Aggression, Separation Anxiety, Incessant Barking: How Trainers Deal With The Most Difficult Dog Behaviors

Woman teaching her dog to sit.

Our dogs have a way of filling our hearts and making our lives complete. But if they develop undesirable distress behaviors like severe separation anxiety, they can become an annoying nuisance or worse, a danger to themselves or others. 

Although difficult dog behaviors like aggression, separation anxiety, and incessant barking are common, it’s important for pet parents to take them seriously by training their pups to become well-behaved members of the family. 

 

Why the Lack of Mental Stimulation Can Lead to Your Dog's Separation Anxiety and Other Anxious Behaviors

Dog looking at the camera.

It may seem unkind to give our loyal companions lots of rules. But the truth is canines thrive with structure. A dog's brain is closely connected with overall pet health. This is the reason why they love mental stimulation and activities that keep their minds occupied.

Also, keep in mind that when a pooch develops difficult-to-manage behaviors or annoying habits, they’re often rooted in fear and anxiety. By training your pooch, you’re helping him manage stress, and when everyone gets along at home, both people and pets will be happier.

Remember that all types of training (such as crate training) can be fun if they're done properly!

Since our canine best friends can’t talk, it can be tricky to figure out what’s going through their minds. A dog displays anxious behaviors out of the blue if certain issues are not immediately taken care of the right way. This is where a professional comes in.

 

Most dogs can benefit from behavior modification with the help of a pro

Besides helping spot signs of separation anxiety like extreme stress and the occasional panic attack, a certified applied animal behaviorist or pet wellness expert may also give you helpful insights into why your pet is displaying distress responses like excessive barking as well as destructive acts.

We asked 169 dog trainers from around the world to give us their best advice on dealing with the most difficult dog behaviors and they shared their tips below. If you’re wondering how to work with a pooch displaying aggression, has separation anxiety, or tends to bark nonstop, make sure you follow along. 

 

Dog Aggression

Dog running outdoors.

Why do dogs show aggression?

Like with most behaviors, the first step in managing dog aggression is to understand why he’s exhibiting this behavior, in the first place. “Fear is the most common root of aggression,” explains Jody Karow of Go Anywhere Dog. “Fear is easy to install for many dogs, but can be very challenging to help them overcome.”

She concludes, “When we focus on helping our dogs past their fears, aggressive displays are much less likely to occur.” Fear aggression in dogs is usually defensive, meaning that it’s a reaction to being triggered or provoked.

Moreover, when dogs develop separation anxiety, chances are he's going to display aggression sooner or later, too.

 

Dogs suffering from aggression usually have very minimal socialization skills

It can be caused by negative past experiences (perhaps with a person—like a stranger, a neighbor, or even a dog sitter—or another pooch or animal in and around his immediate environment) or lack of socialization.

This is because dogs that are not properly socialized are not used to being around different kinds of people (for example, young kids), other dogs, etc., and they are fearful of the unfamiliar. It is crucial to remember that a dog learns how to be more open to others, be it humans or other animals if they are exposed to frequent mental, emotional, and physical contact with them.

Now, if you’re wondering how to socialize an aggressive dog, the best answer is to reach out to a professional. If you attempt to bring an aggressive pooch around other people or pets without being properly prepared, it can easily result in disaster. 

It’s possible for dogs to be aggressive even when they’re not fearful. This can be a trained behavior, or learned, like in the case of a stray dog who acts offensively as a means of survival. A dog continues to be aggressive if this issue is not nipped in the bud.

Pet parents should always consider the fact that your canine family member could also be acting aggressively due to some medical problems, procedures like drug therapy, as well as underlying conditions like urinary tract infection and diabetes, which can disrupt their usual mood and temperament.

 

Breed and genetics are linked with dog aggression

A lot of people think that there are aggressive dog breeds that inherently show this ugly behavior. Many dogs are singled out and depicted as "aggressive" in nature like the Pitbull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, and the Dobermann Pinscher. The truth is, as a veterinary behaviorist will tell you, any dog can become aggressive under the right circumstances. 

However, certain breeds (especially high-energy dogs) have genetic traits that make them more likely to become aggressive, especially if they end up with owners who don’t know how to handle them. These dogs need more structure and boundaries than others.

Otherwise, they will assume that they’re “alpha” dogs, which is going to be something that will only lead to negative consequences before you know it.

“Sometimes genetics do play a role in a dog’s behavior, and just like with people,” says Melissa Vardy of Dog Training Now. “Most behaviors can be either corrected, or at the very least managed with the help of a professional, but people often want their dogs to be something they aren't."

