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Staying Safe with Your Pet Who has Behavioral Issues

Often times people wait until a behavior occurs more than once before taking any action. However, the first sign of an abnormal behavior, such as aggression or fearfulness, is not something a pet owner should dismiss. Some behavioral changes might be indicative of a medical problem. For example, pain or itching can lower an animal’s threshold for anxiety and aggression. Other behavioral signs, such as attention-seeking barking or house training problems might benefit from a qualified professional trainer. Your primary veterinarian is the first place to start to determine if the root cause is medical, training or behavioral.

Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center says, “the best predictor of an animal’s future behavior is past behavior.” Therefore, it is critical to avoid the trigger(s) for the unwelcome behavior until you see your veterinarian or a behavioral specialist. See our tips below to avoid negative behavioral triggers.

Veterinary behaviorists are often sought by pet owners as a last resort, but according to Borns-Weil, early intervention is critical to resolving behavior problems and preventing the inevitable snowball effect. If a dog bites because they are fearful, and the person goes away (the desired action), it reinforces the biting behavior. When an animal is allowed to continue to engage in unwanted behavior, it is more likely to continue.

Behavior problems can be both upsetting and challenging for the owner to manage and they may also take a toll on other household pets and family members. Behavioral problems affect companion animals more than any other condition and are the leading cause of death in the United States. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that 50% of all dogs are relinquished to shelters because of behavioral issues and it is estimated that 70% of these animals are euthanized.

When behavior is determined to be the root cause and a diagnosis is made, Dr. Borns-Weil develops a treatment plan that may include environmental management, behavior modification, recommendations about exercise and diet and/or medication.  With a detailed treatment plan in hand, Behavior Clinic clients are given the tools to manage and/or eliminate behavioral issues.

In the end, it is Dr. Borns-Weil’s success stories that bring a smile to her clients’ faces and a sigh of relief. Satisfied clients have a better understanding of their beloved companion and go on to enjoy a rewarding relationship.

Tips: Avoiding Negative Behavioral Triggers
Biting Strangers Biting Family Members Separation Related Destructiveness Inter-dog or cat aggression
– Lock doors and fence the animals
– Do not install an invisible fence as unwelcome strangers do not see a barrier
– Confine dog or keep on leash
– Use basket muzzle
– Do not allow petting by strangers
– Use basket muzzle if it can be put on safely
– Avoid triggers (e.g., if food-related, leave dog alone when eating)
– Do not confront (move away if the dog growls)
– Use a training leash in the house
– Separate from target person
– Talk to vet about treating with topicals
– Do not leave alone
– Consider day care or dog sitter
– Provide activities for the pet if you must leave pet alone at home
– Separate the dogs/cats until appointment
– Keep dogs on leash when together
– Use basket muzzle when together
A note on children and pets: Children should never be left unsupervised with companion animals. They should also not be allowed to approach a pet or to handle a pet in any way.