Why Dogs Have Behavioural Problems | Doglistener

Welcome to Stan Rawlinson's Doglistener website. Free Subscription to Stan's dog related fascinating newsletters


Why Dogs Have Behavioural Problems

Why Dogs Have Behavioural Problems

Fear of Infections and Disease: I have been asked on many occasions what are the main contributing factors of dog behavioural problems.

Although it appears to be a simple question, things do not always have a simplistic answer.

I have managed to isolate the main culprits that are creating the behavioural epidemic affecting so many of our dogs.

Lack of knowledge, and a lack of research into to the requirements of the chosen breed, plus the fear stories we get from vets and forums all play a part

The fear of disease or infections has led breeders and owners alike to make the tragic mistake of keeping their puppies isolated until they have completed their vaccinations.

By taking this stance they risk ending up with fearful dogs that often become aggressive or have serious behavioural problems in later life. It does not have to b like that as long as you know what you have to do to make sure your pups and dogs have the very best start in life. 

Early Socialisation: I am sure you have heard this term before but what does it really mean? There are two vital aspects that shape all mammals including humans, that is Nature and Nurture. One is related to genetics (Nature) which includes drive and instinct, the other means a learned aspect of behaviour (Nurture)

Early socialisation falls within the nurture part of the equation. That above all else is one of the main reasons for aggression and fear and timidity. I see many dogs with fear-based aggression and reactivity that can be aimed at other dogs or humans.

It may surprise some people that dog aggression is primarily fear-based and that it has most of its roots in a lack of early socialisation. The critical primary periods to make sure that your dog's behaviour is acceptable is in the first 16 weeks of your dog's life, therefore, the breeder also has a large impact on the outcome of the puppies in their care.

Human Socialisation Period: The first important period is 0 to 12 weeks.

The breeder should invite lots of people to come and handle the puppies, right up until they go to the new owner.

I bred a litter of puppies in 2017 working cocker spaniels and we had over 400 visits from practically everyone we knew. including children pensioners and other dogs. 

It is critically important that the new owner make sure that at least a hundred people handle the puppy in a positive gentle way before the pup is 12 weeks of age.

Take it around your local café or pub, go outside the school gates and let children treat and stroke the puppy.

Older people must also be introduced and strange environments, car journeys, traffic, noisy high streets other animals and literally everyday life. That should make the dog bombproof with people and various places.

Of course, if the puppy is taken home and if it is nervous or fearful from day one, then they may be a genetic problem that may stem from the sire or dam, It is rarer though in some cases, fear and timidity can be passed on by just the male as it is the mother (dam) that interacts the most with the puppies.

If the breeder has kept the puppies from all contact with people and other animals, then you must work very hard to overcome that lack of contact before the all-important 12 weeks have elapsed.

Canine Socialisation Period: This is the second part of the vitally important periods and is related to how the puppies and dogs relate to other dogs. The time frame for this is 0 to 16 weeks.

People are often frightened to mix their dogs for fear of infections. Yet any puppy can mix with any other dog that has been vaccinated from week three of its life.

Puppies learn the all-important body language and communication skill and bite inhibition by playing with other puppies rather than adult dogs. Adult dogs do not play that rough and tumble games that pups play

Puppy classes are therefore vitally important to canine socialisation and should be booked before you even get the puppy home. See my (1) Puppy Classes. If you do not live in my area then my Puppy Class page explains what to look for in a good puppy socialisation class.

Other Critical Periods: Though I have listed the human and canine socialisation periods that does not mean that there are no other important and vital periods. For instance, there's the first fear period, that starts at 5 weeks and peaks between 8 and 10.5 weeks.

Any fearful or frightening episode during this period will have a more profound effect than at any other time in your dog's life. There are other fear periods and these are explained in my article (2) Critical Periods in a Pups Growth.

Scary Sounds: One of the most important lessons you as the new owner must learn, is to never comfort a frightened dog.

Sympathy and comfort to a dog is not reassurance it is reinforcement, the exact opposite of how humans see comfort,

If your dog is startled or fearful of something and you follow your natural instincts which are to comfort and sympathise, then you will enhance the fear and increase the startle response.

This is especially important when it comes to sounds like fireworks, gunshots, thunder and traffic noises.

