When we think of dog training the first question usually is “How can I get Fluffy to stop doing <insert undesirable behavior here>?”
My first question, however, often is “Does your dog have any health issues?”
Although it might not be immediately obvious to link a behavior problem with our dogs’ health, any sudden onset of aggressive behavior could suggest we need to check the thyroid or look into a digestive issue, just as Fido’s new habit of biting the hand that pets him might indicate deteriorating vision. Even when training something as simple as a “sit” or a “down”, if a dog who generally responds quickly declines to perform a behavior, we should consider whether a sprain or strain is to blame.
As with humans, our canines’ physical health interacts with behavior in profound ways.
In fact, the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers requires its certificants to commit to following the”humane hierarchy”, a guide to training and behavior modification which places the health of the dog as the very first matter to be addressed.
Just as some medications help our dogs to manage pain, and dietary adjustments ease intolerances to certain ingredients, behavioral medications can mitigate serious issues so that our dogs become more able to learn. Freed from extreme environmental sensitivity, or overwhelming anxiety at the departure of a significant person, our dogs grow more receptive to behavior modification programs.
I’ve experienced this with one of my own dogs, first working with our family vet at the onset of thunder “phobia” toward the end of his adolescence, then with a veterinary behaviorist as safe doses of medication became less and less effective. A carefully-modulated balance of daily and event-specific medication has created a “mental space” where my dog has begun to learn that good things can happen during storms.
Medication isn’t a magic wand, but it is a powerful tool which, when coupled with reward-based training and behavior modification, can significantly improve the quality of a dog’s life.
Vets and Behavior:
- American College of Veterinary Behavior: http://www.dacvb.org
- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior: https://avsab.org
- The ASPCA on finding behavioral help:
Food and Nutrition:
- The Dog Food Advisor: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com
- Whole Dog Journal:
Some free resources. Most by subscription, but well worth it.
AN EVENING WITH DR. LESLIE SINN:
A Veterinary Behaviorist Discusses Reactivity in Dogs
Monday, April 10, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Admission is free.
Find out more here!