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7 Common Behaviors That Worry All Dog Parents

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Being a pet parent invites an insane amount of stress into our lives. There are so many ways for things to go wrong, and because our dogs can’t tell us what hurts, we often jump to conclusions. However, some of the most common pet parent anxieties are actually less dramatic than we might think:

“My Dog Skipped a Meal”

Dog by empty food bowl

Even though most dogs are ready to eat all things at all times, some might occasionally opt out of dinner. Dogs skip meals for a number of reasons, and not all of them are cause to run to the emergency vet. Many dogs eat less during the heat of summer, some dogs might skip meals in the hopes that they’ll get something tastier if they hold out, and others might be dealing with a normal (and fleeting) belly ache. That said, if your dog refuses several meals, isn’t interested in any type of food or seems low-energy, make an appointment with your vet to rule out illnesses or an obstruction.

“My Dog Humps Everything”

Excited dog

Your dog wants to hump everything. Pillows, his toys, other dogs, your guests … it’s embarrassing! And what’s up with female dogs who hump? Pet parents frequently confuse this behavior with breeding, but humping can stem from a number of other causes, from anxiety to excitement to boredom. Humping is probably less about your dog’s sex drive and more about his need for constructive stimulation.

“My Dog Has Asthma”

Dog sneezing

When your dog starts making that awful honking sound, it can seem like he’s either choking on a chicken bone or having an acute asthma attack. Pet parents are universally freaked out the first time they hear this common respiratory event, called a reverse sneeze, but rest assured, you can cross this stressor off your anxiety list. It’s completely normal and doesn’t hurt your dog.

“My Dog Pees Inside Because He’s Mad at Me”

Dog next to puddle of pee

There’s nothing more frustrating than discovering a puddle or pile in the house. While indoor elimination might feel retaliatory, particularly if it’s on a location like your bed, it’s important to understand that dogs don’t view waste the way we do. Your dog isn’t using urine as a tool to express displeasure.

Depending on the surrounding circumstances, your dog might be pottying inside for a number of reasons, including incomplete house training, submissive urination, not enough opportunity to go where he should, or in some cases, separation anxiety. Instead of assuming that your dog is out to get you with poo and pee, take a step back and assess the real reasons why he might be having accidents.

“My Dog is Trying to Dominate Me”

Dog pulling on leash

You might have heard that your dog is “dominant” if he sits on your furniture uninvited, pulls on the dog leash, jumps up on you or blows off training cues. While those behaviors are impolite, they don’t mean that your dog is trying to become head of the household.

The idea that dogs are constantly angling for dominance stems from debunked alpha-wolf studies, but the myth persists. Dogs that exhibit these types of unruly behaviors will benefit from dog-friendly positive training and consistency.

“My Dog Always Eats Grass”

Puppy eating grass

Every so often your dog likes to go out to the yard and have a grass salad. The common belief is that dogs eat grass to induce vomiting, but does eating grass always mean a dog is trying to expel something? It turns out that dogs eat it for a variety of reasons. Some like the taste, while others might be attempting to introduce variety into their diets.

Dr. Karen Collins, a certified veterinary acupuncturist and herbalist, says that, according to Chinese medicine, grass is a cooling food. Collins believes that that dogs who eat it are “generally too hot” or might be suffering from gastrointestinal upset, and are eating grass in an attempt to cool down their stomach. Most experts agree that moderate grass eating is no cause for concern.

“My Dog Can’t ‘Go’ When We Travel”

This stressor actually has some merit. According to Collins, a dog that refuses to eliminate when away from home-base can suffer from a urinary tract infection due to holding urine in the bladder for too long. Dogs might refuse to potty while on the road because they’re only used to eliminating on their typical walk route, or because of substrate issues, which is what happens when a yard-dwelling country dog winds up in the city and has to urinate and defecate in a concrete jungle for the first time. Dogs develop a preference for what they feel beneath their feet when they go, so the shift from grass to pavement can be disorienting.

An easy way to avoid this problem is to teach your dog a potty cue like “hurry up” or “go ahead.” Pairing the phrase with the act of elimination creates a Pavlovian effect, so that when you say it your dog almost automatically begins the behavior. Then you can reward with a dog treat and lots of praise!


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Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.