Abnormal Behavior of Dogs: Cause and Solutions

The abnormal behavior in dogs, which occurs either voluntarily or involuntarily, is an excretable blend of species-specific and acquired or learned components. It is the wild and wonderful ways in which animals interact with each other, with other living beings, and with the environment. The central nervous system and body hormones are responsible for the expression of and maintenance of behaviour.

There is no bad behaviour to a dog.  However, what is absolutely normal to a dog may not fit into our lifestyle.  A behaviour problem is a tendency or pattern that sufficiently deviates from owners expectations. There is always a reason and a purpose behind any dog behaviour that has been instilled in their make from generations.

First Step to Find Out Abnormal Behavior of Dogs

Ask these questions to yourself thinking about your dog

1) Why the dog is doing the particular behaviour?
2) What are the circumstances surrounding the behaviour?
3) When does the dog do it?
4) Where does the dog do it?
5) How does the dog do it?

Cause of Abnormal Behaviour in Dogs

  1. Genetic predisposition– e.g. Aggression, Shyness, Timidity.
  2. Pathology-Idiopathic causes/ undiagnosed neurological problems, deficiency of enzymes, hormonal disorders.
  3. Increasing age-Reduced sensory acuteness, awareness,- deafness/ blindness.
  4. Trauma-A puppy’s brain develops in response to sensory, cognitive, emotional stimulation. Traumatic experiences occurring in early puppyhood are a major source of phobic behaviour. A single bee sting at the age between 6th– 8th weeks of age will result in permanent fear for insects flies etc.
  5. Socialisation defects: Isolation, Abusive handling, mistreatment, Event situational unfamiliarity.

Common Abnormal Behaviour in Dogs

Separation Anxiety Behavior

Sometimes people over bond with their pets to the extent where they cannot leave them alone. When an animal becomes suddenly alone he experiences a sort of emotional distress and suffers from separation anxiety & becomes destructive.

Manifestations of separation anxiety
  1. Jumping through the window to get out of the house to find the owner.
  2. Chewing/scratching the door
  3. Howling or barking to call the owner
  4. Loss of bladder/ bowel control
  5. Tearing up chewing bedclothes, personal belongings of the owner

Remedies for this behavior

  • Confine the dog to a crate or other small areas with comforting items and chew toys.
  • Establish rules and boundaries immediately.
  • Teach the dog to sit or lie down for anything he wants
  • Don’t shower him with free affection.
  • Provide plenty of exercises and mental stimulation
  • Frequently enter and exit the room many times till he is calm.
  • Come and go from the room many times, ignore the dog.
  • Practice low key departures/arrivals.
  • Don’t keep contact with dog 10-15 minutes before leaving/ after arrival.
  • Assume a strong leadership role.
  • Never punish the dog after the fact.
  • Antidepressant drugs can be tried.

Fear in Dog’s Behavior

Fear is the apprehension of stimulus, object or event. It is a highly adaptive response, essential for survival. It is one of the most difficult emotions because a fearful dog is not even willing to look at the person.

Causes of fear          

  • Predisposing genetic factors.
  • Early socialisation exposure deficit, inadequate or traumatic exposure.
  • Immunisation vs. Socialisation: Puppies need a series of vaccination which start from 6th week and last upto 4 months of age; which also a period of socialisation. Some people avoid the puppy to mix with other dogs & don’t take it outside until he has had his last shot.  It should be ensured that socialisation is not hampered for preventive health care.
  • Traumatic experience: A bee sting on sensitive part will develop fear against all kinds of flies.

Types of Fear:

XenophobiaFear of Strangers
PedophobiaFear of Children
AgoraphobiaFear of the outdoors, and new places
Fear Table

Dog’s Reactions to Fear:

3F’s for reaction to fear- FREEZE, FLIGHT, FIGHT.

Freeze dog will freeze or even faint.
The flight dog will escape away. 
Fight dogs will fight back in fear when unable to get away from the situation.

When fear-induced aggression

It is the most difficult type of fear.  The dog snaps bites or even acts aggressively towards the source of fear. These dogs are unpredictable.  Reaching near the dog is difficult.  This is a learned behavior.  Once the dog growls, snaps, or snarls & sees that the source of fear moves away, he learns.

Remedies for fear behavior

  • Identify fear-eliciting stimuli or events and avoid exposure to them.
  • Stop all punishment and coercion.
  • Stop attempts to soothe the dog by giving it attention as this may reward fearful behavior.
  • The dog must be observed when in contact with fear eliciting stimulus.

All positive no negative:

Never respond to the dog’s aggression with aggression. Punishing the growling dog may stop growling but becomes a silent attacker. To better, this situation uses food and distance and gradually reduces the distance.

To overcome fear: three methods are used:

Systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning
Counter commanding

1. Flooding:

Flood the dog with the stimulus he is feared off.  Flooding sometimes is counterproductive.  This method is effective in dogs with low levels of fear and a great ability to bounce back.

2. Counter conditioning and systematic desensitization:

This is a slow process where the dog is acclimated to the source of fear gradually to change a negative (fearful) association with a positive one.  The use of treats is powerful too and the dog responds well. If the dog is sensitive to the sound of a particular machine, start that sound considerably away from the dog and feed the dog at that time.  Slowly go on to decrease the distance between the dog and the source of fear.  During the puppy stage, it is better to acclimatize the puppy to the sound of the television.

3. Counter commanding:

It is generally used in cognition with systematic desensitization.  Distract the dog by giving him incompatible behavior.  In the case of the sound of vehicles, one can start the practice by asking the puppy to sit & give him a treat when the vehicle is passing nearby.  Slowly reduce the distance to condition the dog.  By this method the trainer has to counter the dog’s fearful reaction with a new behavior like sit command and reward; so that the dog associates the reward with sit.  Simply giving the reward and soothing voice to control fear will yield negative results.

Drugs for Short-term Therapy for Abnormal Behavior of Dogs

Acepromazine 1.0-2.0 mg/kg1-4 times
Propanolol 1.0-3.0 mg/kg three times a day
Diazepam0.55-2.22 mg/kg2-3 times
Chlorpheniramine220 microgram/kgthree times a day
Trimeprazine500 microgram -2 mg /kgthree times a day
Drugs for short-term therapy

Drugs for long-term Therapy for Abnormal Behavior of Dogs

Clomipramine 1-2 mg/kg  4 weeks
Sertraline  1-2 mg/kg  4 weeks
Selegiline 0.5-2 mg/kg 4 weeks
Drugs for long-term therapy

*Selegiline improves confidence and it is contraindicated in status-based aggression. 

Jumping up Behavior

It is a normal canine greeting. Generally jumping up is a delightful expression of devotion by the dog, but it is less appealing when one gets muddy paws on the clothes of owners or those of others.


Teach the dog not to jump by conditioning him to “sit” whenever you meet him or somebody comes home.  Teach the dog the “off” command which tells the dog to remove his paws from whatever he is touching.  Use breath spray with instructive reprimand “off”.  Muzzle grab-in small puppies may be tried.  The best way to manage the dog is to counter-command “off”.

Chasing Motor Vehicles Behavior

It is dangerous and may lead to a serious accident.  It is difficult to keep the dog away from the traffic but a lesson to stop the habit is necessary.  If the dog is exercised near public roads; the behavior never starts.  For teaching the dog a lesson, allow the dog to chase the vehicle in a safe place, but instead of appearing to be chased away stop the car and lay down empty tins/ cans from the car.  In extreme cases, a well-directed bucket of water or hose pipe may be tried.  Repeat the lesson several times.

Straying/ Running Away Behavior

Generally bored, neglected dogs that are isolated from the family are more prone to this behavior.
The intact male or female in search for a partner may run away.


Bring the dog home, and show strong leadership qualities.  Give the dog obedience training.  Make the dog to feel a family member.  Define the place of the dog in the pack.  Neutering/ boundary training is a possible solution.  Take the dog for regular walks & don’t give the dog the opportunity to run away.

Climbing on the Furniture Behavior

Getting into chairs and sofas is a habit that needs to be stopped before it starts and train your dog not to do so when he still is a young puppy.  Dogs that refuse to get off the furniture are often seen as dominant.  Excessive scolding for the behavior which has been in the past acceptable may make the dog aggressive & turn against the owner. To improve this behavior the dog may be lured with food or mild unpleasant stimulus like a balloon going down on bursting may be made from under the chair.  Repeat the treatment several times.

Abnormal Sexual Behavior

The inability to breed is frequently observed in dogs that have been over-petted.  Sedative drugs may help in an excessively nervous bitch.  Clasping objects or other dogs with forelimbs and making pelvic thrusts is a normal activity in young males at the time of puberty, but an embarrassing habit of clinging to people’s legs by an adult dog needs to be stopped.


Castration should be done and sufficient exercise should be a routine.


Dog behavior that serves a purpose in the dog world may be unacceptable and inhuman world; we must teach the dog we deem to be suitable. If we stifle their normal behavior completely, they will express themselves in other ways or when we are not around.  We must make sure to satisfy the dog’s needs and provide suitable outlets for his drives.

-Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad
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