Does your dog whine, bark, growl, or lunge when he sees another dog while he’s on his leash? This unpleasant but common behavioral problem in dogs can be caused by barrier frustration. From nature’s side, dogs are strongly motivated to greet one another, and on leash, they can’t always do that.
Barrier frustration is intense frustration on the dog’s part at the inability to express normal canine body language and/or interact with other dogs. The restrictive barrier is the leash in this case, but can also be something like a window, fence, or gate. In essence, the dog’s frustration has amplified to a point where he can’t help his reaction.
Though leash aggression can look vicious, it disappears when the leash comes off and the dog meets other dogs off leash. If your dog shows aggression toward other dogs when meeting off leash, then that is serious aggression. See Dog-Dog Aggression: Off Leash.
Stay calm. Use a happy tone when approaching on-leash dogs—stay calm, but aware. Be prepared to move away quickly if needed (duck behind a car or cross the street) from the other dog. Keep the leash loose if possible. If you seem tense or uneasy and tighten the leash, your dog will sense your uneasiness and may respond by pulling and barking.
Use a humane training collar. A head halter such as the Gentle Leader or Halti or a front buckle harness such as an easy walk harness makes on-leash management much easier and doesn’t hurt your dog. Choke, pinch, and shock collars, on the other hand, are designed punishment tools causing pain and discomfort. The dog might stop barking because it hurts, but the pain won’t decrease his frustration. In fact, keep in mind that the association with pain can cause or worsen the aggression.
Play the “Find it” game. Have a handful of yummy treats, tell your dog, “find it,” and throw a treat in front of him. Continue to say, “find it,” and throw treats until you are safely past the other dog. This exercise distracts your dog from other dogs by keeping him focused on treats. Instead of staring at the other dog, your dog’s eyes will be searching for treats. Eventually your dog will associate the sight of other dogs with yummy food.
Feed your dog at night. Make it a habit to only feed your dog after you’re inside for the evening. That way, you’ll always go on leashed walks with a slightly hungry dog who is much more motivated to focus on you and the goodies in your treat bag.
Take a class. We offer reward-based behavior modification classes, called Reactive Rover, for dogs that are leash reactive. Sign up on our website.
If you can’t take a class and your own efforts aren’t successful, contact SF SPCA’s board-certified veterinary behavior specialist. Don’t live in the Bay Area? Search locally for a veterinary behavior specialist (Dip ACVB), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT).
Some aggression may be a normal, adaptive behavior in virtually all animal species and domestic dogs are no exception. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to minimize both the frequency and intensity of dog-dog aggression.
Dogs can be bullies, protective about toys or food, or socially uncomfortable, and any of these issues can make for regular excitement at the dog park. Dogs don’t automatically get along with every dog they meet, just like we don’t get along with every single person we come across.
Most importantly, keep in mind that dog parks don’t suit every dog. Many dogs thrive on social time with other dogs, but some need their personal space and that’s okay, too. If that’s your dog, bypass the dog park and instead use hiking trails, beaches, or other less-crowded spaces for your dog’s exercise.
Be honest with yourself: is your dog truly a good dog park candidate? Is he socially versed and friendly with dogs of all sizes, breeds, and temperament, and loves to play and wrestle?
Not sure if your dog is right for the dog park? Here’s what to look out for:
Bullying behavior includes jumping on top of, pinning down, or continually chasing and nipping other dogs. If your dog usually plays well but seems to target certain dogs for bullying, give him a time-out whenever it happens. I.e. leash him up for a couple of minutes or, if he does it again, take him home.
Protectiveness of toys. If your dog fights over toys, you can manage the problem with good situational awareness. Actively supervise your dog’s playtime and look out for balls or Frisbees so you can call him away from those.
Social discomfort. If your dog is socially uncomfortable, he can possibly learn to love the dog park with carefully planned exposure. Take your dog there at times when you know it will be less crowded and keep the sessions short. If your dog ever seems uncomfortable or scared, engage him in some solitary play with a toy and leave the park when he is happy.
If the behavior in any of these situations continues despite your careful supervision and active management, or your dog gets into serious fights or inflicts real damage, he’s obviously not a good dog park candidate.
