lucky to have one of them Dr. Meghan Herron at OSU. Dr. Herron studied under Illana Reisner for her post-graduate work. Dr. Reisner also spoke at the Midwestern Veterinary Conference in 2012 and her knowledge, compassion, and dedication to the health and well being of dogs (and cats) is deep, broad, and inspiring. I highly recommend that if you are on Facebook and interested in animal welfare and behavior (and want some great tips for successfully managing your pets), like Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services and look for their Tuesday’a Pearl posts as well as their Saturday’s Pet Peeve. You will become a better owner! Here is a recent example:

Tuesday’s Pearl: If you don’t know your dog well – if he was recently rescued, for example — don’t push his limits with uncomfortable (to him) interactions. Many behavior clients call about recently rescued adult dogs showing unexpected aggression towards them, and are surprised because the dog behaved appropriately when they first met.
          This is usually because a stressed and unattached dog in a noisy environment will act differently from one who’s lived in your home for a few months. It may take the dog a while to settle into the social rhythms of his new home and relationships. For a newly adopted adult dog, kissing, hugging and snuggling (especially while they are lying down) is confusing at best, and certainly not automatically positive.
           In fact, the dog probably wonders why his owner isn’t getting the message to stop – after all, he is looking away, licking lips, yawning,  even rolling on his back. When owners persist and rub that belly or hazard kissing it, the dog may bite – this is a common scenario with adult rescues who are bewildered by all of it. It is safest and least stressful for both dog and human to avoid “in-your-face” interactions with an adult rescue, and instead focus on walking, training and just hanging out near each other.
In other words, recognizing when your dog needs some space to decompress from events he finds stressful will help ensure the health and well being of everyone, human and canine.
Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

I caused how much trouble?

Avoiding eye contact = stressed

Yawning can be a displacement behavior and it is one way a dog tells you he is uncomfortable, stressed, or needs some space.

Yawning can be a displacement behavior and it is one way a dog tells you he is uncomfortable, stressed, or needs some space.

There are many other displacement or stress signals that your dog may be exhibiting. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior, then contact a positive reinforcement trainer who can help you to better read your dog’s body language and to interact with him in a healthy and positive way.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Stress: signals, management, & warning signs0 comments

Rin Tin Tin wannabees…


Stranger Danger, or “I want my dog to be like Rin Tin Tin, and protect me!”

Ah yes, the “I want my dog to protect me from strangers, dangers, and things that go bump in the night. I want him to be like Lassie (or Rin Tin Tin, or Benji, or any other fictional heroic canine) and be able to recognize the bad guys and protect me.”  That’s great! Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, those dogs (or more precisely, the roles that they played) are fictional. They do not exist in the real world and to assume that you can train your dog to be protective only when necessary (and to determine the need on its own) is highly unrealistic for almost all dogs and their owners (including yours truly).  When I mention this to people wanting protection dogs, they often reply that Police dogs can tell the difference and only attack on cue. Exactly! They only attack on cue from their handlers. We do not have lone Police dogs (or even Police dog pairs) patrolling the streets of cities and towns assessing potential wrong doings and protecting the general public from odious characters. These highly trained dogs are always with their handlers and are trained to be very responsive to exact cues.
Therefore, when the subject of protection arises, I ask people to define, carefully, what they mean by protection, as this can be a very dangerous place to wander with your dog.  Ask yourself honestly: Do you really want your dog to be aggressive to strangers?  And, how is the dog suppose to know who is a good stranger and who is bad one, especially if you are not there? What if someone comes to your 24_dog_zombie run awayhome when you are not there and the dog is in your yard, or your back door is unlocked or left ajar by mistake? Perhaps it is a child whose ball was knocked into the yard, or an old friend stopping by spontaneously to say hi? Or a different UPS guy? Or a new neighbor coming over to introduce herself, or use your phone? These people are strangers to your dog. Do you honestly want  him to be aggressive and to take matters into his own paws to protect the homestead?
I propose that what you probably want is your dog to have a strong social drive to people. Why? Because the vast majority of people you meet will be people with whom you desire your dog to be friendly. Moreover, who wants to risk a dog biting someone who is not a threat? And, believe it or not, a well socialized dog is more likely to be able to react to real dangers or concerns. Because he 35_dog_adoringpublicknows what safe looks, feels, and acts like, he will be suspicious of those things which do not lie within his field of experience. The reaction may not be huge, but if you know your dog, you will know when he is uncomfortable or concerned, just as you know when all is well with him.
In the case of my sister’s condo associate who lives alone (see last week’s blog for Part 1 of this story) and wants a dog larger than the 30 pound limit, I think that she is probably motivated by two things: 1) she wants her dog to bark at the door when people arrive, and 2) she will feel safer walking at night with a large dog rather than with one that can be mistaken for a giant powdered sugar donut. I know that most persons of nefarious intent will go to another door rather than risk a barking dog alerting the owner or neighbors, and they do not want to risk being bitten. That said, a larger dog has a deeper bark and is more likely to cause someone to pause. My Bingley has a very deep bark that is kinda scary, and he has caused more than one person to re-consider coming to the door. A chihuahua, or Pomeranian is not as likely to scare someone off either at the door or keep someone at bay when walking out on the street (but it is probably better than no bark at all!). Therefore, in this instance, when you want a dog with a definite presence, you need a bigger dog. What you don’t need is a meaner dog.
Thus, the question remains: Can small dogs be protective as well as companionable? Yes. But how effective are they? It depends, again, on how you define protective. If you want a dog to bark, growl, snap at or intimidate strangers, get a small dog and do not socialize him to people, places, and things. This will create a “protective” dog who will react out of fear, and which people will avoid, but are unlikely to consider a serious threat (Which btw, is not smart. Small dogs can bite seriously, multiple times, and cause enough damage to require stitches, strong antibiotics and perhaps plastic surgery if the bite is to the face.) But I ask you, how happy is this dog and how happy will the owner be with a dog that hates/fears everyone? Far better to have a dog that likes people, and barks at appropriate times, such as at the door, or on cue. Small dogs can be very unpleasant and people may avoid them, but they seldom strike fear into the hearts of the masses.
So in summary, if you want a dog that will “protect” you or at least give the illusion of protection, bigger dogs are more likely to fill the bill. Dogs up to 60~75 pounds (most labs, goldens, setters, spaniels, other retrievers) would do well in a mulit-unit complex and are a size that most people can manage effectively, and which would provide a level of comfort (i.e. when walking at night these guys are large enough to cause someone pause) or protection to the owner. Remember however, that these dogs, like any dog, require good management, a strong relationship with their owner and training to make them successful members of society. Without those three things, the size of the dog does not matter, it will be a problem and/or nuisance to the owner and the neighbors.
11_dog_dino on watch

