Diagnosing Behavior Problems in Dogs – The Fact To Know
There is a correlation between behavior issues or disappointed expectations regarding the pet’s conduct and many of the so-called “health” problems that pet dogs experience.
Your pet’s behavior may change for several reasons, but the first step is for your veterinarian to rule out any potential health issues that could be to blame.
One possible explanation for why your pet is relieving themselves inside the house is that they are suffering from a medical issue. Before making any diagnosis, your veterinarian will gather a history of the animal’s behavior.
In most cases, the following components make up a behavioral history:
1) the gender, breed, and age of the dog;
2) the age at the time of condition started;
3) the period the condition lasted;
4) the description of the dog’s actual behavior;
5) how often the behavior occurs (hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly);
6) the period of a typical episode (seconds, minutes, or hours);
7) any changes in the intensity, pattern, frequency, and period of the episodes;
8) any measures taken to correct the response;
9) any behaviors that were responsible for the cessation of the activity (for example, the dog falling sleeping);
10) the 24-hour schedule for the dog and the owner, in addition to any day-after-day changes;
11) the dog’s parental history (for instance, are there signs of similar problems in the dog’s parents or littermates?);
12) the dog’s environment and housing, and
13) anything else the owner believes is relevant.
The “ABCs” of the behavior issue should be discussed between you and your veterinarian. What goes on in the time leading up to the behavior (the antecedent)?
What kind of behavior is this? What follows right away (referred to hereafter as the Consequences)? Your veterinarian will also analyze how the problem manifested itself because, as dogs learn and develop, their habits might shift unexpectedly.
In modern veterinary care, routine screening questions are also asked about specific behavior complaints, such as inappropriate or undesirable chewing, growling, or odd behavior.
These routine screening questions are in addition to the routine questions that alert your veterinarian to possible medical issues. During this standard test, your dog will be evaluated to see what is typical for him.
If your veterinarian does not inquire about any behavioral issues, you should be sure to bring them up on your own. Sadly, many pet owners do not disclose behavioral issues to their doctors, despite the fact that these issues are one of the primary reasons why animals are rehomed or euthanized.
Because behavioral diagnoses cannot be made based on a single incident, pet owners can indicate patterns in their dog’s behavior by filling out a questionnaire at each visit.
This helps the veterinarian identify any recurring behaviors. The next step is for your veterinarian to determine whether the behaviors (barking, growling, lunging) constitute a pattern that satisfies certain diagnostic criteria, such as fear aggression or protective aggression ( see Behavior Problems Associated with Aggression in Dogs).
You and your vet doctor must use the same vocabulary while discussing vague symptoms. Additionally, both of you need to be able to notice and accurately characterize behaviors that are cause for concern.
Providing your veterinarian with a video of your dog’s behavior can ensure that they make an accurate diagnosis. Your description is used as the basis for the questionnaire; hence, it is more open to interpretation.
However, if the surveys are supplemented with video, your veterinarian can diagnose behavior issues more accurately. You will be able to avoid or prevent the circumstance that leads up to the problem if you can spot the behaviors that lead up to or are related to the problematic ones.
Your veterinarian will be able to work with you to address the condition after witnessing the problematic behavior on film and discussing it with you.
Figuring Out What the Issue Is
The list of terminology that follows is a condensed version of a glossary of phrases that are frequently used while talking about behavior.
Dysfunctional and aberrant behavior is what we mean when we talk about abnormal behavior. This is not the same as a behavioral complaint, which refers to conduct considered normal yet undesired (such as jumping up, getting into the garbage, or herding).
Abnormal repetitive behaviors occur in dogs when they cannot react appropriately, which often causes them to respond with movements or activities that are fixed or repetitious.
Compulsive and impulsive behaviors are included in the category of abnormal repetitive behaviors, as are stereotypic behaviors (see below).
Examples of these indicators include:
- Behaviors related to the mouth (such as eating non-food items, licking, gulping, and excessive eating).
- The brain (such as recurrent jaw snapping and light chasing).
- Movement (such as spinning and pouncing).
- Self-inflicted injuries (hair plucking, excessive skin licking).
Animals can be said to be aggressive toward anything that poses a threat or attempts to assault them.
Animals are capable of a wide variety of aggressive behaviors, including those that are associated with territorial defense, predation, and competition among males ( see Behavior Problems Associated with Aggression in Dogs). Scratching, biting, and growling are all examples of behaviors that are considered aggressive.
Fear is the expectation of unpleasant experiences coupled with tense physical manifestations (vigilance, increased movement, and tense muscles). The source of one’s uneasiness may either be something inside or external.
Compulsive disorders, also known as obsessive-compulsive disorders, are characterized by abnormal and recurrent activities that are frequently carried out to accomplish some objective.
It could be difficult to stop these extreme activities, or they might be completely out of control. Normal activities, such as grooming or eating, and circumstances, such as frustration or conflict, might be the starting point for these issues.
Still, they can quickly escalate into inappropriate settings and intensities. Genetics plays a role in developing certain compulsive habits, such as tail chasing in German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers licking their flank skin.