Some reasons dogs chew: because it feels good, anxiety, attention-seeking, barrier frustration/escape behavior, pent-up energy, and hunger.
Note: Always rule out hunger first. Ask your vet about the appropriate diet for your dog.
Dogs are genetically hardwired to exercise their jaws, so chewing is a normal and enjoyable pastime for them throughout their lives. They have no concept of the value of your things and are not deliberately trying to upset anyone by chewing expensive Italian shoes rather than stuffed toys. From their point of view, all items are potential chew toys.
A dog gets into a chewie the way a human gets into a good book or movie. You have to direct this energy to keep your dog from improvising. To do this, you need to:
Dogs really need problems to solve. Too many dogs get all their food for free when it is much more satisfying to their predatory nature to work for it.
Never punish your dog for chewing on the wrong thing. He will only learn that it’s dangerous to chew when you’re present and will instead reserve chewing for when you’re not present. If you catch your dog chewing something unauthorized, interrupt him without being too harsh (“Ah, ah! That’s not for you.”), and offer him a fabulous dog chew in exchange.
Dogs counter surf because there might be food, of course. Crumbs, crusts, fruit bowls, meat defrosting or marinating, a breadbox—you never know what you might find. Even a spotlessly clean counter would still smell enticingly of the many meals prepared there and dogs are naturally curious creatures. For small dogs, the counter might also present a great vantage point to look out a window.
Prevention is the best cure here, because once your dog figures out your counters may hold tasty morsels, chances are he’ll try to get to them again and again. From day one, keep your puppy or newly adopted dog away from the kitchen counter (use a baby gate or crate) when you can’t supervise.
If the damage has already been done, here are some things to try.
Exclude hunger. Always rule out hunger as an explanation for persistent counter surfing. Ask your vet for the correct amount of food for your dog.
Keep all food stored away. Use Tupperware® containers and sealed jars. If your dog has figured out how to get into cupboards, install childproof latches.
Provide stimulation. Make sure your dog has lots of fun things to do at home, whether he’s alone or has company. Give him interactive toys, games, and other outlets for his energy. Try hide-and-seek toys, chew toys, plush toys with squeakers, and food puzzles like stuffed KONG® toys and treat balls.
Restrict your dog’s access. Close the door to the kitchen, use a baby gate to block access, or put your dog in a safe, dog-proofed area when you can’t supervise.
Try an environmental deterrent. For example the ScatMat® training mat or a motion activated canned air. These are remote punishment tools that are not related to you being present or yelling at them, which only lead to the dog learning not to do it when you are present.
Don’t yell after the fact. If you catch your dog counter surfing, make a loud noise, stomp your feet or interrupt him in a way that he does not know it came from you. Never scold him, even if you find him under the table wolfing down tonight’s lamb chops. Dogs only understand immediate consequences, so your dog would have no idea why he’s scolded.
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, and it is a form of normal communication:
First, you need to know why your dog is barking. What is his motivation? If in doubt, consult a professional. We have a referral list on our website: http://www.sfspca.org/resources/library/for-dog-owners/dog-trainers-walkers.
Once you know why your dog is barking, there are two strategies you can use to deal with the problem—and often the most effective solution is a combination of the two:
Manage: If your dog barks at doorbells or people passing by outside, limit your dog’s access to parts of the house that face sidewalks or streets or to the area where the front door is. If your dog barks at other dogs while on leash, avoid areas with many dogs and be sure to reward good walking manners. You can often reduce the severity of your dog’s alert barking by boosting the amount of exercise and stimulation he gets. Invite people and dogs over to socialize and expose him to a wider range of sights and sounds. Also, if your dog barks at the smallest sounds and changes in the environment, try taking him out more.
Train: For barking at doorbells, the standby training technique is to teach your dog a mutually exclusive behavior, such as fetching a certain toy or doing a Down-Stay on a mat for tasty food rewards. See our handout Down Command. Another technique—more effort but great results—is to teach your dog to be quiet on command. See our Front Door Quiet Command handout.
To train your dog not to bark at other dogs while on leash, consult a trainer for a behavior modification program and/or attend one of our Reactive Rover classes.
Manage: More exercise, more playtime, and plenty of social interactions can reduce attention-seeking barking. But the best cure is to not teach your dog that barking gets him what he wants.
Train: If you don’t like barking, stop rewarding it with attention, door-opening and ball-throwing services, releasing from crates, etc. Period. No buts. Rather than your dog telling you when to take him out, take him out at regular intervals, and make sure none are preceded by barking. Don’t let a barking dog out of a crate until he’s quiet. Ignore dogs who bark at you. Keep in mind that if you have been rewarding barking for a while, it will get worse before it gets better. You’re changing the rules and your dog will be frustrated at first.
Above all, start paying attention to your dog when he’s quiet. Teach him that there are payoffs for lying quietly, chewing on a chew-toy, and refraining from barking.
Barking at people or objects can mean several things. Your dog may be uncomfortable with strangers—or with a subset of people he didn’t encounter often enough as a puppy (people wearing hats, for example). He might be deeply suspicious of buses or lawn mowers. In such cases, it’s important to get at the underlying under-socialization.
First, though, rule out that your dog is barking at people simply because he’s excited to meet them. If that is the case, manage him by giving him a stick or a ball to carry around, or train him to be quiet on command.
Train: To reduce fear/alarm barking, you must teach your dog to associate the alarming thing with food. Bring yummy treats on walks and keep enough distance from the scary thing that your dog will eat the treats while passing it, and then work to gradually reduce the distance. If your dog doesn’t like strangers, meals need to be fed bit by bit around strangers until he improves. It takes a while to re-socialize an adult dog, so stick with it.
Manage: Avoid the barking trigger(s). Choose quiet streets or open spaces for your dog’s exercise. Set up your dog’s confinement/safe area in a part of the house away from visitors.
Manage: There is no quick fix or training solution here. You must meet your dog’s basic needs for stimulation, exercise, and companionship. If you have an outside dog, make him an inside dog. If you can, arrange for your dog to be with you or a friend during the day. Alternatively, hire a dog walker or enroll your dog in a doggie daycare.
If your dog barks and whines when left alone and you have established the reason is anxiety (see below), he may be suffering from separation anxiety and will need formal desensitization and/or medication. Contact our veterinary behavior specialist. For more information, read our handout Separation-Related Problems.
Dogs bark when alone for a number of reasons. It can be a form of attention-seeking barking, alert barking, loneliness/boredom barking, or anxiety barking related to separation from you.
Again, the key to resolving the problem is figuring out your dog’s motivation for barking. Don’t guess and risk getting it wrong. Instead, set up a video camera or webcam so you can record and watch your dog’s behavior.
Anti-bark collars are remote punishment tools that deliver an unpleasant stimulus when your dog barks, such as a loud noise, an ultrasonic noise, a spray of citronella mist, or an electric shock.
Because barking is a natural means of expression for dogs and not something to punish them for, we recommend using training and management techniques to reduce excessive barking. That’s also preferable because many dogs simply learn not to bark when wearing the anti-bark collar, but go right back to barking once it comes off.
If you opt to use an anti-bark collar, however, the best options are:
Note: Never use shock collars or any other type of collar that inflicts pain on your dog. It’s inhumane, can permanently disfigure or harm your dog, and may lead to aggression.
Dogs beg because it is a clever strategy for getting tasty scraps, and it works! Like all scavengers, dogs are hardwired to seize any opportunity to get food. If your dog has ever been fed a juicy morsel from the table—or was lucky enough to catch one that simply fell from a plate or your hand—chances are you have a committed beggar on your hands.
Note: Always rule out hunger as a reason for persistent begging. Ask your vet for the correct amount of food for your dog.
You have two options for dealing with begging:
A) Use management techniques, i.e. prevention
B) Use training solutions, i.e. alternative behavior
A. Management techniques. Restrict your dog’s access to the kitchen or dining room during mealtimes by using a baby gate. If your dog is crate trained, you can put him in his crate with a stuffed KONG®, chewie, or food puzzle toy. Alternatively, if you want your dog to be in the room with you, use a short leash to tether him to a heavy piece of furniture. Be sure to give him a dog bed or blanket for resting.
To prevent your dog from begging in a public place, use the same techniques in whichever way the environment allows. You can tether your dog close by, but at enough distance to prevent him from pawing at you or jumping up. Or you can bring a chewie for your dog to enjoy while you have your meal.
B. Training solutions. Dogs love food and company, and who can blame them? A dog drooling at your feet or pawing or whining at you, on the other hand, is less enjoyable. The best training option is to teach your dog a so-called incompatible behavior, i.e. something he can do that means he can’t beg at the same time. We recommend “Go to bed.” To teach your dog to go to his bed or mat on command, see our website and/or handout Go To Your Bed.
With that command, you can gradually train your dog to spend all mealtimes quietly waiting on his mat. He gets to be around the family and you get him out from underfoot.
Dogs generally don’t enjoy alone time. They are highly social animals, genetically programmed to be in a pack with other individuals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Dogs can learn to be alone for moderate periods of time, but it doesn’t come naturally and some dogs can develop separation-related behavior problems.
In severe cases, the dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, a disorder best described as canine panic attacks (see below for more information). But many separation-related problems can be solved with schedule adjustments, more activities for your dog, and careful training.
What Can Trigger Problems?
Separation-related problems are often triggered by some sort of life change, for example re-homing, a stay at a boarding kennel, a death of a key family member, or a major change in routine, such as months of the owner being home all day followed by sudden eight-hour absences.
Symptoms to look for include excessive and/or distressed vocalization and behavior, destruction, and house soiling.
Know with What You’re Dealing
The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s behavior. A dog that barks or destroys things while left alone might do so out of frustration, pent-up energy, or unfulfilled social needs. Medical issues can cause house-soiling. To find out for sure what your dog does and why, set up a video or web camera and record your dog when you leave him alone.
What You Can Do
Prevention is the best way to head off separation-related problems, and it’s a must for puppies, young dogs, and newly adopted dogs. Again, dogs have to learn to handle being alone.
Here are some guidelines:
Arrange many brief absences. Puppies and newly adopted dogs are at higher risk of developing separation-related problems if they are smothered with attention their first few days home. It is much better to leave for brief periods (from a few seconds to a few minutes) extremely often so the dog’s early learning about your departures is that they are no big deal and predict easy, tolerable absences: “Whenever she leaves, she comes back.”
Break up the day. A normal workday for us is an eternity for a dog. If everyone in your home works full time out of the house, consider hiring a dog walker or enrolling your dog in a doggie daycare. This breaks up your dog’s day and leaves him nice and tired when he gets back.
Exercise mind and body. Give your dog both physical and mental exercise. Not only does problem solving increase confidence and independence, it is mentally tiring and therefore increases the likelihood your dog will rest quietly when left alone. Teach him to play hide-and-seek with his toys, teach him tricks, get him involved in a sport like flyball or agility, let him play with other dogs, feed him all his meals in KONG® toys or other food-dispensing toys, or teach him how to play fetch and tug. The more activities and toys are incorporated into his life, the less he will depend on human social contact as sole stimulation.
See our handouts Independence Training, Crate Training, and KONG Stuffing for more inspiration.
Separation anxiety is a serious and heart-breaking disorder. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety experience the canine equivalent of panic attacks every time they are left alone. They might urinate, defecate, bark and cry, lose interest in any food left for them, and frantically scratch and chew at doorframes in an attempt to get out to find their owners.
It’s important to understand that these dogs are not getting back at their owners for leaving or behaving the way they do out of spite or anger. Rather, they are consumed with terror at being left alone. To them, it’s a matter of survival.
Treatment possibilities include various medications and a formal program of systematic desensitization to change the dog’s deeply ingrained emotional reaction to departure. Some dogs with severe separation anxiety need to be on medication if they are ever to be left alone for any length of time.
If you suspect your dog suffers from full-blown separation anxiety, you need help from a qualified professional. Contact Dr. Berger, SF SPCA’s board-certified veterinary behavior specialist. Don’t live in the Bay Area? Search locally for a veterinary behavior specialist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB).
Aggression is the most serious behavior problem in dogs and is unfortunately quite common. It’s a symptom of an underlying problem and it always needs to be taken seriously. Aggressive behavior can be seen in dogs of any breed, size, age, and gender, and it can spring from many different motivations. The most common include:
Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed or inappropriately punished, can evolve into serious aggression. This is why it’s important to immediately assess and tackle any change in your dog’s behavior. To address aggression, you should work with a professional that looks at the context in which it happens and does not use a punishment based approach.
When a dog is uncomfortable around strangers, or certain strangers (such as men, kids or uniformed people), it’s usually because he hasn’t been fully socialized. A well-socialized dog is relaxed in his environment. However, in order to become socialized, a dog must have sufficient exposure with positive experiences, especially when young. Aggression comes into the picture when the dog encounters something he isn’t accustomed to and tries to make the “scary” person flee by behaving aggressively. The underlying motivation is fear. (The stranger may be a kind, gentle person; this is irrelevant to an under-socialized dog.)
When dogs threaten or bite family members, the number one reason is fear. This is the case especially when reached for or touched, even when it seems the dog’s behavior is offensive. Other possible explanations include object guarding (possessiveness), handling issues (discomfort/pain/frustration).
Possessiveness of food, toys, and sleeping locations is common in pet dogs. They might get snarly about anything from food dishes and bones, to sofas and beds, even tissues and garbage! Handling issues are also common. Many dogs are naturally reluctant to have their bodies touched or manipulated in certain places or in certain ways. If these dogs are not taught to accept and enjoy handling and surrendering valuable items, they may threaten or bite in this context.
First, see your vet. Aggression may stem from an underlying medical issue causing your dog pain, discomfort, anxiety, insecurity or confusion. Your first call should always be to your vet to rule out a variety of conditions, from arthritis to cognitive dysfunction.
Practice avoidance. Initially do your best to avoid anything that triggers the aggression in your dog. In most cases it is best to seek help from a professional and address the aggression with a treatment plan in a non-confrontational way. You may need to cross the street, put your dog in a separate room when friends come over, feed your dog alone in a separate room, or avoid certain toys altogether.
Use management tools. Tools can help you manage aggression problems. In your home, you can use baby gates to restrict your dog’s access to problem areas. A head halter or harness makes on-leash management much easier. A basket muzzle, if it can be introduced to your dog safely, for example, will prevent your dog from biting, but still allows him to pant and drink water.
Punishment is rarely the answer. All types of aggression can get worse through badly timed or poorly applied punishment. For more information about this, read the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s position statement on punishment at avsabonline.org/resources.
Get professional help. Aggression can be dangerous, especially when directed at children. For a well-designed behavior modification plan always seek help from a qualified professional. At SF SPCA, contact our board-certified veterinary behavior specialist Dr. Berger. Don’t live in the Bay Area? Search locally for a veterinary behavior specialist (Dip ACVB), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT).
To expedite the adoption process, please complete the cat or dog adoption form and bring a printed copy with you to the SF SPCA Adoption Center (Hours & Location). This helps us better understand what sort of pet you’re looking for so we can guide you every step of the way! Please bring a valid photo ID and verification that you are allowed to have a pet where you currently live.
First, we’ll meet with you to find out more about you and your pet preferences and answer your questions. Our goal is to help you find the pet that best fits your lifestyle and living situation so we want to make sure you have a realistic understanding of the time and resources necessary to provide training, medical treatment, and proper care for your new pet. This can take time so please allow at least one hour for the adoption process.
Once we have a good understanding of your living situation and the type of pet you’re interested in, we’ll make introductions and let you spend some quality time getting to know each other to see if there’s a love connection. It’s important that all household members take part in this important decision so please make sure everyone is present (including any resident dogs if you’re considering adding a new pooch to your pack).
Once love happens, we’ll complete the paperwork, review all the SF SPCA adoption benefits, provide information on any known medical or behavioral issues, and share tips to make the transition a success for both you and your new pet.
We consider you and your new furry friend a part of the SF SPCA family so please reach out with questions ― and be sure to share your adoption stories and pet photos at sfspca.org/stories
Don’t forget to schedule your first free health exam at the SF SPCA Veterinary Hospital within three days of adopting.