Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

< A version of this article was published in the April 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

Step one – Know that you are not alone. I receive several calls per week from people that are concerned about the manner in which their dog is behaving towards them, other people, other dogs, other animals, or maybe some combination of things. Aggression, reactivity, fear, and anxiety are all on a continuum of behaviors and the primary reason I see dogs for behavior consultations. Fear is almost always the direct cause or a major factor in aggression and reactivity. Previously in this column, I have discussed the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines which reported that “Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment, or abandonment of pets.” You are not alone.

Step two – Act Now!! Accept that behavioral issues will not go away on their own nor will your dog outgrow them. Commit to act NOW! Understand that these matters are every bit as traumatic to your dog as they are to you. You are both suffering. Delaying action is only likely to make the resolution of these issues harder and in all probability take longer.

Step three – Stop the use of force, fear and pain. Immediately stop the use of any and all aversives for the management and training of your dog. Common aversives include but are not limited to; prong, pinch, choke, or shock collars, alpha rolls, squirt bottles, and the entire dominance/alpha construct. Aversives impair our dog’s ability to learn, damage the human-dog bond and trust, and often result in an emotional outburst resulting in the very behavior problems you wish to resolve. The AAHA guidelines categorically oppose the use of aversive techniques. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) also oppose the use of aversives in training and behavior modification.

Step four – Talk to your veterinarian. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a detailed discussion about your dog’s behavioral issues. Aggression can be caused by many medical problems. Pain, neurological disorders, tumors, thyroid disease and other hormone related problems, and even an adverse reaction to a vaccine, can cause aggression. Any medical issues related to your dog’s behavior need to be identified and resolved if you wish the behavior to change.

Step five – Seek help from a behavior professional. If your veterinarian determines that your dog’s behavioral issues are not the result of a medical problem, seek the advice of a professional animal behavior specialist, someone who understands canine behavior, ethology and behavior modification. Do not try to resolve this issue on your own or based on what someone tells you on Facebook. It is unlikely that you will be successful and you may, in fact, may make the problem worse and harder to resolve.

Behavior modification is not the same as dog training. Dog training is about teaching your dog to offer a particular action when given a cue. Behavior modification is about changing your dog’s emotional response to a stimulus. Aggression and reactivity are emotional responses typically based on fear or anger. Making your dog sit when a stranger approaches is very unlikely to make your dog less afraid or angry, but in fact, may make your dog feel more threatened. Behavior modification is about helping your dog develop a positive emotional response instead of barking, growling, lunging, or cowering.

There are three levels of professionals that specialize in assisting pets with behavioral problems.   Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (ACDBC) credentialed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) are qualified to work with most behavior problems. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) accredited by the Animal Behavior Society work with more advanced behavior problems. Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB), who are credentialed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, are veterinarians with advanced training in behavior. They are skilled in dealing with the most dangerous behavior problems using both behavior modification therapy and medications.

Step six – Be patient. While an undesirable behavior such as reactivity towards strangers can be created in a single event, it will likely take a significant amount of time and effort to change your dog’s behavior. Our brains and our dog’s brains work much the same. If we are exposed to something we perceive as dangerous or frightening, we are genetically preprogrammed to remember that for life. It is all about our instinctual motivation to survive. To successfully reprogram the brain can take weeks and even months of carefully planned desensitization and counterconditioning. It is human nature, especially in today’s culture to be impatient and to what instant results. That is not behavior modification works. Be patient.


Green Acres Kennel Shop offers a monthly Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. seminar. At the workshop, for people only,  Don will discuss behavioral issues in general terms; he will need to see you and your pet individually to offer specific behavioral programs designed for your particular dog. You will gain some general strategies that you can begin using immediately. Topics covered include; common myths about dog behavior, the common causes of aggression and reactivity, and their underlying emotions. An overview of canine body language will be addressed, so you are better able to identify when your pet is feeling stressed before they start reacting. FMI – call 945-6841 or go to – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/behavior-counseling


Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/12/12/what-is-a-pet-behavior-consultant/

Pet Behavior as an Essential Component to Holistic Wellness http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/10/28/pet-behavior-and-wellness-pet-behavior-as-an-essential-component-to-holistic-wellness/