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere2 comments

Yelp me!

IMG_0850Imagine, if you would, a moment in your life that you were anxious, upset, fearful or just leary of what was happening around you. What did you do? Did you bite your lip, lick your lips, or press them together? Perhaps you avoided eye contact with the person who made you uncomfortable, clenched your jaw, wrinkled your brow, or stiffened as the moment became increasingly distressing. Maybe you backed up, turned away, or started sweating. All these are natural responses to stress, fear, anxiety and all of them have corresponding behaviors in our dogs.



When faced with the unknown or the uncomfortable, our dogs will tell us in no uncertain terms that they are stressed. We just need to recognize the signals, both subtle and un, that our dogs display. For example, the puppy at the upper left is telling me that he is uncertain about something. I know this because his mouth is closed, his head is turned away, and I can see the whites of his eyes. The labrador to the right, does not like the camera and tells me this by looking away with wide eyes, ears tucked, a closed mouth, and a veins on the side of his face are enlarged.

Irish Lip licking



Another sign that your dog may be excited, stressed, or aroused (higher energy and awareness of his surroundings) is lip licking when no food is around, or yawning when he isn’t tired. (Left two pictures).



Interestingly, even as our dogs smile (as I mentioned last week) so do they also frown! Patricia McConnell, PhD, describes it in For the Love of A Dog,

When humans frown, we move the centers of our eyebrows down and toward each other. Dogs frown, too, and it’s another relatively easy signal to read once you learn to look for it. It’s clear that these are important signals in social communication – in both species the muscles above the eyes are accented, by hair (in our case) and coloration changes (in the case of most dogs).

329034_274672889217492_119922748025841_1041722_1158631897_oIn the case of Roxy (black dog to the right), this was one of the first times that her owners were away and she was getting to know me, as well as trying to figure out what I was doing! Her wrinkled brow tells me that she is not altogether certain that what I am doing, right then, is “okay”. (As an aside, I took her picture and then let her sniff my phone. A few treats also helped to assuage her!)

There are many signals that our dog use to communicate to us that they are uncomfortable, and I have illustrated just a few of the more common ones.  Some others include stiffening, sweaty paw pads, and leaning back or backing away from something. (We humans do these things as well when nervous or leary, though we generally do not sweat through the bottoms of our feet!) You can begin to recognize the way your dog communicates his or her feelings by watching what they do, and what their bodies and faces look like when you know they are experiencing particular emotions such as excitement, uncertainty, or fear. Knowing how to read  your dog’s body language will also help you to know when your dog is asking for your help to better manage the unexpected.





