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What is Displacement Behavior in Dogs? | Pupford

December 28th, 2023

Filed under Pet Parenting

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Just like humans, our pups experience a range of emotions, and they communicate these feelings through various behaviors.

One way they do this is through displacement behaviors.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into what displacement behaviors are, why they occur, and how positive reinforcement techniques can help address and alleviate stress.

Here’s what we cover:

  1. Understanding Displacement Behavior
  2. Common Examples of Displacement Behavior
  3. Causes of Displacement Behavior
  4. Addressing Displacement Behavior with Positive Reinforcement


Displacement behavior, also known as redirected behavior or stress-related behavior, refers to actions exhibited by dogs that seem out of context for the situation.

These behaviors are typically observed when a dog is feeling conflicted, stressed, or overwhelmed.

Dog parents must be able to recognize and interpret these behaviors in their dogs to be able to address feelings of anxiety or stress.


excessive yawning can be a displacement behavior in dogs
  • Excessive Grooming: Dogs may engage in excessive licking or chewing of their own fur, paws, or tail when stressed. This behavior is a self-soothing mechanism, akin to how humans might bite their nails when feeling anxious.
  • Yawning & Lip Licking: Dogs might yawn or lick their lips when faced with a stressful situation. These actions help to dissipate tensions and can indicate discomfort or unease. These behaviors will be displayed when a dog is not typically tired or hungry.
  • Scratching: Intense scratching, particularly when it’s not related to an itch, can be of stress. Dogs may scratch their bodies or the environment as a way to redirect their anxiety.
  • Sniffing or Nose Licking: Excessive sniffing or licking of the nose can be a displacement behavior, especially if it occurs in situations where the dog is uncomfortable or fearful.
  • Shaking: When our dogs shake when they are not wet, this can be a way to relieve stress. Similar to when a human sighs to relieve feelings of anxiety.
  • Whining or Pacing: Dogs may whine, pace, or engage in other restless behaviors when they are stressed or feeling conflicted. These actions can serve as an outlet for built-up tension.


group of dogs yawning

Understanding the root causes of displacement behaviors is crucial for effective management and intervention. Some common triggers for displacement behavior include:

  • Social Conflict: Dogs are social animals, and being around unfamiliar dogs or people who make them uncomfortable can lead to displacement behaviors.
  • Fear or Anxiety: Unfamilair environments, loud noises, or new experiences can trigger fear and anxiety in dogs, leading to displacement behaviors.
  • Frustration: Dogs may exhibit displacement behaviors when faced with frustrating situations, such as not having outlets for natural behaviors.
  • Overstimulation: Excessive stimulation, whether from noise, activity, or environmental changes, can overwhelm dogs, prompting displacement behaviors.


provide a safe space for your dog

Positive reinforcement training techniques can be powerful tools for managing stress and anxiety and reducing displacement behaviors in dogs. Here’s how you can apply these principles.

  • Identify Triggers: Pay close attention to your dog’s environment and interactions to identify potential triggers for displacement behaviors. Understanding the cause is the first step to addressing feelings of stress.
  • Create Positive Associations: Use counter-conditioning and desensitization training methods to create a positive association with situations that typically trigger displacement behaviors. This helps your dog build confidence and feel more at ease in challenging situations.
  • Provide a Safe Space: Create a designated safe space where your dog can retreat when feeling stressed. This could be a comfortable crate or quiet corner with familiar bedding.
  • Regular Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Ensure your dog receives regular exercise and mental enrichment. Physical activity and mental puzzles can contribute to overall well-being and can reduce stress levels.

Displacement behaviors in dogs are an often overlooked aspect of canine communication and an indicator of stress and anxiety.

As responsible dog parents, it’s up to us to understand, interpret, and address these behaviors with empathy and effective training techniques.

By utilizing positive reinforcement training techniques, we can create a supportive environment that promotes our dogs’ mental and emotional well-being and fosters a strong bond between us and our canine companions.


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