Dogs communicate with humans through body language. But sometimes the signs are so subtle that we cannot differentiate normal dog behavior from abnormal ones. Unfortunately, certain behavioral changes that might go unnoticed could signify a serious problem.
Soiling accidents, chasing, mounting and urine marking are all considered common normal dog behavior. Therefore, they are not typically a cause for serious concern. But obviously, these behaviors can be undesirable. If these things do bother you, consider seeking professional help for your dog.
What is considered abnormal are behavioral disorders that may be pathological in nature. These may be a result of genetics, stressful environment, insufficient socialization, medical conditions or traumatic events.
Here are some abnormal dog behaviors that you should look out for.
Puppies are not born with aggression. If your dog has never been aggressive before, ask the vet to check for any underlying issues.
For example, brain tumors can cause seizures which can lead to aggressive behavior that you have not seen before. If your dog is in pain, he might growl or bite you to tell you that he hurts.
Loss of hearing or eyesight can also make your dog feel vulnerable and react with aggression. If changes to his behavior are not medically related, your best bet is to call a professional trainer.
If your dog normally greets people at the door and is suddenly shy, something might be wrong. Dogs are very social creatures but would avoid contact when in pain or not feeling well.
Phobias are another reason why dogs suddenly go into hiding. Dogs with noise phobias tend to pace, hide, tremble or chew furniture. In severe cases, they will try to escape by digging holes in the yard or scratching doors.
Dogs are usually very active. So, it is always a cause for concern when they become lethargic. Getting tired after a long trip or training session is to be expected. But showing fatigue and sluggishness for no reason should not be ignored.
Panting is normal dog behavior as our canine companions try to regulate their body temperature. If they have been playing for hours in the snow or under intense heat, dogs normally pant. However, if they are panting while simply lying around the house, this is not normal dog behavior.
While dogs pant to stay cool, some panting may be due to stress or pain. Maybe your dog is experiencing emotional stress such as fear and anxiety. Physical stress – including pain and discomfort – may also cause excessive panting. If you notice panting that is out of the ordinary, consider taking your dog to the vet.
Fear and anxiety
What is the difference between fear and anxiety in dog behavior?
Fear is an emotional state triggered by a particular threat or stimulus. On the other hand, anxiety is a state of apprehension where a threat is anticipated to happen. When a dog is anxious, almost everything is a threatening situation even with no fear-eliciting stimulus.
Dogs exhibit fear and anxiety through four “F” behaviors:
Some of these signs are normal dog behavior but have become an expression of emotional conflict. Some examples include:
- Stretching and yawning when not tired
- Panting when it is not hot
- Shaking fur when it is not wet
- Pacing in all directions
- Licking lip with no food present
These fiddling behaviors are similar to humans biting their nails or twisting rings when nervous. Some are referred to as calming signals.
Sometimes dogs feel the need to freeze or keep still. This could mean that they are experiencing a high level of uneasiness. In some instances, they feel that they have no other option but to shut down. This happens when the situation becomes very uncomfortable. Dogs may even display an incomplete freeze as if walking in slow motion.
A fight-or-flight reaction is a classic response to stressful stimuli. This means that the dog will either start a fight or flee the situation. Most dogs choose to distance themselves from the source of unease.
The opposite reaction to threatening stimuli is overt aggression. While this is usually a last resort, confrontation is effective most of the time. It results in the removal of the stimuli although it is potentially dangerous. When all of the other ‘Fs’ prove futile, dogs may end up resorting to a fight response.
It is vital to spot abnormal dog behavior right away. If your dog goes into any of the “F” modes, try to move them away from the discomfort. Protect them from threatening situations to keep everyone safe.
If you notice sudden changes in normal dog behavior, visit your vet to rule out physiological issues. If the problem is not medical, talk to one of our behavioral experts at Positive Paws.