Ask A Vet: My Dog Has A Behavior Problem. What Can I Do?



We love our dogs. We live with them every day. The destructiveness of a dog behavior issue cannot be emphasized enough. If your dog is damaging your furnishings when you are away or become aggressive to humans, there is a potential for irreparable damage to your bond with your dog.

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We love our dogs. We live with them every day. The destructiveness of a dog behavior issue cannot be emphasized enough. If your dog is damaging your furnishings when you are away or become aggressive to humans, there is a potential for irreparable damage to your bond with your dog.

Behavior problems are the unspoken emergency. When you search the web for what to do for medical emergencies, dog behavior problems do not make the list. But they should. We have known for years that they account for a large percentage of the surrender cases in shelters nationwide1. Many owners have already considered euthanasia as an option before they seek help from anyone. There is anger and inconvenience and sometimes even fear. We all know who we should call when we encounter a suspected emergency with our dogs. You call your veterinarian. But so many people think that behavior issues are outside the veterinarian’s scope.

As a veterinarian, part of my formal training included behavior in dogs (and cats), both as it relates to disease processes and the psychology of dogs as it relates to the human animal bond. A veterinarian is the number one steward of that bond, by training and by choice. I take my role very seriously.

All behavioral issues absolutely must be discussed with your veterinarian first. Any medical issues must be checked for and addressed or all attempts at training away the behavior will fail.  This failure may be blamed on the dog and/or the dog trainer when neither is at fault for the result of a medical condition.  Your dog might require medications to help abolish the behavioral response and ONLY a veterinarian can legally prescribe these.

Once medical causes have been ruled out, if your vet is not a board certified veterinary behaviorist, he/she may direct you to one. (You can find more about Veterinary Behaviorists here at www.dacvb.org) No one should help you try to manage behavioral issues that is not academically trained because certain training methodologies have been found to make problems worse2. Personal theories and approaches to managing behavior problems that are not scientifically proven can make matters worse and threaten the life of the dog.

Sometimes problem behaviors are merely a result of improper training and can be fairly easily addressed and remedied, but regardless of the undesired conduct, your veterinarian is the place to start. He or she has experience and training to direct you down a path to healing your dog and your bond. Your vet is the first piece of the puzzle when trying to manage problem behaviors, not the last. It can be a life or death issue.

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