Irrational Behaviour in Dogs

Have you ever stood back and wondered what on earth your dog was thinking when he performed a certain behaviour? Don’t worry, your dog isn’t broken, this happens a lot. Dogs don’t always think in straight lines, in fact, irrational behaviour in dogs is surprisingly common.

What is irrational behaviour?

When a dog is behaving irrationally they ignore reason and logic and become laser focused on a particular goal or trigger. Common sense goes out the window and their behaviour can become unpredictable and desperate until they either snap out of it, or they achieve their aim.

Most “normal” behaviour is chosen based on the dogs previous experiences and their expectations but irrational behaviour comes from somewhere else.

Irrational behaviour happens when a dogs emotions take over their thought process. Often their fight or flight instinct has been triggered, and they start doing things that are disproportionate, or even completely random.

When a dog is afraid of other dogs he might bark and cry in an attempt to avoid meeting them – that makes sense. But some reactive dogs actually like the company of other dogs, but still behave this way when they see them. This makes no sense at all as it often puts potential friends off. But, they still do it!

Dogs that re-direct their frustration or aggression onto their loving owners are also displaying irrational behaviour. As are; dogs that climb all over your visitors to get attention when they could just sit beside them, peeing on hidden shopping bags, nursing plant pots, and chasing shadows!

a small brown spaniel type dog on a woodland path holding a very long, thick, heavy looking stick
Not all dog behaviour is irrational – I’m sure this dog has his reasons for selecting this particular stick, haha!

Why do they do it?

For dogs that are behaving irrationally, their survival mode has been triggered, and emotions are the biggest influence.

Dogs that are typically quite anxious, or get frustrated easily, are more susceptible. As are dogs that are used to getting their own way! Foreign street dogs have often been through a lot, and are much more easily triggered. Having had their survival skills tested in the past, it doesn’t take so much to push them back into survival mode again.

How do you handle it?

Obviously, if they aren’t acting in a logical way, this makes things tricky for you. There is no point trying to shout or reason with them. This would be like trying to calm a person who is having a panic attack by shouting at them to “CALM DOWN”!!!

Don’t waste your time trying to negotiate with them either. Don’t even ask them to sit, or respond to their name. They just won’t do it. Your only job right now is to stay calm and keep them safe until they snap out of it.

Once the mist clears and they settle, they will start behaving in a logical way again. Now you can return to your training plan. Previously learned tricks and commands will kick in again, and they’ll be much more easy to handle.

Looking forward?

Staying calm and waiting is not enough to stop it happening again though. Your next step is to figure out what went wrong, what the trigger was, what the goal was, and help them achieve this in a different way next time. Your training plan should address the cause of the irrational behaviour, identify the trigger, and aim to keep your dog out of survival mode as much as possible.

Emotions play a huge part in irrational behaviour so we should look at those too. Learning tricks that require patience and calm are a great place to start. In fact learning any new behaviour, and feeling a sense of achievement, is useful. When was the last time you worked on something new together?

Clicker training is particularly good for boosting confidence. Anticipation promotes the release of Dopamine (the happy hormone) so if you can, try to integrate a clicker into your training routine.

How can I help you with your dogs irrational behaviour?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!

Or, why not check out my Free Reactive Dog Behaviour Support Group or my Reactive Behaviour course click for a free sample


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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