This picture is in response to the comment by Laura below and is Roxy (the dog immediately above) doing her round head look. In this instance she had not done anything wrong, but I think I might have shouted to one of the other dogs to come and she was right next to me when I raised my voice so the other dogs could hear me across the fenced-in area. She looks guilty (or pitiable) but I really think it was in response to me raising my voice, not anything she had done. It is, however, very cute and is sure to illicit a treat from me every time!


Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Stress: signals, management, & warning signs6 comments

Is my dog smiling at me?

1374879_10201231168880183_70258531_nDogs are experts at reading human body language. The question of the day is: do dogs’ facial expressions mean the same thing as ours? Do they smile when they are happy? Do they show concern, worry, or fear in the same way we do? Surprisingly, the answer to all of these is yes, with some considerations.

Patricia B. McConnell, PhD is a an adjunct associate professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She is a dog trainer, author, and national speaker on dogs and dog behavior. In her book, For the Love of  a Dog, Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, Dr. McConnell talks about smiling, “[r]etracting the corners of the mouth and raising them is what makes a smile a smile.” Smiles, unlike other facial expressions, are most common when we are with other people and facing them. That is to say, we direct smiles at others.HenryandGolden

Dr. McConnell continues: “Paying attention to the corners of another’s mouth isn’t unique to our species…[D]ogs move the corners of their mouths too, and just as in humans, the direction of the movement tells you a lot about how the dog is feeling inside.” A dog will move its commissures (corners of the mouth) back and up in “something that looks to some like a human smile, and to others like an aggressive baring of the teeth. Smiling dogs raise their upper lips, usually so much that the skin over the top of their muzzle becomes 59568_155969521087830_119922748025841_395974_4900345_nwrinkled.”  This exposes their shiny white teeth and can be alarming if you don’t take into consideration the overall demeanor of the dog. If a “smiling” dog approaches me with a thumping tail, wiggley body, goofy demeanor, and squinty eyes, then I am pretty confident that this dog harbors no ill will towards me, despite the fact that I can see his pearly whites. On the other hand, a smiley dog with a rigid body, cold or hard eyes, a forward lean to his stance, and a tail raised high and barely moving will cause me to pause and carefully assess the situation before I move closer or attempt to make physical contact with the dog.

She summarizes:

We don’t know exactly what emotion a “smiling” dog is expressing, but it doesn’t seem to be associated with anger or fear-related aggression. One good guess, my favorite at the moment, is that it’s an expression of a dog in an ambivalent state, with the primary emotion being one of submission or docility.  I think of it as the kind of goofy, nervous grin you’d see on the face of a shy adolescent guy when he picks up his date for the first time.


 Next week: Worried and fearful dogs and how similar their expressions are to ours!

Behavior or "What the heck?" Stress: signals, management, & warning signs0 comments

Fido’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday, early edition!

Do you want this year’s Holidays to be more fun than stressful for you and your favorite canine?

If you answered, “YES!!”, then think about preparing for the holidays now, before the chaos hits.  Use the following suggestions so that you and Fido will be primed and ready to have more fun than stress this holiday season!
  1. Sit! A dog that is sitting is not jumping on Grandma, chasing the grandkids, or running joyfully through the house announcing the visitors. Practice sit everywhere and at all times of the day or night. (50+ sits a day is not over doing it, really.) The more times and places your dog sits, the more it becomes his default behavior and one that he is likely to do when in doubt about the busyness around him.
  2. MerryXmasFireplace_ACD_Page_1Give Fido a happy place. I insist that each of my dogs have a place in the house that is his “Do Not Disturb” zone. Give your buddy a comfy place to curl up, a special treat to chew on, and perhaps some lavender oil on its blanket, in a quiet place in the house. If you need Fido to leave Nirvana, call him to you, and offer a tasty treat for his co-operation. Don’t drag Fido out of his comfort zone as it might lose its specialness and he will no longer have that safe place to re-group. Call me if you need help or other suggestions on setting up Fido’s happy place. 740-587-042936_kongs and candles
  3. When it is dinner time for people, prevent canine catastrophes at the table by feeding your dogs stuffed Kongs in their happy places. Kongs come in a variety of sizes and are readily available at most pet stores. Recipes for stuffing a Kong can be found at: Or, give me a call! I have a recipe book as well as lots of tasty Kong ideas! 740-587-0429. (And, be sure to check out my September 2nd blog, “Whoever said breakfast had to come in a bowl?” for more recommendations on intelligence toys.)
  4. Certain foods can cause serious problems in dogs, and if injested can require immediate veterinary care. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center number is: 888-426-4435 (Note: there is a charge for their services). Some of the foods you need to keep away from your dog:
  • Xylitol: an artificial sweetener, 5 sticks of sugar free gum can sicken a 44 lb dog
  • Grapes and raisins: can cause kidney failure, even in small amounts
  • Macadamia nuts: can cause paralysis
  • Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine (dark chocolate more toxic than milk chocolate)
  • Cooked bones: can perforate the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, or cause  impactions.
  • Safe only in small amounts: nutmeg, sage, onions and garlic.
Preparing now, while you have a few weeks before Halloween will give you and Fido the chance to get his sit perfected as well as establish a safe haven and a routine that will give you the best chance for the very Happiest Holiday Season yet!Happy Hollydogs_ACD_Page_1