There is a correlation between a dog in conflict and its tendency to engage in multiple types of activity simultaneously. For instance, a dog might want to approach a human to acquire a treat from them, but the dog might also be fearful of the person and not want to get too close to them.
It is very difficult to determine what motivates animals to fight one other, with the exception of extreme cases related to essential survival activities (such as eating, for example). Behaviors of hostility or displacement could emerge due to conflict.
The resolution of a problem by the performance of an activity that appears to be unrelated is known as “displacement activity.”
Whenever the animal cannot respond appropriately, either due to its physical makeup or learned behavior, it will frequently engage in seemingly unrelated behavior.
Grooming, eating, scratching, and sleeping are all examples of activities that are not relevant to the discussion. This conduct is less particular than redirected behavior, which is aimed toward another goal.
The struggle for control of a finite resource is referred to as dominance (for example, a treat, a favorite toy, or a comfortable resting place). It is possible for an animal with a higher ranking to displace a lower-ranked animal from the resource.
The ability to exert control over a resource is typically used as a criterion to determine rank or hierarchy. The animal that is involved in the most conflict is not necessarily the dominant one. The majority of higher-ranking animals in any group can be recognized by the subservient conduct that is displayed toward them by lower-ranking members of that group.
The expression of dominance is used when communicating with members of the same species (for example, between dogs). Still, it is not used when communicating between other species (human to dog).
Fear is a feeling of anxiety that is connected with the presence of an object, individual, or social setting. Normal conduct includes the experience of fear. The circumstances play a role in determining whether or not fear is abnormal.
For instance, fire is an effective instrument, but most people are understandably afraid of getting burned. On the other hand, such a worry would be unreasonable if the house were not on fire. If this dread is ongoing or recurrent, it is likely to be regarded as an abnormal pattern of conduct.
The degree to which people experience normal and pathological fears is typically variable. The intensity of the fear increases in proportion to the perceived or actual proximity of the thing that is the source of the fear.
When a dog is unable to finish a behavior owing to impediments, whether they be physical or psychological, the dog will experience frustration. Anxiety, misdirected behavior, or a displacement activity are all potential reactions that pets may have when they become frustrated.
For instance, if a dog cannot reach a cat on the other side of a fence, which causes the dog frustration, the dog may respond by attacking another pet in the home. Along the same lines as the phrase “dominance,” this concept is overused and typically imprecise, which means that it is frequently not very helpful when identifying a behavior issue.
The vast majority of scared reactions are acquired and can be unlearned with gradual exposure to the feared stimulus. On the other hand, phobias are characterized by intense fears that are not alleviated by gradual exposure to the feared item or bypassing the time away from the object altogether.
A phobia is characterized by quick, extreme, profound, and abnormal reactions that might lead to panic attacks. Phobias can emerge all of a sudden or build up gradually over time, but once they take hold, they are marked by an immediate and strong uneasiness.
It’s possible that dread builds up slowly over time and that even within a single episode of scared behavior, there can be more variance in intensity than in a typical phobic reaction. Once a person has experienced something that triggers their phobia, any occurrence related to it or the recollection of it is sufficient to cause the reaction.
Phobias have the potential to maintain or even increase their previously high level for a significant amount of time, even in the absence of re-exposure to the object of the fear, such as the usage of a shock collar on a dog.
Phobic circumstances are either completely avoided at all costs or, if they cannot be avoided, are suffering from a high level of anxiety or anguish. Certain canine breeds also appear to have a genetic or hereditary component that contributes to these behaviors.
When a behavior is redirected, it is steered away from the target that initially prompted it and toward another less appropriate target.
Repeated actions that are not very different and don’t seem to serve any clear purpose or function are examples of stereotypical behaviors. They are typically the result of habitual behavior, such as grooming, eating, or strolling, and can be observed in humans. These actions are considered abnormal because they disrupt the normally occurring processes of the animal.
When an animal cannot carry out a highly desired innate behavior, the animal may engage in vacuum activity. Some examples of this behavior are sucking on the flank or excessively licking. Activities that take place in a vacuum serve no purpose.
How to Help Dogs Who Have Issues With Their Behavior
The diagnosis, course of therapy, and expected result of a behavior issue are all subject to change based on the underlying condition. In the beginning stages, owners will typically need to steer clear of circumstances that can set off the odd behavior.
After implementing treatment strategies, the potentially difficult circumstances may be gradually reintroduced following the recommendations of the veterinarian in charge of oversight. Treatment for abnormal behaviors requires owners to devote time and energy to the process.
Quick solutions or “miracle drugs” do not exist for behavior problems. Additionally, the safety of home members, other pets, and the cat itself must be considered, which is especially important in situations involving aggressive behavior.
The modification of a pet’s behavior may involve the use of products that improve safety, reduce anxiety, or quicken improvements (for example, muzzles or no-pull head halters); the application of behavior modification techniques to encourage and reward desirable behaviors; the administration of drugs and supplements; and so on.
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