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Behavior Issues


When troubleshooting behavior issues, please pause and remember that your dog is not giving you a hard time, he/she is having a hard time. They need YOU to help them feel safe and to prevent them from going over their threshold. Change cannot happen until both you and your dog feel safe. It is teamwork. As the pet parent, we are responsible to do research and get assistance. Please take a moment and take a breath so you can think. Your dog can sense your emotions too. 

If your dog is irritable or aroused, it is best to give them time to process their feelings and resist the urge to pet them, grab their collar or hug them as this might set them off. 

Keep a log of events (X caused my dog to exhibit Y behaviors) that occurred before the unwanted behavior occurred and identify your dog's reaction. Do your best to prevent these events from happening again and thereby preventing our dog from repeating unwanted behavior (creating a bad habit). This means managing the environment, reducing noise (create a spa-like environment, use visual barriers, limit your body movement, turn on white noise, practice slow breathing), and provide mental stimulation like opportunities to practice natural dog behavior like licking, sniffing, chewing, and scavenging.

For example, my dog is lunging and growling at dogs when we go walking.

  • Increase mental stimulation like nose work opportunities in your back yard or inside your home.

  • Find an area where there are minimal instances of running into dogs or walk at odd times and please bring a friend to help you distract your dog or protect you from dogs off leash. 

  • We are also part of the environment. If we are able to be calm and prepared, then we can help. This means doing research to learn techniques to help you and your dog create new behavior.

You may need the help of a professional dog trainer, behaviorist, or vet behaviorist to help identify the root cause of unwanted behavior. 

Five Tips for Avoiding a Behaviorist | Bright Spot Dog Training (

Review reading dog body language

Rule out medical issues

Stage in life affects behavior

  • Puppies may have growing pains

  • Teenagers have raging hormones

  • About 8 years+, dogs may begin to experience arthritis

  • Senior dogs may lose hearing, eyesight, hip dysplasia, etc. become jumpy and sensitive

Be mindful when your dog is not feeling well. They may feel vulnerable or suddenly scared around strangers or other dogs even though he or she is comfortable with you. Dogs may develop arthritis from jumping on hard surfaces. Adjust your routine and consider reducing exercise and increasing mental stimulation.

Other considerations

  • Pain affects behavior (health issues)

  • Change in routine may cause stress and anxiety

  • Lack of Communication (they may become frustrated - what do you want me to do?) 

  • Lack of or Interrupted Sleep (dogs get grumpy too, let sleeping dogs sleep please)

  • Traumatic experience (thunder, something scary occurred, etc.)

  • Stress & Anxiety (may create potty accidents, chewing, destruction, nervous zoomies, jumping biting)

  • Separation Anxiety versus Independence issues (there is a difference both need your attention)

  • Resource Guarding (always trade up, be a giver, let your dog eat in peace)

Resource Guarding in Dogs: A Fear Free Approach:

If your dog is acting strange (i.e. is overly excited, grumpy, or nervous), pay attention. Most likely, your Malamute is trying to let you know that something is wrong. They may be stressed, bored, frustrated, or not feeling well physically. Work on finding the root cause for the strange behavior. Your dog may have an injury, need more exercise, need time alone, or is anxious about a storm. As a dog enters different stages in their life, they may develop fear or hesitation towards things, sounds, that were ok before. Dogs will have their guard up to protect themselves if they feel vulnerable or are not well.



If your dog is not feeling well, is unhappy, or is scared, he/she may growl. It is important to never punish your dog for growling. It is your dog’s way of communicating their discomfort or stress. It is a warning that prevents a bite. Give your dog "space" and think about how you feel when you are not well. 


Adjust the environment to help your dog feel safe.

I wish my dog could speak . . .  Good news, dogs do speak by using their body. If we fail to "listen" to our dog's body language (head-turning away from you, stiff posture, lip licking, freezing, air snap, growl), a dog will escalate and possibly bite you if we do not listen. Their life is in your hands!   

"Touching a dog increases, approximately 20 seconds before a bite, as does standing or leaning over a dog." Dog Bites: Behavior of Dogs and Humans Before an Attack

Review dog body language

Schedule and Routine

Create and maintain a schedule and routine. Many dogs find “living in the moment” and spontaneity to be nerve-wracking. In fact, much of a dog’s life is about anticipating future events. Dogs thrive off of predictability and routine.Dog Liaison, Jenna Romano

Create a Spa-like environment

  • We go to the Spa to relax, decompress from stress, and take time to heal. Your dog's cortisol levels are probably high. Similar to the straw that broke the camel's back, a dog may become overwhelmed by a lot of little things (trigger stacking) and blow up (over threshold). 

  • Reduce and/or avoid excitement to prevent your dog from reacting.

  • Control the environment by reducing distractions (noise, motion, and commotion). You may consider covering your dog's crate and using white noise such as a fan to reduce stimulation.

  • Provide mental stimulation (stuffed Kong, natural chews, sniffing games like "find it")

A dog that is “over threshold” isn’t necessarily afraid.

Sometimes it’s frustration, overjoyed excitement, or simply sensory overload.” Dog Liaison, Jenna Romano


Prevention and Management

  • Remove opportunities to make bad choices

    • put away temptation

    • block off areas

    • close doors

    • block window views

  • Offer “choices” 

    • retreat to their safe place (crate or quiet area in your home)

    • increase the distance from the thing or person that is upsetting them

    • provide different enrichment opportunities (sniff, chew, lick, shred, etc.)

  • Use positive reinforcement to communicate to your dog the behavior you wish for them to repeat.

    • Yelling "No!" does not provide any information.  

    • "No!" may temporarily suppress behavior until your dog explodes one day

  • Please do not use aversive (force, fear, shock, choke, intimidation) methods or equipment. Doing so may temporarily suppress behavior or cause the dog to feel they must defend themselves with aggression.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Abraham Maslow

The photo below is Bucky who became easily aroused. He would jump up on people, then start humping, biting and digging his paws into their back. The volunteer below is laughing because he is taken by surprise. It was very intense, and we redirected him with treats. We then worked with a trainer and despite our best efforts, Bucky was still struggling and humping. We removed him from the over stimulating environment and placed him a foster home. He was still struggling even though he had been working with the volunteer for over a year. We consulted with a vet behaviorist. Bucky was diagnosed with general anxiety. We did not want to medicate him, but Dr. Sinn explained that Bucky's quality of life was poor. Imagine becoming so anxious at the slightest movement, noise, and smell?  Living in this continuous state is not healthy. Bucky was placed on fluoxetine (Prozac). Medication does not work alone. Training is required. We continued training and today Bucky is living his best life! 

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