Introduction to Canine Communication
http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Dominance: Reality or Myth http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/

Canine Behavior – Myths and Facts – Part 1, Where do we get our knowledge about dogs? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/05/04/canine-behavior-myths-and-facts-part-1-where-do-we-get-our-knowledge-about-dogs/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

 

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/27/podcast-canine-behavior-myths-and-facts/

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinichttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/13/podcast-the-woof-meow-show-pet-behavior-vets-the-aaha-canine-and-feline-behavior-management-guidelines-with-dr-dave-cloutier-from-veazie-veterinary-clinic/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

Handouts to Download

Dr. Sophia Yin – Body Language of Fear in Dogs – http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs

Dr. Sophia Yin – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/preventing-dog-bites-by-learning-to-greet-dogs-properly/

Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levelshttp://info.drsophiayin.com/download-the-bite-levels-poster

Web Sites

2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttps://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx

The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guildhttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Deviceshttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collarshttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Traininghttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Traininghttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement/

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Positive Veterinary Carehttps://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Positive-Veterinary-Care-Position-Statement-download.pdf

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (http://www.greenacreskennel.com/) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at http://www.greenacreskennel.com/woof-meow-show/the-woof-meow-show.html. Don also writes about pets at his blog: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/about-the-blog-words-woofs-and-meows/.

©01APR17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant?

A pet behavior consultant is someone that is trained and credentialed in animal behavior. These specialists can help you understand an animal’s normal and abnormal behavior and whether not an animal would be appropriate for a particular role. They also specialize in assisting pets with behavioral problems, just as mental health professional’s work with people. Unlike an animal trainer that focuses on teaching an animal to offer a particular behavior when given a specific cue, behavior consultants typically work with animals exhibiting an undesirable behavior based on instinct and emotion.

Those working in pet behavior will typically be a member of one one more of the following organizations; the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), The Animal Behavior Society (ABS), and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).

Founded in 2004, the IAABC is working to standardize the practice of companion animal behavior consulting. With over 1,000 members throughout the world, IAABC members are an excellent resource for or those with pets with behavioral issues. The IAABC credentials Dog, Cat, Parrot and Horse Consultants. Those credentialed by the IAABC must demonstrate competency in counseling skills and social systems assessment, behavioral science, a general knowledge of animal behavior, genetics, neuropsychology, ethology and species-specific knowledge of healthcare, nutrition, husbandry, and behavior. Those certified are required to accumulate continuing education units on a regular basis. These individuals focus on the use of behavior modification protocols to treat animals. You can find a list of IAABC behavior consultants at this website: http://iaabc.org/consultants

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. AVSAB has published several important position statements on animal behavior. The membership of AVSAB is restricted to veterinarians and those that hold a Ph.D. in animal behavior or a related field. However, unlike the IAABC, the ABS or the ACVB, AVSAB does not offer a credential to its members that presupposes a level of expertise in the field of animal behavior. You can learn more about AVSAB at https://avsab.org/

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) is a non-profit, 501(3)(c) professional organization dedicated to promoting education and research in the field of animal behavior. Members who work with clients and their animals are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB). These individuals are credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society and typically have doctoral degrees in animal behavior or related fields. They focus on more challenging cases and the use of behavior modification protocols to treat animals. There are very few such individuals in the United States. You can find a list of Animal Behavior Society Certified Applied Animal Behavior Consultants at this website: http://certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/members/

Veterinarians that specialize in animal behavior are credentialed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists as a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). These are veterinarians who have completed an approved residency program in veterinary behavior and have passed a national board examination in that discipline. A board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist specializes in clinical animal behavior and can diagnose and treat medical and behavioral problems, as well as prescribe medications to treat those problems. There are very few such individuals in the United States, most of them in larger cities, major universities or veterinary schools. You can find a list of veterinarians accredited by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at this website: http://www.dacvb.org/about/member-directory/

Green Acres’ Don Hanson is an IAABC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and an Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Don is also a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). His BFRAP credential means that he has completed the required courses and examinations to be registered by the Dr. Edward Bach Foundation in the use of the Bach Flower Remedies with animals. You can review Don’s credentials at this link: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/about-the-owners/dons-credentials.html

 

©12DEC16, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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