Canine companions bring significant joy to our lives. Dogs provide us with a constant companion, give us a reason to exercise, meet and interact with new people and try new things and are a source of incredible love and support. Your bond with your dog is invaluable and can hold a very special place in your heart. However, as beloved as our canine family members are, there are times they can exhibit behaviors that we find undesirable or unsettling and these behaviors can affect that bond we have with our dogs.
When our dogs exhibit undesirable behaviors, it can be helpful to obtain assistance to address these behaviors. Unfortunately, it can be very overwhelming trying to decide what type of assistance would be best for your canine companion because of how many options are available. Frequently, we will look to trainers because when dogs exhibit undesirable behaviors, our first assumption is that they have a training problem. Although training can be very helpful for all dogs, dogs who have behavior problems need help with their behavior, not someone to train them. If your dog is exhibiting undesirable behaviors, we would recommend starting with identifying whether your dog needs help with training or whether your dog needs behavior help.
If your dog is social and outgoing but does not know how to perform commands, does not walk nicely on a leash, jumps all over your family or guests or is new to your home and not yet house trained, a trainer would be a good match. Trainers will help you to teach your dog manners so your canine companion is a successful member of your home and his or her lack of manners is not a source of frustration. There are many different types of trainers available to help you with your canine family member, in both group and individual settings. Please ensure you are choosing someone who follows science-based training and uses only positive reinforcement methods. We have come a long way from the days where we felt it was necessary to punish our animals to get them to exhibit the behaviors we desire and we now know that dogs neither form packs nor view people as other dogs, therefore trainers that work using a “pack” method are outdated.
Training in an individual setting can be very helpful for undesirable behaviors that occur at home, such as jumping on guests, as the trainer will come to your home to work with you. Group classes can be very helpful to teach your dog to work around distractions and in new locations. We recommend you meet with the trainer and watch a class, if you are going to consider group classes, to ensure you are comfortable with the trainer before you start working with that person with your dog. It is very important that you be comfortable with the trainer, this will help you and your dog be successful in your endeavors. Additionally, please ensure your dog is equally as comfortable with the trainer. If your dog is not comfortable with the trainer, you will find your canine companion struggles to learn from that person.
If your dog exhibits fearful or timid behavior, anxiety, aggression, panic, compulsive behaviors, cannot settle/is hyper or has been through training and you continue to observe undesirable, it is likely that your dog has a behavior problem, rather than a training problem. Dogs who have a behavior problem do not perceive the world appropriately and exhibit undesirable behaviors due to their misperception of the universe around them, whether it is concern about an interaction, environment or person/other animal. If your dog is one of these dogs, your family needs behavior help for your canine companion. It is recommended you find someone certified in behavior to help you address your dog’s behavior concerns. Be cautious, anyone can use the term “behaviorist”, whether they have extensive training in canine behavior or no training at all. Treating behavior concerns in your dog appropriately is critical, as we know that there are many ways to treat behavior problems that will make your canine companion worse, rather than help them to succeed. If you dog is in need of behavior help, we recommend you consider either a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist.
We are excited to welcome Dr. Shana Gilbert-Gregory, a veterinary behaviorist, to the Mount Laurel Animal Hospital team. She will be working with our general practitioners and our other specialists to provide you and your pet with the behavioral help your canine companion needs to continue to be a beloved member of your family. Board-certified veterinary behaviorists specialize in clinical animal behavior. These specialists are qualified to diagnose and treat medical and behavioral problems. This is important as often behavior problems are a result of a neurochemical problem and behavior problems can occur in conjunction with medical problems, can cause medical problems or can be a sign of a medical problem. Veterinary behaviorists are knowledgeable in the sociologic, psychologic and medical aspects of animal behavior and can prescribe medications, when necessary. A veterinarian who has completed the certification requirements of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, including a behavioral medicine residency, publishing a research study in a scientific journal and passing a rigorous board examination is called a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist or Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). You can find out more at www.dacvb.org.
If you are unsure whether your dog would benefit from training or behavior help or have any questions about how Dr. Gilbert-Gregory can assist you with your pet, please contact us and we can provide you with recommendations on how to best help your canine companion.
Author: Dr. Shana Gilbert-Gregory