Behavioural issues in pets are very common in today's society. They may present as being extra 'clingy' to you, through to spraying urine around the house or destroying the garden. Barking is also a common behaviour problem that may lead to your neighbours getting annoyed, and in severe cases reports and complaints to the council. If you have a pet with behaviour issues, be it a dog, cat or bird, please don't be afraid to seek help - we will not judge you for having an animal with a behaviour problem, and will be able to offer a lot of help. And please seek veterinary help early - don't allow yourself to reach the point where you have already given up and are saying 'nothing more can be done'. Early intervention is the key to resolving behaviour issues before the point when euthanasia is being considered.
Please call your veterinarian today if you have any behaviour issues in your pets that you would like to discuss.
At Gawler Veterinary Services, we are fortunate to have a vet who has a particular interest in animal behaviour to help you with behavioural issues. Dr Chalette Brown, who is currently completing further education in small animal behaviour, is able to perform in-clinic behavioural consults with you and your pet for any issues you may have. After a full health check and possibly blood work to ensure there is no medical cause of the behaviour problems, your vet will organise for you to discuss the issue with Dr Chalette. Always working with you and your pet one-on-one, she is willing to work with all animals, from puppy preschool age for teaching basic manners to aged dogs having difficulty adapting to new situations, she can teach you how to interact with and train your pet, and teach coping mechanisms for both you and your pet.
Why do these bad behaviours start?
Behavioural issues can start for many different reasons. Often, you may not even realise what the trigger was. And it is very easy for you to reinforce bad behaviour, say by laughing at a puppy doing something wrong, or talking to a dog that is barking, and this will start to perpetuate the bad behaviour.
Behavioural issues may come about for many different reasons, including:
- Stress or anxiety
- Medical issues - such as pain or discomfort
- As a way to communicate with other animals or with you
Genetics can predispose your pet to some behavioural issues, especially associated with anxiety, though the expression of these behaviours will depend on your pet’s early socialisation and training. Changes in the environment may contribute to the emergence of behavioural problems. For example, changes in routine, a new member of the household (pet, baby or spouse), moving house, or the loss of a family member or pet can have a dramatic impact on behaviour. Any medical or degenerative changes associated with ageing may cause the pet to be even more sensitive to these environmental changes.
Learning also plays a part in many behavioural problems. Early training and socialisation is essential to have a happy, well-adjusted pet. Punishment of behavioural problems often worsens the situation and it is very important that professional advice is obtained as soon as the problem appears to effectively resolve it. Positive reinforcement is the preferred method for changing behaviour, however this also needs to be used carefully as it can encourage undesirable behaviour if used incorrectly.
How are behavioural problems treated?
There is no simple cure for any behavioural problem, so be careful when taking ''helpful'' advice. For example, many people with a destructive dog are given the advice to get another dog to fix the problem, however, they may end up with two destructive dogs! It is very important that the cause of the problem is addressed, not just the symptoms of the problem. For example don't chain a dog up because it is digging; find out the reason for the digging and treat the dog accordingly.
When it comes to your pet's behaviour, it is extremely important to seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian or animal behaviour specialist. Changing problem behaviours requires commitment on behalf of the whole family, as everyone your pet interacts with will be responsible for encouraging desirable behaviour. For some problems such as barking, escaping, aggression, or separation anxiety it is beneficial to see the pet in its natural environment, thus a home visit may be appropriate. Some cases may also require medications alongside the new training techniques to get the best outcome. Medicine alone is never a cure - it must always be used in conjunction with training.
What can a veterinarian do?
Vets have a wide range of tips and techniques to help you retrain your dog, cat, bird or other pet out of the bad behaviour. There are also medications available to help settle anxiety, and to help make your pet more receptive to retraining.
Any behaviour consult will start with a full health check. Some behavioural issues are actually a result of a medical issue. For example, barking or aggression may be a sign of pain, and a cat urinating throughout the house may actually have a bladder infection.
If the health check is all clear, then your veterinarian will start to discuss the behaviour issue with you. Through this discussion, they are trying to establish any triggers for the behaviour, including if it happens at certain times of the day, and if it happens when you are out or at home; and what you have already tried to do to correct the behaviour. From here, they may recommend a full behaviour consult with Dr Chalette to discuss the issue in more detail, and make an individual plan with you.
Things your vet may discuss with you to help solve the problem include:
- Increasing stimulation at home. This may involve more toys, increased play time with you or your children, more walks, and using toys such as Kongs in which food can be hidden to encourage the pet to think about how to get the food out again.
- Training, training, training. The importance of retraining your pet cannot be underestimated. All changes rely on persistent training - we all know how hard bad habits are to break, and it is the same for your pet.
- Pheromones. There are now training aids available based on pheromones produced by the mother dog or cat to create a safe, 'homely' environment. These help reduce stress and make your pet feel more comfortable, and thus more receptive to the retraining.
- Anti-anxiety medications. These aren't a cure, and can have side-effects, so are considered on a case-by-case basis. Your vet will discuss the pros and cons with you, and will recommend these if appropriate as part of the overall plan for your pet.
There is a lot of information on the internet, but not all of it will be good advise or appropriate for your animal. However, here are some information pages that may be of interest to you: