When your dog is displaying behavior that is out of character, it is important to pay attention. You may have heard the story of the dog that started to growl at the baby sitter, so the parents set up a video and saw that the babysitter was abusing their child.
Not all behavior changes are that dramatic and there are many reasons why your dog may display atypical behavior. In these cases, it is easy to label the dog as “disobedient,” “stubborn” or even “aggressive” but that won’t help you figure out what is happening. So if you notice something unusual about your dog, you may be able to figure out what is happening and then think of what you can do about it.
Here are some scenarios to consider:
- Aging can bring on physical and mental changes that can cause behavioral changes. These changes can be subtle so take note of what is happening, how long it has been going on and be sure to talk to your veterinarian about any concerns.
- Sometimes in training sessions, a dog may be doing very well but then starts to be more easily distracted or seeks attention or stops responding. It is common for people to try harder to get the dog to work but often, the dog is mentally tired and incapable of performing. While it is possible to build stamina, it is better, and a lot less frustrating for both you and your dog, if you know how long your dog can focus and work and don’t try to push the dog past his or her limit.
- It is not always obvious when dogs are in pain but if your dog that normally lies down as soon as you tell him or her, suddenly won’t lie down, or tries to do something else, the dog may be experiencing some pain or discomfort. It may not be serious but forcing the behavior can make it worse.
- What if the dog will lie down at home but not outside or when there are people around? It may not be that the dog isn’t listening. Dogs are very specific so we take for granted that when a dog learns a behavior, he or she can do it anywhere. But if you have only ever asked your dog to lie down while standing in front of the dog in your living room while on the rug, the dog may not realize that the word “down” means the same thing standing on the grass outside the house.
- Or, maybe the dog knows the behavior but there is too much going on to be able to do it. Think about trying to talk to a football fan who is watching the last two minutes of a close playoff game. They may hear you talking but it is doubtful that they can comprehend what you are saying. They are not ignoring you, just very focused. Dogs are the same way. It is hard to listen when a squirrel is so close and if you haven’t taught your dog to respond while incredibly distracting things are going on, you will probably not get the response you want.
There are many reasons why a dog’s behavior may seem odd or different. Think about the situation, ask a dog trainer (especially one that understands applied behavior analysis) or a veterinarian about anything that you notice and you may be able to solve the mystery.