Behavior or "What the heck?" Stress: signals, management, & warning signs0 comments

Beware of Cement Pigs!


When my dog Mr. Bingley was about 6 months old we walked past a neighbor’s house where a cement pig resides in the front yard. We’d passed this house many times, but for some reason, on this particular day, Bingley noticed the pig and froze, staring at it and puffing up like a bottle brush. He didn’t know what to make of this strange and apparently dangerous object!  To help Bingley overcome his seemingly irrational fear of concrete porkers, I kept his leash loose and gave him a treat as he looked at the pig. I stepped toward the pig and waited, offering him another tasty morsel if he took a step closer. He did. I repeated this procedure until he was able to sniff the offending swine and easily take a treat from the top of its head. This whole procedure took less than 10 minutes and from that day on Bingley has ignored the cement beast. Because he was able to approach and explore the object at his pace and he got rewarded for doing so, Bingley learned that there was nothing to fear.

In working with dogs, cats, and horses, I have noticed that they are most comfortable with new things when given the opportunity to explore novel items at their own pace. Temple Grandin describes this phenomenon nicely in her book Animals Make Us Human, “[N]ovelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it is presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don’t want new things shoved into their faces, and people don’t either.” Bingley and his encounter with the cement pig, is a classic example of this.

If you need to introduce your cat, goat, dog, guinea pig, horse, or bird to something novel, especially something that is going to be in the animal’s life for awhile, remember that forced novelty is frightening. Give your pet the time and space it needs to explore the item, reward it for its efforts to engage the object and you will likely have a happy and non-traumatic encounter.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs2 comments

This is not the dog I wanted…

316073_288083711209743_119922748025841_1095669_199129324_nAll puppies should be interested in the happenings around them, and all should show some hesitation at new experiences. But sometimes puppies can exhibit behaviors that should cause concern in an owner. A sure sign that something is amiss is when an owner says, “This is not the dog I wanted.” It is especially important to realize that at risk behaviors are not likely to resolve themselves and need to be addressed before they develop into adult problems that could lead to aggression.
The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Indoor Pet Initiative lists these red flags in puppies (
Avoiding or hiding from people, places, or objects This may indicate fear that could escalate into aggression as an adult.

Alarm barking, lunging, putting “hackles” up in response to people or animalsThis is another indication of fear that could mean serious problems as an adult dog if not addressed while the dog is young.

Excessive mouthing specifically during physical handling. Puppies should use their mouths to explore the world, but hard biting, especially if accompanied by stiffening, growling, or snarling could indicate underlying fear or pain and should be evaluated.

Reluctance to “sit” or “down” during training.  Pain, especially in the hips or elbows, can cause non-compliance to basic commands. Have the puppy examined to determine if there is an organic cause to his non-compliance. Anxiety is another cause of dogs not “obeying” commands (and is often labeled as stubbornness), and needs to be addressed appropriately. 

Confinement problems.  If  the puppy will not eat while confined, has excessive vocalizations in his crate, and/or will not settle in his crate, he may be showing early signs of separation or confinement anxiety.
Repeated urination or bowel movements in appropriately-sized crate.  This can be an indication of urinary or gastrointestinal infection, inappropriate crate training prior to the owner getting him, or separation anxiety.
More detailed information about these warning signs can be found at The Indoor Pet Initiative as well as valuableinformation for dog owners in general. I strongly recommend that if you suspect a problem please contact me, your veterinarian or Dr. Megan Herron, a Veterinarian Animal Behaviorist at OSU ( We can help you decide on an appropriate course of action. Puppyhood last a very short time, problems can last a lifetime.


Behavior or "What the heck?" Informational or Doggie Demographics Stress: signals, management, & warning signs Your new dog or puppy0 comments