 

Aggression typically starts in a dog's mind

"We frequently get asked if we can help a dog become a dog park or daycare dog. Not every dog is a good fit for every environment and that's okay,” Melissa adds. Suppose you get a large dog and put him in an environment that's too small for his needs. Or rather a small dog in a place that's too big for him. Regardless of the situation, a dog thinks he's king and will act like such.

Remember that small dogs can be just as aggressive as big dogs. The major difference is that big breeds are stronger, harder to control, and can potentially cause more harm, so they’re more likely to receive a bad reputation.

Before adopting any dog, even a mutt, it’s important to do lots of breed research to see what kinds of traits will best fit your lifestyle. There are pups that tend to be mild-mannered, high-energy, couch potatoes, etc., and if their personalities fit yours, you’re less likely to deal with behavioral issues. 

 

Aggression may be a manifestation of a problem

Aggression can manifest itself in many different ways. There are lots of dog body language cues, and seeing a dog showing teeth, growling, displaying “whale eye,” or having raised hackles can indicate that he’s not feeling friendly and should not be approached. 

While a dog's body language will show these signs when they're exhibiting aggression, it is important to take note that they won't be the same with each and every canine. Some dogs are especially aggressive on leash.

That’s because they feel vulnerable and will try their best to escape confinement. They may not be able to run or fight back to the best of their ability since they’re tied up. On rare occasions, dog aggression may even lead to sudden snapping and biting.

Resource guarding in dogs can become apparent when a dog becomes rather protective over what he considers a high-value resource, like a toy, a treat, a bone, his food bowl or even a human. It can lead to dangerous altercations, especially if there are children in the home. If you’re wondering how to train a dog not to bite, resource guarding may be one of the main issues that need to be managed. 

 

How to train an aggressive dog

No matter what triggers it in your canine family member, when it comes to aggressive behavior, it must be addressed, otherwise, someone is bound to get hurt eventually. As mentioned, it’s more complicated than learning how to stop a dog from biting, as that’s a symptom of the root cause. 

But figuring out the source of the behavior, then creating a plan to modify it, is difficult to do, according to Sonya Wilson of Southpaws Playschool. This is why getting in touch with an expert like a professional trainer, veterinary behaviorist, or pet wellness specialist to get you on the right track.

“Fear-based behaviors can get worse if the wrong techniques are used or if they are misinterpreted,” she warns. “It is so important to know what is really affecting the dog before trying to modify behavior. It's like a doctor's diagnosis—the wrong diagnosis can actually cause harm.”

David Levin of Citizen Hound agrees. “It's highly unlikely that dog-dog or dog-human aggression is going to change without a lot of change in your life,” he adds. “The skills required to combat it are simply too advanced for most owners, and often they don't have access to the types of training environments or setups that it takes to be effective."

 

How to socialize a dog to prevent aggression

Trainers say that socialization is key, but if you’re wondering how to socialize an aggressive dog, the answer is with the guidance of a dog training professional. Unfortunately, this should not be attempted, again, because a person or pet could get seriously injured.

As we've emphasized earlier, behavior modification is not a breeze and will lead to disaster if done willy-nilly.

The good news is that you can prevent aggression issues by socializing your pooch at a young age if you get him as a puppy. Make sure he meets lots of different people and pets. Provide your pet with as many positive experiences as possible. Keep in mind that if he goes through a traumatic event, it could result in unwanted or destructive behaviors down the road. 

Have friends come over to play with him and give him treats. You can invite their well-behaved companions, too. Your dog will learn that making new friends is really fun!

“I think socialization is one of the most important behaviors to work on,” says Alan Baldwin of Legacy Dog Training LLC. “ A dog who is not socialized properly can exhibit a variety of issues including aggression. 

Alan adds that “when a dog is not socialized properly to people, [he] can become mistrustful of strangers. A dog who hasn't been properly socialized to other dogs can exhibit barrier aggression, where they snap, bark, and growl at a fence and pace back and forth.” 

He explains another potential problem. “Leash aggression can manifest through a lack of socialization. Lack of socialization can also cause a lack of confidence or manners when the dog is put into a group of new dogs.”

 

Dog Separation Anxiety

Dog lying on the carpet.

Dog separation anxiety is a common issue. However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to address. Not only is it heartbreaking to know your pup is stressed while you’re gone, but he can also get destructive by chewing things like furniture or shoes, urinating on the carpet, or getting into the garbage can and other shenanigans. 

