|Pet Behavior Counseling|
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, I am not currently taking on any new clients that have pets displaying aggressive behavior or separation anxiety, unless they are already existing clients of Green Acres Kennel Shop. I am available for minor behavioral issues, as noted below, and our Which Pet Is the Right One for Me? program.
Aggression and separation anxiety, the two biggest reasons I see clients for behavior consultations are not simple issues to resolve. Medical problems such as pain or discomfort, neurological disorders, endocrine disease, and more can play a role in behavioral disorders in pets. Even tick-borne diseases, which are all too prevalent in Maine, can cause aggression and anxiety.
It is essential to understand that while training a dog is critical to their well-being, training alone is unlikely to solve serious behavioral issues. Aggression and severe are mental health issues. It is essential to discuss your behavioral concerns with your pet’s veterinarian and to request an examination of your pet to rule out any medical conditions that could be affecting your pet’s behavior. We are fortunate that we now have a Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Christine Calder, practicing in Maine. Dr. Calder’s expertise could be beneficial to a pet with aggression or separation anxiety. Her contact information is below.
Contact Info for Dr. Calder
Facility: Midcoast Humane
Address: 190 Pleasant Street, Brunswick, ME
Phone: (207) 449-1366
Below are links to articles and podcasts on my blog that you may find helpful.
Green Acres Kennel Shop co-owner Don Hanson is credentialed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) as a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC). He is also credentialed as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and as a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP) by the Bach Foundation. Don offers the following pet behavior consulting services:
Things For You to Consider
Serious behavior problems with dogs include but are not limited to aggression and reactivity (growling, barking, lunging, and biting of people, dogs, or other animals), resource guarding (food, spaces, objects, and people), fears and phobias (thunderstorms, loud noises, children, fireworks, separation anxiety, etc.), destructive behavior, excessive barking, and abnormal stress and anxiety.
Having a dog that is anxious, fearful, reactive, or aggressive towards people or other animals is challenging. It is not a problem that typically resolves quickly or without qualified professional help. When a dog is afraid and reacting, they are most likely suffering every bit as much as if they had a severe physical injury. Emotional pain is very real and typically does not go away on its own. The brain remembers everything about a traumatic event to prevent it from happening again. The longer this behavior goes on, the more likely it becomes a learned behavior, which makes it even stronger.
For example: If a dog is afraid of the approach of the postal carrier, the dog may bark, growl, and lunge aggressively at the door. The postal carrier delivers the mail and then walks away. However, from the dog’s perspective, they believe that they were successful in driving the postal carrier away, thus preventing them from being hurt. The dog’s behavior of barking, growling, and lunging has been reinforced, and behavior that is reinforced is likely to be repeated. We now have the dog’s fear and learning both working to cause the behavior to become more prevalent and every time this occurs the behavior will become stronger.
Some behavioral issues, especially those related to fear and anxiety, may be due to a dog's genetics or recent or past trauma. Insufficient socialization and habituation during the 8 to 16-week critical period may also be a factor.
Things You Can Do Immediately
I have expanded on each of the above steps below, explaining why they are so critical in helping you and your dog.
Have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian experienced in behavior modification and behavior medications
A comprehensive veterinary exam is essential and even more important if your dog’s behavior changes started suddenly. Pain and any type of physical discomfort can cause behavioral changes in pets. Disorders of the nervous, endocrine, reproductive, and gastrointestinal systems can also affect your pet’s behavior. Tick-borne diseases have become much more prevalent in Maine and can also affect behavior. While a few years ago we only needed to worry about Lyme disease in Maine, today we also need to be concerned about Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Lastly, as pets become seniors, they can experience deterioration in their senses and mental health issues similar to dementia in humans, which can make them more likely to be anxious and reactive. Medical issues do not go away on their own and must be treated for behavior modification and training to be successful.
You can learn more about Dr. Calder at http://bit.ly/WMw-DrCalderVetBhx
Many people contact me about their pet’s behavior problems expressing that they do not want to use medication. It is important to understand that medication may be the quickest way to help your dog feel better and may be necessary if you wish your dog to have a full recovery. Remember, when your dog is having a behavioral crisis or emotional outburst, they are suffering. Dr. Calder has had extensive training in using medications to treat behavioral issues and also understands how all of the systems in your dog’s body can affect behavior and mental health.
Manage Your Dog and Their Environment to Prevent the Undesired Behavior
One of the most critical components to keeping people, other animals, and your pet safe, and to changing your pet’s behavior, is to manage your pet and their environment to prevent the undesired behavior from happening. In other words, if your pet reacts aggressively towards people coming into your home, have the pet confined in another room before answering the door. If your pet is reactive to other pets, keep them away from other pets. Preventing the behavior is essential for two reasons; 1) safety – we do not want any person or any pet, including yours, to get hurt, and 2) every time your pet exhibits reactive/aggressive behavior, it becomes more likely to happen again making it harder to change. If your dog is reactive towards people, dogs, or both, visits to the dog park or events where dog and people are present will NOT be helpful and may put others at risk.
Do NOT Punish Your Pet for Their Behavior
Punishment, physical or otherwise, is extremely unlikely to make your pet less reactive and is very likely to damage their bond with you and the corresponding trust that goes with that bond. Punishment almost always makes these problems worse. If you are currently using a shock, choke, or prong collar with your dog, please stop doing so immediately. Even yelling at your dog while looking at them with a frown on your face can be perceived as punishment by your dog and may cause them to become more anxious because they may feel as if they can no longer trust the person they look to for safety.
Start Keeping A Daily Journal
No matter whom you see to help with the problem you are experiencing with your pet, we recommend that you immediately start a daily journal. Dedicate a computer file or notebook for this purpose. If you keep your journal in a word processing file on your computer, it will make it easier for you to share it with the professional that is helping you.
Your journal should contain the following necessary information:
Additional Information You May Find Helpful
I have lived with more than one reactive dog that needed to be isolated from other dogs during their rehabilitation. It is not easy and can be emotionally draining. You may find this article The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden helpful - http://bit.ly/SharedGurenEmotional
I recommend the following books if you have a fearful or reactive dog; however, do not delay seeing your veterinarian if your pet is suffering or is a safety risk to others. Reading them will be very valuable after your dog has started treatment.