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Type: Behaviors


Attention Deficit Disorder. A psychological problem diagnosed in humans, which is sometimes used as shorthand to describe a dog with poor concentration, reactivity or high arousal.  There is no official test for ADD in dogs.


How interested a dog is in being around others – humans or dogs – and getting attention from them. Dogs who display low levels of affiliation are less interested in spending time with people or dogs outside his family. Dogs who display high levels of affiliation can bond quickly with new individuals.


Aggression is defined by Dr Karen Overall in the textbook, Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals as

“an appropriate or inappropriate threat or challenge that is ultimately resolved by combat or deference.”

An aggressive display is a set of behaviors that are threatening or challenging, but aim at making the recipient of the challenge go away without provoking a fight.

Aggression can be broadly categorized into offensive and defensive types depending on the emotion underlying the behavior, and can also be described according to the suspected underlying reason.  For example, dogs can show territorial aggression, predatory aggression, and resource guarding.

Some breeds have more of a tendency towards certain kinds of aggression than others, but a dog that shows aggression towards his owners, or indiscriminately towards strangers is usually considered to be behaviorally abnormal.


The general term given to an emotional state of apprehension or fear, especially of events that have not happened yet or things in the environment that do not pose a specific threat. Behaviors associated with anxiety include:

  • Excessive grooming and licking
  • OCD behaviors such as circling
  • Hypervigilance
  • Loose stool

Anxious dogs can become aggressive, or afraid of going to places where scary things have happened. An anxious dog might react with fear to any unexpected object, like a Christmas tree left at the side of the road.


Appeasement behaviors happen when a dog wants to diffuse a situation he perceives to be threatening, or to elicit care from a person or another dog. They can be a part of a friendly greeting, or they can be an indicator that a dog feels stressed or unsure of himself.  The following can be considered appeasement behaviors:

  • Rolling over
  • Licking the face or muzzle
  • Whining
  • Crawling on the belly
  • Pawing
  • “Submissive grin”
  • Tail and hindquarters wagging.


A dog that is aroused is experiencing a flood of adrenaline. He appears excitable, moves around a lot, and can become fixated on a task.  When a dog is over-aroused to the point of being frantic, his eyes may be dilated and he may find concentration difficult.

Teaching a dog to control his arousal is considered to be a key part of living with a high-energy or working breed, as well as being central to sports like IPO and agility, and tasks like military service.


A fixed action pattern of behavior where a dog attempts to bury something. In wolves and other canids, caching generally refers to food, although dogs have been known to cache other high value items like toys. Wild canids scatter caches of food around their territory; they make small holes in the ground, drop the food in the hole, and then scoop and tamp the earth over the food. This helps keep uneaten food safe from scavengers.

Because it is a fixed action pattern and not consciously controlled, dogs do not stop attempting to cache something even if the behavior is not actually having an effect. Dogs can even be seen scooping and tamping air over a particularly high value item, if they cannot find anything more suitable.


Calming Signals

Any behaviors that are designed to appease people or other dogs, or to calm the dog who is performing them. Examples include:

  • Licking lips
  • Turning the body away
  • Yawning
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Raising a front paw

Some experts, like Turid Rugaas, believe that these behaviors are intended as communication with humans or other dogs, whereas others see them as ways for a stressed dog to make himself feel better.  Understanding calming signals is considered to be a vital part of success in training, especially in behavior modification.


In dog behavior, we say that a dog is conflicted or experiencing conflict when he is unsure of what he wants to do in a situation, or when he is experiencing a desire to do more than one different thing.  Conflicted dogs are stressed.

Example: a dog is afraid of strangers, and a stranger is offering him a treat.  The dog wants to move forward to take the treat, but also wants to move away from the stranger offering it.  The conflict can cause the dog to become more stressed and act unpredictably.


When a dog eats feces, either his own or another dog’s.  Coprophagia is common in puppies and is thought to occur in about ten percent of adult dogs.  It is usually considered a behavioral habit, although it can also be caused by medical issues.

