Dealing with behavioural problems

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A BEHAVIOUR problem is really any behaviour shown by a dog that people find a problem!

People obviously vary in how much they tolerate different behaviours in their dogs, so what some people regard as a ‘problem’, others can be quite happy to live with.

This means that behaviour problems can range from things like dogs jumping up to greet their owners as they return, to extreme forms of aggression,

or behaviours that appear ‘hallucinatory’ such as snapping at flies that are not there. The term ‘behaviour problems’, therefore, covers a wide range of issues

from situations where dogs have not been trained how to behave in response to particular events, to behaviours which are linked to medical problems.

As a general rule, if your dog shows obedience training problems such as pulling on the lead or failing to come when called, then you should look for a reputable

trainer to help you.

However, if your dog shows behaviours such as aggression, withdrawal from or avoidance of particular sounds or events, excessive vocalisation or destruction

when left alone, then you should seek help from your veterinary surgeon, who will be able to refer you to somebody who specialises in clinical behaviour or a behaviourist.

These behaviours are often signs that your dog is experiencing a negative emotional state (such as fear or anxiety) in particular situations,

a qualified behaviourist will be able to develop a tailored treatment programme to resolve both the behaviour and any underlying emotional distress.

Why do I need to see a vet first?

Behavioural changes can be an indication of a medical problem. There are a whole range of different conditions that can first present as an apparent

‘behaviour problems’ but which are in fact signs of disease. For example, neurological problems in the brain or spinal cord, hormonal disorders, inflammation

of the bladder, or reduced functioning of the liver can all first become apparent as behavioural changes. Medical conditions can only be diagnosed by a vet,

and may require additional tests to identify the specific disorder.

Because many of these conditions are very serious, it is important that your vet sees your dog first so that any necessary treatment is started as soon as possible.

In addition, medical or physiological factors often influence the development of behaviour even where they are not the sole cause of the problem.

For example, a sore ear in a dogs medical history may be an important factor in the development of an aggressive response to stroking on the head. It is important, therefore, for a vet to examine your dog and also ensure that a full medical history is passed on to the behaviourist at the time of referral, so that all relevant factors can be taken into account when evaluating each case.

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