From Your Hometown Vet
When Good Dogs Act Bad How a Vet Deals With Behavioral Problems
With school back in session and families settling into the school schedule, I’ve been thinking a lot about that saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” As a veterinarian and lifelong animal lover, I can tell you that this saying is completely wrong. Most dogs — and cats too — are capable of learning new things at any point in their life. The real trick is for us humans to not give up on them so soon. As a vet, two of my big priorities are helping clients with their pet’s nutrition and behavior. These are the fundamentals to help every pet enjoy happy, healthy lives. Of these two, a pet’s behavior is probably the most serious matter. Behavioral problems are the No. 1 reason why dogs end up in shelters. We love our pets so much, but it’s easy to fall out of love with a dog who keeps tearing apart your house or a cat who urinates on the bed every night. These habits are extremely frustrating, and they quickly make pet owners feel powerless. I try as much as I can to help pet owners address any behavioral issues so they don’t feel like their only option is to give up their pet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your pet’s behavioral problems. A lot of people are embarrassed to talk about their pet’s issues because they are worried that their pet’s bad behavior will reflect poorly on them, or they’re afraid their veterinarian will shame them for being frustrated with their pet. The thing to remember is that vets are often pet owners too, and our own pets are far from perfect. I know what it’s like to love your pets but also be at your wit’s end trying to deal with them. My dog Lucy has severe separation anxiety. Mike brought Lucy home when she was just 4 weeks old after her mother rejected all her puppies too early. Lucy has been having aggression issues with our other dogs, which got much worse recently after Mike brought home two more strays.
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources to help correct behavioral problems. Lucy is on Prozac, which helps her calm down. There are quite a few medications and supplements that can help manage behavioral problems, but they aren’t a silver bullet. The
medication itself won’t magically make the problem disappear. You still have to put in the hard work with some serious training. If you’re struggling with behavioral problems in your pet, look for a trainer you trust, who can use positive reinforcement to help your pet overcome their issues. I’m not a trainer, but I have a lot of experience treating behavior problems. A few years ago, I attended a weeklong program put on by the North American Veterinary Conference, which was taught by a certified veterinary behaviorist. As a veterinarian, it’s my responsibility to help people have a good relationship with their pets, and offering help with behavioral problems is part of that responsibility. When we have a really serious case, I won’t hesitate to refer clients to another veterinarian who specializes in treating behavioral problems. The important thing is that pets are able to spend long, happy lives with their families. If your pet’s behavior makes you want to pull your hair out, know that you’re not alone. There are resources out there to help you and your pet work through the problem so you can go back to enjoying every moment together. –Dr. Brea Smith
Your Hometown Vet
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