Defensive Aggression

Aggressive behaviors refer to a variety of different things a dog does, and different emotional states a dog might be in. Defensive aggression is usually characterized by some or more of the following:

  •  Tucked tail
  • Ears pinned back
  • Lip raised to show teeth
  • Weight shifted backwards
  • Barking or growling
  • Snapping at the air
  • Whale eye
  • Raised hackles
  • Moving towards the target whilst barking or snapping, and then immediately retreating

The dog’s primary emotional state is one of fear rather than anger; the dog wants to “get the scary thing before it gets me”.


In dogs, drive is used to describe the will to continue with an activity or pursue a goal.  It is essential in protection sports like IPO, although can be an issue in pet dogs as high drive can lead to frustration.  In particular, dogs with high prey drive can be difficult to manage around small animals such as cats.  Drive is often confused with arousal, but drive is goal-oriented whereas arousal is not.

Escape Orientation

How interested a dog is in getting out of its current environment.

Extinction Burst

Before a behavior is extinguished entirely, there is often a period of time where the frequency of the problem behavior increases.


Found most commonly in Border Collies, “eye” refers to staring fixedly, combined with a low, crouching stalk.  This trait is desirable in a working dog because it allows him to control a flock of sheep without nipping them.  Pet dogs can use eye during play, when in prey drive, or as a precursor to an aggressive outburst.

Fear Aggression

A term for defensive aggression. Many trainers claim that a large proportion of the aggressive behavior shown by dogs towards other dogs and humans is rooted in fear rather than anger, protectiveness or malice.

Fear Period

During the first few months of life, puppies go through different phases of neurological and emotional development.  Some of those phases are associated with an increased sensitivity and impressionability and so are referred to as fear periods – puppies who seem solid in temperament can start to show anxiety or startle more easily than before.

There are still some questions over exactly how many fear periods a young dog will go through and at what time in their lives, but they come to an end when the dog reaches full maturity.


A temperamental characteristic of some dogs, characterized by having a strong startle reflex, a lack of affiliation, being unwilling to investigate novel objects and a propensity towards developing anxiety, phobias and OCD behaviors.

Fence Fighting

When a dog repeatedly runs up and down a barrier, showing behaviors such as:

  • Barking
  • Snapping
  • Growling
  • Lunging at the barrier

Some fence fighting behavior is due to frustration – the dog wants to play with the dog or person on the other side of the barrier.  Aggression is another possible cause; either offensive or defensive, depending on whether the dog is scared of people approaching the barrier.  If the fence is in the dog’s backyard or a dog park he visits often, territorial aggression can also be a factor.

Fight or Flight

A phrase describing strategies a dog can take when faced with a potential conflict. The two are not mutually exclusive – a dog who is denied the chance to run away may become defensively aggressive.

Fixed Action Pattern

A series of movements that the dog cannot stop once he has started to perform the first one.  An example is humping.


When a dog is prevented from getting closer to something he wants, he can become frustrated and show some of these behaviors:

Although dogs with frustration issues may not be anxious or aggressive, they can be scary for other dogs and people. Furthermore, frustrated dogs can sometimes redirect onto their handlers, mouthing or biting them.


In terriers, “gameness” means tenacity, especially during the hunt for small animals.  A very game dog will rush into potentially dangerous situations in pursuit of their prey, for example, down a rabbit hole. Gameness can also refer to the tendency for a terrier to keep fighting despite being injured or risking injury.
A dog’s gameness is tested as a part of their temperament during earthdog or Barn Hunt trials; it is not considered to be a learnt set of behaviors.  However, some breeds and lines of dogs have been selected for their gameness during fights; these are called “gamebred”.

Antoniak-Mitchell, D. (2012) Terrier-centric dog training. WA:Dogwise


(1) Behaviors associated with protecting an owner’s resource, for example livestock or property, from intruders.  Some breed types, for example Livestock Guardian Dogs, have been deliberately created with enhanced tendencies towards guarding.