This is another case where it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause and a misinterpretation can easily make matters worse. Separation anxiety in dogs can be a serious problem. And treating separation anxiety as soon as you notice your dog's signs should be a priority.

 

Never ignore your dog's separation anxiety

“Separation anxiety can be one of the most challenging issues for owners to address,” admits Sue Brown of The Light of Dog. “It’s often difficult for them to find a starting place since the behaviors display when the owner is gone. A professional with experience in this area can be invaluable.” It is noteworthy that no matter how much house-trained they are, dogs with separation anxiety will get in trouble sooner or later.

April Lott of Wigglebums Training adds, “Many owners do not understand that this problem necessitates that a dog not be left alone until they can gain the coping skill necessary to be alone without stress.” A dog's ability to have "alone time" can be significantly affected if his stress hormones are through the roof.

 

Severe separation anxiety can be dangerous for your dog

It’s always best to consult with a professional if your pooch’s anxiety is severe or if he could hurt himself (for instance, if he’s a chewer or gets into things, he could ingest something dangerous). Dogs with separation anxiety require a more rigorous approach, particularly when it's already serious in nature.

However, there are a couple of simple tricks you can try to help treat separation anxiety in "milder" cases. If your pooch is experiencing separation anxiety in its beginning phase, the following can be very useful: 

  • Play relaxing music or a podcast or audiobook while you’re gone

  • Don’t make a big deal about leaving (don’t cuddle, say goodbye, etc.)

  • Take your dog for a walk or have a play session before you leave to burn excess energy

  • “Practice” by leaving your dog home alone for short periods of time, then gradually increasing the length of your absence

  • Consider hiring a dog walker to break up long days alone or take him to dog daycare if he likes playing with other pups

  • Give your pooch a "present" when you leave, like a special treat or food reward—just make sure it’s not something that could be a choking hazard, like a rawhide bone

 

Incessant Barking in Dogs

Dog barking.

When you have a pooch, some dog barking is to be expected, but it can go from adorable to obnoxious when it becomes incessant. By now, it should come as no surprise that the first step in learning how to stop a dog from barking is to figure out why he’s doing it in the first place. Some reasons can include: 

  • Boredom

  • Attention-seeking

  • Confusion

  • Fear

  • Demand (they want something)

Again, misinterpreting the reason behind the behavior can make matters worse if you want to stop dog barking. Angel Wasserman of Paws In Training shares a perfect example. “I once received a call from a potential new client,” she recalls.

“Her friend (an existing client) gave her the training protocol I issued to address her dog’s barking,” Angel points out. 

She continues that “the protocol didn’t work for her dog and she wanted to know why! The ‘why’ was because her dog was barking for a different reason than the other client’s dog. When we got to the root cause of why the new client’s dog was barking, we were able to apply the correct protocol for her problem.”

So, if you want to know how to train a dog not to bark, he must be evaluated on an individual basis by a professional.

We consider our pets part of the family, and training them to be well-behaved members of the household can mean the difference between living in chaos and living in harmony. When your pooch knows how to behave appropriately and understands what’s expected of him, you’ll be able to peacefully co-exist—and, believe it or not, he’ll be a lot happier, too! 

When it comes to properly training your pet, especially with difficult dog behaviors, hiring a professional trainer is key. They can help you pinpoint the issue, communicate with your companion, and modify his behavior so the two of you can form a bond that’s stronger than ever. 

Did you find these tips on dealing with difficult dog behaviors helpful? You’ll love our next article, which discusses how to choose the right dog trainer for you!

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Suzie Cyrenne
Suzie Cyrenne

HOMEOPATH & CO-FOUNDER OF ZUMALKA

Suzie Cyrenne has dedicated more than 20 years of her life in making and improving natural animal health solutions in the global setting.

Being the co-founder of Zumalka, Suzie is a forerunner in enhancing the lives of pets through natural and homeopathic options using the knowledge she has gained from the Classical Homeopathy School in Quebec.

Through the guidance of her mother-in-law and fellow natural health expert, Denyse Lessard, Suzie constantly devotes herself to create premium pet products that are aimed at dealing with the root causes of wellness problems and not just their symptoms.

Besides immersing herself in books, personal development and visiting new places, Suzie also enjoys keeping herself in tiptop shape by snowboarding and taking daily hikes with her husband and Zumalka co-founder, Matt Lessard, and their Golden-Doodle, Westin.

Find out more about Suzie when you click HERE.

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