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Decoding Your Dog's Behavior

Trying to decipher your pup's every whimper and bark doesn't have to be so doggone confusing. David Alderton, author of Dog Decoder, offers some interpretations.

By MaryAnn Barone

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Dog behavior
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Turning Confrontational

There can be a power struggle between two dogs when they meet, leading to aggressive behavior, especially if one pooch is on a leash and the other isn't. Alpha breeds like Dobermans and rottweilers might become territorial. Small pups can act protective too. If you let your dog roam free, training him to come back to you will help avoid escalating conflicts. If he's leashed and gets into a confrontation, stay calm and quickly steer him away from the situation.

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Chewing, Tearing and Scratching the Furniture

Age plays a big factor in a dog's destructive tendencies. A 4- to 6-month-old puppy is likely teething, while an older dog might be acting out of boredom. "It's important to have plenty of chew toys to occupy him and direct him away from the furniture," Alderton says. Before leaving home, take him on a long walk and include some playtime so he'll be tired and nap while you're gone. If your pooch is constantly chewing and consuming unusual materials, check with your vet that to make sure he doesn't have pica, a compulsive disorder in which dogs eat nonfood items like wood.

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Incessant Barking

Dogs -- especially rescue animals -- may vocalize when you leave because of separation anxiety. If you vary the amount of time you're away, your pooch will learn that you always return. Whenever you adopt, ask if a full history -- including info such as whether the dog has lived with children or had any previous problems -- is available so you can evaluate how well he'll fit in with your family. Repeated barking while you're home can be a sign that your pup is excited or hungry or wants to play. To avoid disruptions in the middle of the night, develop a routine so that he sleeps when you do.

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Growling When You Take Something Away

Deep-toned vocalization -- accompanied by drawn-back lips and raised hairs behind the head -- can be a warning to back off. If this happens often or he becomes louder or more threatening, speak with a dog specialist since it's a sign that your dog may start biting. Be sure your kids never tease him by offering food and then reclaiming it. A dog might also growl or snap if he's in pain, especially when touched. Take him to the vet to rule out any underlying medical problems.

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