(2) A shortened term for resource guarding, a common behavior problem in dogs.

Hard Mouth

When a dog is stressed, he can sometimes take treats more forcefully than usual, causing some discomfort to the handler.  Teeth can often be felt against the skin, but there is no aggression, just a lack of adequate control due to stress.

In a counter-conditioning setup, a hard mouth is often considered to be evidence that the dog is too close to the trigger, and should move far enough away that he can take treats with a soft mouth.


Part of obedience. A dog walks close to the handler’s left side, following her movements and sitting as a default behavior when the handler stops.

Heeling is a foundation for many sports, including Rally and Heelwork to Music (Dog Dancing).

Loose leash walking is different from heelwork in the strictness of its criteria – all that is required for loose leash walking is that the dog does not pull on the leash, he does not need to be in a specific position relative to the handler.


A state of constant, heightened awareness of, and sensitivity to, changes in the environment.  For example, a dog that orients towards every noise he hears so that he never stops moving or can settle is considered to be hypervigilant.

Hypervigilance can be caused by arousal or anxiety.  It can be dependent on context for some dogs, and a constant problem for others.

Leash Aggression

A type of barrier frustration.  Dogs can become frustrated when they are prevented from having an enjoyable social interaction with other dogs or people because they are on a leash, and this frustration can sometimes become so intense that it tips over into aggression and even redirection.
Many leash aggressive dogs display no behavioral problems when they are off leash, which distinguishes them from fear aggressive dogs.

Loose Leash Walking

Also called “polite walking”. The name given for a dog walking with his owner, without dragging behind or pulling on the leash. Distinct from heeling, in that loose leash walking does not stipulate that the dog must be in a specific position relative to the handler.


Literally, “fear of new things”; a dog that shows stress signals in the presence of things that he has never encountered before.  Some dogs have a fear of new objects but are normal when exposed to new people or dogs, whereas other dogs are likely to become anxious when exposed to any new stimulus regardless of type.

Neophobia has been related to poor early socialization in puppies; if they are not exposed to a great many new things during their early socialization period they are considered to be at risk of developing various anxieties, including a fear of novel objects.


Appleby, D. W., Bradshaw, J. W. S., and J. T. M. Pluijmakers (2010) Exposure to video images between 3 and 5 weeks of age decreases neophobia in domestic dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126(1-2): pp.51-58


Distinct from tricks; obedience is generally thought to consist in reliable performance of sit, down, stay, and come on cue, along with loose-leash walking and generally good social behaviors.  These behaviors are important for safety and for a dog to function well as a companion outdoors and indoors.

Competitive obedience is a dog sport, often found at Kennel Club dog shows.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD behaviors are a sign of anxiety or neurosis in a dog.  Behaviors that a dog does without an obvious trigger, which he also cannot stop once started are labelled as obsessive compulsive.  OCD behaviors are more common in dogs that have spent a long time in a confined space like a shelter.  Examples of these behaviors:

  • Tail chasing
  • Snapping at “flies” in the air
  • Licking one spot on the ground or the body
  • Running in circles
  • Side sucking
  • Pacing
  • Repetitive barking with no obvious triggers

Offensive Aggression

Aggressive behaviors refer to a variety of different things a dog does, and different emotional states a dog might be in. Offensive aggression is characterised by some or more of the following:

  • Lunging
  • Chasing
  • Moving toward the target
  • Showing teeth
  • Raised hackles
  • Barking and growling
  • Tail raised, possibly wagging
  • Ears erect and forward
  • Biting

The dog’s primary emotional state is one of anger rather than fear; he wants the target to go away, but not because he is afraid of it. One example of offensive aggression is territorial aggression.

Opposition Reflex

A reflex, innate to most mammals, to push back against pressure from any angle.  Dog owners and trainers most commonly run up against the opposition reflex when they are teaching loose leash walking – the dog will often respond to his owner pulling on the leash by immediately pulling in the other direction.