That is one of the reasons I created a high-quality training and behavioural sound desensitisation CD for dogs and puppies.

This helps puppies and well as adult dogs. If young pups are gently desensitised at a very early age then they often do not get these problems later on in life. 

My sound desensitisation program has been used successfully for years to combat sound phobias in dogs.

Other Reasons for Behavioural Problems: Of course there are many other reasons behavioural problems occur. These include dog food, especially ones with lots of Es, artificial flavours and colourants. Read my article (3) Dog Food and Behaviour where I test lots of dog food and list the ones I feed my dogs and why

A lack of essential vitamins and minerals and this is where supplements can help. Neutering is also a major player in negatively affecting behavioural and medical problems in dogs, other than the all-important early socialisation it is probably one of the commonest reasons for behavioural, aggression fear and timidity and health problems in dogs today. Worth Reading (4) Why Are Our Dogs Dying 11% Earlier Than 10 Years Ago. and (5) The Dangers of Neutering Dogs.

If your dog's problems are related to fear, and the vast majority of behavioural problems stem from this, then for further help and advice read my article (5) Fearful and Timid Dogs. Which is top of Google for that search and is the most widely read article on the subject as is (6) Dog Aggression.  Which is also first on Google and explains all the different types of aggression. (7) The Alpha Myth is also a revealing article on how dogs really learn

©Stan Rawlinson 
Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Expert

July 11th 2018

(1) Puppy Classes

(2) Critical Periods in a Pups Growth.

(3) Dog Food and Behaviour

(4)  Why Are Our Dogs Dying 11% Earlier Than 10 Years Ago?

(5) Fearful and Timid Dogs

6) Dog Aggression.

(7) The Alpha Myth


We have two sisters which are 1.5years old. They are starting to fight now and again. Would it be a good idea for one of them to stay with a family member a few nights a week to break that sister bond

Stan Rawlinson's picture

I think you need to read my article Rearing Sibling Dogs. I wrote some time ago it is first on Google. It explains the pitfalls of these actions. Unfortunately, a few nights a week will probably make it worse as the aggression will worsen when they are brought back together. Read the article and you will understand more on this problem.


This is an excellent article - in my experience, not many professionals know that much about behavioural problems. We have a female cavalier king Charles spaniel, called Seren, who was rescued from a puupy farm. She was kept in a cage with only her brothers and sisters until she was 14 weeks old, and she's terrified of everything. She can't go for walks as she becomes terror stricken, and has had epileptic fits from fear. We were told how to look after her, and what to do and what not to do, by an amazing animal behaviouralist, and she lives very happily with us and our other female cavvy and our cat. The sound desensitation was very good - extremely helpful. She doesn't go out for walks - we exercise her by throwing a ball for her in the garden, which she loves, and with various agility activities, which she also enjoys. If she has to leave the house to see the vet, she has to be given a xanax tablet, howvever, because she is so terrified, she becomes completely motionless as if she's in a trance. Her eyes become completely blank, and she basically shuts down. She won't even flinch if she's in pain, and so it's imperative that any vet she sees is fully cogniscent of her history, otherwise she runs the risk of not being diagnosed properly. For instance, she's got arthritis in her right shoulder, but she had to have an x-ray to diagnose it, as when our vet examined her, as usual, she simply stood completely still and showed no sign of pain. I don't know if other dogs with similar problems would behave like this, but I thought it might be helpful to anyone who's dog does have behavioural problems due to not being socialised.

Stan Rawlinson's picture

Thank you for a very interesting and insightful email. Yes, you are absolutely right this is probably caused by lack of socialisation during the critical periods 0 to 16 weeks. Puppy farms are hideous places and fortunately, the law is changing and many of these dens of misery will be closed down. However, we are having other problems to take its place foreign puppies brought either illegally or legally into the country from puppy farms abroad.

I will make on further observation there is a possibility that your dog is autistic. It is not as common in dogs as it is in humans but it worth you reading my article Can Dogs be Autistic?. I think you will find it interesting, your dog is certainly displaying some indicators that it could be on the autistic spectrum. I applaud you for persevering with this poor dog.


Free Subscription to Stan Rawlinson's Fascinating Newsletters