Living with a Neurotic Dog

Living with a neurotic dog can be hectic and stressful for both the dog owner and the dog.  How do you know if your dog is neurotic or just quirky? Does your dog latch out at others?  Or does it cower behind you when strangers approach?  Or does it seek out one member of the family and exclude all others?  Unfortunately, cute behavior in a puppy can lead to major challenges as your dog gets older.

Often times, these behaviors can develop into neurosis.  The dog is behaving in a way which is normal to them, and apparently, acceptable to the owner.  The conflict occurs when these behaviors get out of hand or are no longer acceptable.  (Such as cuddling with one family member but barking or even biting all others.)  A neurosis in dogs is usually manifested in three broad behaviors:




These neurotic behaviors will impact the relationship we have with our friends and will impair us from having a healthy and rewarding dog owner experience.  Let’s look closely at the three neurotic behaviors above to gain a better understanding of the impact on the dog.


Fear can show up as cowering away from something, someone or even an activity.  It can also be expressed with aggression.  A fear-imprint can be reached between 8 and 10 weeks for a puppy, and is sometimes permanent.  For those of us that adopt rescue dogs the imprint will normally have happened before the adoption.


Compulsion can be demonstrated by a repetitious activity or an acute fixation in an object.  Activities such as pacing, chasing their tails, playing with a toy to exhaustion are just some of the behaviors that can be observed.  At first some owners may be amused by what their dog is doing, but that will fade or move into frustration as the dog refuses to stop.


Aggression, the most serious and dangerous behavior, can often be expressed in dominance.  The dominance may be territorial, over something or someone.  The behavior can even be directed toward other family members when the dog claims one in the family as theirs.  I have seen this happen when dogs show aggression around children or spouses when they have claimed one spouse or children.

Dogs are just one of the many species of mammals that are classified as pack animals.  It is important to understand and acknowledge this biological fact.  In pack animals, there is a leadership hierarchy which is acknowledged and adhered to at all time.  This is very similar to the human family, as defined for centuries, as father, mother and children.  The father’s role is protecting and providing.  The mother’s role is nurturing and caring while the children are taught life lessons and values.  This is why dogs assimilate so well into the human environment.  However, one of the main differences between the “human pack” and the “dog pack” is that while families will acknowledge the father as the head of the pack, for dogs, the pack leaders, the alpha male and female, are subject to change depending upon who is the strongest.  Theses leaders then determine the other positions in the pack.  There are often challenges to the authority, but, strength will win in the end.  Dogs find comfort and consistency in being in a pack.  So when a dog is added to the human family, all members become part of its pack.  Some dogs will constantly access their position within your household or “their pack” This may mean that they could place themselves above others in your family or even feel that there isn’t any leadership and try to take over.  Remember, even in your family, a dog will always look at things from a dog perspective.   They are incapable of using or understanding human logic.

A strong sense of command should always be expressed by family members around the family dog.   This does not mean being harsh and not showing affection.  It does mean the human is the one in control and should moderate all behaviors.

A neurosis in a dog becomes more pronounced the more energy they have to burn off.  Left, on their own a dog will get into mischief, or if they have a problem it will get worse.  Providing structured activities such as walking, or playing with a purpose, will help, and will reinforce who is in charge and provide an outline for their energy.  It will definitely improve living with a neurotic dog.

Dealing with Fear

When a dog shows fear over an event or activity, NEVER comfort the animal or give them a treat.  It will only serve to reinforce the “bad” behavior when the event or activity happens again.   Take control of the situation by being the leader and get the dog’s attention.  Involve the dog in an activity to distract them.  This may be as simple as making them sit and stay, or putting them through a training routine and then praising them when they comply.  If the dog shows fear over an activity, such as getting into a car, keep working on the activity showing them this is something they must do.  You dog can sense your emotional state.  Maintain a positive, calm attitude through the whole process.  Envision your dog successfully completing the activity.  Thinking about success will bring success.

Dealing with Compulsion

Behaviors which are repetitious in nature show an animal that is unsure or insecure about their place in the pack.  They will often fixate on an object or activity they seemingly have no control over.   When a dog is like this, believe me, they are not happy or content.  The most direct way to deal with this is to take control of the situation immediately!  Stop the activity and start them on another activity to redirect their mind and energy.  Taking them into another room or for a walk will help to refocus their energy.

Once the dog has complied and their attention has been redirected, give them praise and affection.  However, do not get discouraged when they stay fixated or nervous.  Be consistent with your commands and maintain a calm but firm attitude.

Do not become “emotional.”  However, acknowledge your emotional state, especially if you are upset, angry or frustrated, take a deep breath and visualize breathing out the emotion and placing it in a small box and closing the lid firmly. (You can come back and open the lid any time you want.).  As you take another deep breathe, visualize inhaling peace, serenity and power.  Acknowledge your leadership power and responsibility as a pack leader.  Use your energy to demonstrate the behavior you want your dog to emulate.  Be patient and consistent.

Dealing with Aggression

Aggression will usually manifest itself in a cause and effect situation.  Determining the true cause of the aggression will require the dog owner to monitor the dog for these triggers.  Once the trigger is found, corrective training can proceed.  This will begin with firing the trigger (the activity that causes the aggressive action.)   By keeping an eye on your dog, you will be able to see when the dog starts to fixate on their target.  It is at this time you should intervene and get control of the dog, not when they go after their target.  If you wait until they react, then you will probably end up lulling the dog away which will only make them more aggressive and determined.  Breaking their concentration and making them concentrate on you must be repeated until the original trigger elicits no response.



Top Three Tips

1. Control your emotional state – stay calm, consistent and confident

2. Find the trigger

3. Make the investment – time and energy

Living with a neurotic dog can wreak havoc with a household, not only in terms of scarring the furniture but leaving emotional scars as well.  For all the members of the pack, transforming a neurotic dog into a healthy, consistent and contented pack member is in everyone’s best interest, especially the dog’s.