Play bow

Dogs use a behavior called a play bow to signal their desire to engage in, or continue, play with another dog, human, or animal of another species.

The leading animal scientist Marc Bekoff describes the appearance of the play bow:

When performing a bow, an individual crouches on its forelimbs, remains standing on its hindlegs, and may wag its tail and bark. The bow is a stable posture from which the animal can move easily in many directions, allows the individual to stretch its muscles before and while engaging in play, and places the head of the bower below another animal in a non-threatening position.

The play bow is said to be stereotypical, because it always looks the same, and does not appear to be learnt; rather, it is an innate part of every dog’s behavioral repertoire.



Bekoff, M and C. Allen (1997) Intentional Communication and Social Play: How and Why Animals Negotiate and Agree to Play. Marc Bekoff and John A. Byers (eds.) In: Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative, and Ecological Perspectives. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press

Predatory Aggression

All dogs have some degree of prey drive; what triggers it can depend on the breed, the individual, and the kind of socialization the dog has had as a puppy.

Predatory Aggression describes aggressive behavior that is rooted in a dog’s prey drive, rather than in fear, resource guarding or territoriality.  Dogs can display predatory aggression towards any other animal and, in rare cases, towards humans.

Behavior associated with predatory aggression can include one or a combination of the following:

  • Head dropping
  • Fixed stare
  • Stalking
  • Chasing
  • Biting the victim’s neck
  • Biting and shaking the victim

Prey bow

A prey bow looks similar to a play bow – the dog crouches on his forelimbs with his rear in the air and head down, but it is not used to signal a desire to play.  Dogs use prey bows as part of hunting behaviors; they can happen before the dog starts to stalk, before he starts to chase, or before he pounces.

Prey bows can sometimes be distinguished from play bows by how stiff the dog’s body is – stiff forelegs, in particular are said to indicate a prey bow – but usually context is a more reliable indicator.


When a dog is disposed to guard his house, or owner, from perceived threats. Often owners want a dog who will protect them, but dogs find it difficult to discriminate between friendly and unwanted strangers. Protectiveness can be confused with resource guarding.

Random Sampling

When a dog performs a variety of the different behaviors it knows without being cued to do them, in the hopes of getting more reinforcement.

For example, a dog that has been told to sit and stay can sometimes try to shake, or sit pretty, or spin around at the same time.

Excessive random sampling can lead to problems with putting behaviors on stimulus control and with marking and rewarding the correct behavior, as the dog can throw out many behaviors in a short time.


A general term for a behavior problem in dogs that usually manifests as some of the following behaviors:

Some dogs are reactive to one specific trigger, for example the presence of other dogs, others are generally likely to show these reactive behaviors to a variety of different things, or to a sudden change in the environment.


The general term given to a dog returning to his handler on cue.

Reinforcing Fear

The idea that if you pay special attention to, or try to soothe, a frightened dog, his behavior will be reinforced and he is more likely to be afraid in the future.

This is a myth; soothing and paying attention to a dog who is afraid is more likely to make him feel safer, thus less likely to be afraid.

Resource Guarding

When a dog shows aggressive behavior when he is threatened with having something he values taken away from him.  Resources can be anything the dog determines to be worth guarding, including food, toys, furniture, and people.  Examples of resource guarding behaviors include:

Return of Fear

A psychological phenomenon in which a source of *anxiety that has previously been successfully extinguished spontaneously reoccurs.

According to trainers, ROF can be treated in dogs by going back into the process of counter-conditioning.  If treated correctly, ROF is usually short-lived.

Separation Anxiety

When a dog has excessive anxiety about being left alone by his owners.  Can be accompanied by destructive and self-injurious behaviors and attempts to escape, although not always. Some dogs with separation anxiety are less anxious when left with other humans, or other dogs, but some are specifically anxious about being left by the humans they are most closely bonded to.

