I've been seen a lot of post on social media about people being frustrated with their dog's behavior and then asking for help from the online community. A good number of those are regarding dogs that have started barking excessively, are too excited in the house, and/or have picked up destructive habits. The recommendations from the "experts" (as they like to think themselves online) range from helpful links to various canine enrichment activities to cringe worthy, such as "put an e-collar on, crank up the juice and shock them every single time" (I will not be adding the reference for this quote for obvious reasons).
Some of the suggestions posted are heartbreaking to read since very few considered the reason why the dog picked up bad habits in the first place. Most comments were addressing the behavior without looking at the underlying cause of it. Without fixing the underlying cause for the behavior it can keep coming back. There can be numerous reasons explaining why our dog's may be picking up unwanted habits and none of them include the dog acting that way out of spite or stubbornness. Let's see what it could be.
The most likely underlying cause for the sudden appearance of bad behavior is that people are not meeting their dog's needs. I see it too often, a high energy breed like an Australian Shepherd in a small apartment, walked on leash twice a day for 30 minutes each. To those that know the breed, you know they need A LOT more exercise than a few short walks! Those that have a Belgian Malinois know they're a full time job needing a lot of physical exercise but also needing mental stimulation. When your dog's needs are not met, either physical or mental, they build up energy, that can become frustration that comes out in unwanted ways. Those dogs often have a neurotic look about them.
Another reason is the lockdown, although it is closely tied with the first reason since it comes down to the dog's needs not being met. People are not realizing that even though most of us are forced to spend more time at home it doesn't necessarily mean that we are spending more quality time with our dogs. A study done in the UK discovered that since lockdowns have started "dogs were typically walked less often and for less time daily" (Christley R.M., et al.). The same study by Christley R.M. et al., also found that "Dogs were more likely to be walked on a lead and had fewer opportunities to interact with other dogs during lockdown". This means that a significant amount of dogs are not having their physical and social needs met. I get it, and if you fall in that category I don't judge you one bit! It can be hard to find motivation during these mentally trying time. But please before you go straight to using strong aversive techniques (maybe improperly if you're not trained) look at why your dog may have picked up those habits. Is your dog full of energy? Bored with the same round-the-block walk? Missing playdates with other dogs?
Those are the questions to ask before using extreme methods, otherwise it's (in my opinion) inhumane. Let's go with a "for instance"...I'm a very active person, if I were put in a situation similar to some of those dogs, that is restrained and trapped within a small space with minimal to no exercise and socialization. I would definitely be climbing the walls and looking for any unlocked window to jump out of! How would you react to being stuck in the same space...unbridled crazy energy, depression?
This is rare but it does happen that the dog has a genetic condition that affects his/her behavior negatively. When behavior starts out of nowhere and a cause cannot be found, going to the vet and eliminating a genetic condition is a great idea. Your vet will also be able to able to rule out pain as a cause for behavior such as reactiveness and aggression.
As owners we need to realize that we are caring for a life. They do not have access to certain things without us! My girl would love to be able to open doors and wander through the wilderness to come back later and nap in front of the fireplace, but she can't. So it is my responsibility to listen to her and realize that she LOVES running through the woods and take her on a regular basis. Different dogs will have different needs, you'll have to listen to your dog and figure them out. If you don't speak their language, it's ok, hire a professional trainer to help you out at the start.
Here's the good news! If your dog's bad behavior is due to an excess of energy and you don't have the time or motivation (again, no judgement!) to take them out on an energy burning walk then hire a dog walker. This is the point of our existence! We are here to relieve some of your burden in owning a dog (especially the young and/or crazy ones). Look up dog walkers in your areas, talk to them and make sure you agree with their operating style before signing up your dog (some are horrific, I'm talking kicking and flipping dogs over their head as "training" techniques). This is someone that will impact your dog's life and therefore their personality and their way of interacting with the world (yes, that includes their interaction with you!)
Above all else enjoy having a dog in your life, I know my home would feel very empty without Blue and I'm more than grateful to have her as my lockdown buddy!
Christley R.M., Murray J.K., Anderson K.L., Buckland E.L., Casey R.A., Harvey N.D., Harris L., Holland K.E., McMillan K.M., Mead R., Owczarczak-Garstecka SC, Upjohn MM. Impact of the First COVID-19 Lockdown on Management of Pet Dogs in the UK. Animals. 2021; 11(1):5. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010005