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What is Unruly Behavior?

Dogs can be somewhat rowdy by nature, especially when they are young. Most of the excitable behaviors exhibited by puppies and young dogs will diminish in frequency and intensity with maturity and consistent training. Those dogs who continue to exhibit difficult or potentially dangerous behaviors might be considered unruly, unmanageable or willful. Most of these issues can be dealt with by finding the proper training technique for your dog, but in cases of chemical imbalance, medication may be recommended in combination with training and behavior modification.

Unruly behaviors in dogs are usually addressed using behavior and training techniques, but diseases and disorders such as encephalitis, thyroid disorders, and clinical hyperkinesis should be addressed medically.

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Symptoms of Unruly Behavior in Dogs

  • Biting (People or other animals)
  • Chasing
  • Frantic attempts to follow owner
  • Guarding of food or toys
  • Inappropriate chewing
  • Inappropriate digging
  • Incessant barking
  • Jumping on people
  • Lunging
  • Mounting
  • Pulling on lead
  • Snapping
  • Soiling in the house
  • Stealing (food or other items)
  • Unexplained fear response

If your pet is exhibiting these behaviors consistently or if the symptoms come on suddenly and are out of character for your dog, a visit to your veterinarian may help uncover if there are any medical components to the behavior.  



  • Anxiety induced issues would encompass issues such as continuous barking, inappropriate chewing or digging, snapping, soiling in the house or unexplained fear responses
  • Severe anxiety issues can lead to aggressive behaviors such as food guarding, lunging, and biting


  • Excitability issues are those that are due to an over-exuberance on the part of the canine
  • These could include behaviors such as jumping on people, pulling on the lead, stealing (food or other items), and chasing


  • Aggression or dominance issues could include lunging, snapping, biting, and guarding of food or toys
  • Aggression related behaviors may be directed at other animals or people or both

Causes of Unruly Behavior in Dogs

Medical disorders that might cause anxious behaviors could include thyroid dysfunction, chronic pain or ear infections. Common canine psychological disorders that have anxiety at their core include PTSD and separation anxiety disorder. Issues attributed to excitability are often normal to a certain degree, however, there are diseases and disorders that can cause excitable behaviors to be more intense. Chronic lead poisoning, food allergies, and clinical hyperkinesis are all physical disorders that can cause difficult to control impulsive behavior. Psychological factors that can influence a dog to become more excitable can include inadequate early social interaction, excessive time alone or confined, or inadequate exercise. Serious physical diseases that often include aggression as a symptom include rabies, encephalitis, and hypoglycemia. Some physical disorders may result in aggressive behavior more indirectly. Failing sight or hearing, chronic pain or even grief may cause a dog to feel out of sorts and result in fear-based aggression. Issues that are aggression related can often start out as anxiety type disorders, and progress more unpredictable and aggressive behavior.

Diagnosis of Unruly Behavior in Dogs

When you bring your pet into the veterinarian with a behavior problem, he or she will take a behavioral history. Information needed for a complete behavioral history would include anything known about the breed, sex and age of the canine. It is also helpful to know how long these symptoms have been occurring and at what frequency. Duration of episodes of aggression and how your dog behaved after the aggressive reaction was over can be useful in diagnosing the underlying disorder as well. Your veterinarian will also want to know if there have been any changes to diet or any new medications introduced recently, and what corrective methods you have tried. 

If your veterinarian suspects a medical component to the behavior he will also perform a physical examination including ordering a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. As thyroid disorders can often cause behavioral and mood changes the level of thyroxine concentrations in the blood may also be measured. In some cases, such as in the case of hyperkinesis, the final diagnosis is determined by the reaction to the treatment. Clinically hyperactive dogs are rare and can be differentiated from other causes by the reaction to stimulant medications.

Treatment of Unruly Behavior in Dogs

Treatment for behavior issues will depend on both the severity and the underlying causes of the disorders. Any physical issues will need to be addressed as soon as possible. The treatments required for underlying conditions may vary greatly, from pain medication for chronic pain to surgery to remove tumors that may have developed on the thyroid or in the brain to diet modification to eliminate food allergies. 

In some cases, anxiety issues will become unmanageable by training methods alone. These acute cases of anxiety may be either chemically or environmentally induced. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications. Although some of these medications are relatively fast acting, most of them require 6-8 weeks before significant improvement is seen. Once medical reasons have been attended to or ruled out, any remaining unruly behaviors can be tackled with behavioral training and conditioning. In many cases, your veterinarian may be able to recommend a reliable animal trainer or behaviorist.

Recovery of Unruly Behavior in Dogs

After all of the general physical issues have been managed as much as possible, your veterinarian will probably want to re-evaluate your pet’s behavior to see if further medical intervention is required. Medications given for psychological imbalances will take several weeks before their effectiveness is known, and it is essential that your veterinarian knows all of the other medications your dog is on. Many antidepressants and antianxiety medications have contraindications with certain pain medications, antihistamines and even herbal treatments such as St. John’s Wort or Kava Kava. Even after medical and psychological causes have been eliminated or addressed training may be required to completely extinguish the problem behavior.

Unruly Behavior Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

pit bull terrier
8 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms


I have an 8 month old puppy, he will not stay in the yard, he climbs the fence and he's gone. Chasing anything he sees, He will not respond when I call him just goes on his way. I have tried shock collars and had to put him on a chain for the time being which I don't like any more than he does. My next step is to put in an electric fence. I also have a 2 year old dog and she does not have the problem. do you have any tips or trick how I can fix it. I do have hope that he will outgrow it, but I can't wait that long.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
Angela, thank you for contacting us about Rusty. That is actually fairly normal behavior for an 8 month old puppy - they are like toddlers, and really can't be trusted by themselves at that age, as they really don't know any better, and the world is just full of exciting things to be discovered! One thing that I would suggest immediately would be to have him neutered if he isn't already. Male dogs who are intact can sense pheromones from female dogs for a 4-5 mile radius, and they will do pretty much anything possible to breed with that female. Neutering him should help, again, if he isn't neutered already. The other thing that I might suggest is some obedience training. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you of trainers in the area, and many pet store chains offer puppy classes. He sounds like he is in need of training if he runs away when you're calling him, and basic obedience will probably dramatically improve how he behaves. It is also important for an 8 month old Pit Bull to get enough exercise, and if he is left unattended outside, he will try to find things to do. Hopefully those few things will help with him and he will become a fabulous, well behaved dog!

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