Shut Down

A dog is considered to be shut down when he is undergoing chronic extreme stress but is not showing any obvious reactions, like anxiety or aggression.  This is often due to flooding.  Shut down dogs can be difficult to tell from dogs who are calm, but some common differences are:
  • Being very still
  • A tucked tail
  • Shallow breathing
  • Panting
In some situations, a dog will even fall asleep as a kind of self-protective mechanism.

Side Sucking

Also called flank sucking. Side sucking is a compulsive behavior in dogs, where the dog curls into a ball and sucks his flank. It is especially common in Doberman pinschers, although it’s not unique to the breed. Left unchecked, this behavior can sometimes lead to lick granuloma.

Stereotypical Behavior

Stereotypies are repetitive movements of the dogs body, which are able to be controlled and serve no useful purpose other than being reinforcing to the dog. Stereotypical behavior in animals is generally thought of as an indicator of poor welfare, particularly of lack of opportunities for enrichment. Dogs that are kept in kennels often show repetitive behaviors like bouncing, barking, and pacing, some of which can be considered as stereotypical.


Denham, DC, Bradshaw, JWS, Rooney, NJ (2014) Repetitive behavior in kennelled domestic dogs: stereotypical or not? Physiology & Behavior 128,pp 288-294

Stress Signals

All dogs have a relatively stable set of behaviors that they can exhibit when they are stressed.  Which behaviors are more likely to be shown under stress depends on the breed and the individual, but a dog showing one or more of these behaviors is usually considered to be under some stress:

  • Ears pinned back or tense at the base
  • Face wrinkled with wide eyes
  • Whale eye
  • Long, tight commissures
  • Tense front legs with a stiff posture
  • Body curling in a ‘C’ shape
  • Yawning
  • ‘Checking in’ with the owner excessively
  • Sniffing the ground when there’s nothing interesting there
  • Tail tucked under the body
  • Panting
  • Standing completely still
  • Increased heart rate and breathing


The term “submission” can describe a number of things. It can refer to submissive posturing, such as a tucked tail or exposed belly, or it can be used to describe basic obedience, especially as part of dominance theory. Or, submission can describe part of a dog’s temperament, if he is inclined to choose submissive postures and appeasement when greeting or interacting with people and/or dogs.

Submissive Posture

A variety of different behaviors are described as “submissive” in dogs.  Some are appeasement behaviors, like licking the muzzle of another dog. Others might be calming signals like looking away or curving the body away.  It can be difficult to judge whether a submissive display is part of a normal greeting or play ritual, or whether it is rooted in stress and insecurity.

Submissive Urination

When a dog urinates a small amount during greetings, especially of new people, even though he is otherwise housetrained. Can sometimes be a sign of anxiety.

Sudden Environmental Change

Usually shortened to SEC, a sudden environmental change can be anything from a tipped-over trash can in the middle of the sidewalk, or a person getting out of a parked car, to a pile of laundry left on a bed.  An SEC can cause a dog to panic or become anxious and try to leave the area, or to become reactive.

Dogs that are sensitive to sudden environmental changes are usually reactive or fearful in general, but some breeds have a higher tendency to monitor their environment and can be upset by changes despite have generally stable temperaments.

Territorial Aggression

Some dogs have an instinct to protect a certain area; usually the home, the yard, or sometimes a part of the neighborhood. Some dogs can become more reactive inside what they perceive to be their territory, and become offensively aggressive to people who come into these areas, especially strangers and strange dogs.

The Four Fs

A more complete description of different strategies for conflict resolution in dogs than the cliché “fight or flight“, the four F’s are Fight, Flight, Freeze and Flirt. When a dog freezes, it stiffens completely and remains as still as possible until the perceived danger is passed. Behaviors classed as “flirt” appeasement and play behaviors.

The precise definition of the four F’s varies – fight and flight are always listed, but the latter two can be any out of Freeze, Faint, Flirt, and Fuck.