Risk Analysis of Behavior Problems: Environmental Factors 3

Source: M. Bain

By Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, DACAW, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Animal Behavior Service, Davis, CA.
Many things affect an owner’s decision regarding the risk that they will take when making a decision about a pet with a problem behavior. In this blog post we will address the factors related to the environment.

People and pets in the household
Children, elderly, infirm people, and other pets MUST be kept safe, both physically as well as emotionally. The presence of any of these factors makes for a poorer prognosis. Also, other pets need care and time with their owners, and behavior modification of the pet with the problem can interfere with that.

Cats in multi-cat households are more likely to urine mark. Feeding outside/feral cats can also contribute to this problem, and if an owner is reluctant to stop this practice, the prognosis for resolution of urine marking is worse.
The people living in the house have to buy into the program of working with the pet. It could be due to biases, or it could be due to a broken bond with one of the owners.

Location of the home/type of home
Do the owners live on 2 acres of fenced property in the country, or do they live in a studio apartment in the city? Can the dog go outside to eliminate? Or does it have to be leashed multiple times per day to be taken outside to eliminate, encountering noises, people, and other dogs? The neighbors and community also can affect the decision, especially if there is are certain emotions around specific breeds like Pit Bull-type dogs.

Cats require a good amount of space per cat, and the more cats that are living in a house, the more likely there will be a cat with inappropriate elimination. Depending on toileting preferences, some cats prefer carpeting, while others prefer hardwood, and the presence of one or the other can affect the prognosis.

Predictability of triggers
Owners often claim that they cannot predict when an animal will display the unwanted behavior, but when asked specific questions, often can identify what happened before the animal displayed the behavior. However, it gets very problematic if they truly cannot identify the trigger, or if the trigger remains relatively similar, the animal reacts only some of the time, leaving them to wonder “when” will it actually happen.

Avoidability of triggers
The avoidability of the triggers is important. Some things are avoidable, such as aggression just around a rawhide or only at the veterinarian’s office. It is very problematic if the triggers are unavoidable, such as petting, any type of food object dropped on the ground (especially if there are children in the house), looking at, walking by in the house, or whatever else is not avoidable for a specific owner.

It is important to seek help for pets with problem behaviors from a professional such as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. They can be helpful in diagnosing the problem and giving you a prognosis for the outcome.
http://behavior.vetmed.ucdavis.edu
www.facebook.com/ucdavisbehaviorservice

Risk Analysis of Behavior Problems: Animal Factors, 2

Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, DACAW, with her dog Thumper
Source: M. Bain

By Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, DACAW. University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Animal Behavior Service, Davis, CA.
Many things affect an owner’s decision regarding the risk that they will take when making a decision about a pet with a problem behavior. In this blog post we will address the factors related to the animal.

Size
This affects the owner’s ability to control the dog, as well as the increased danger that it poses to others if it were to bite a person or another dog or animal.
Breed
Humans have bred dogs for many years for specific purposes. If an owner complains about their border collie herding their children, it will be difficult to stop this behavior. Likewise, if an owner says that their pit bull-type dog is fighting with other dogs, it will be difficult to stop this behavior as well, as pit bulls were bred to fight dogs. Owners of pit bull-type dogs may also feel more scrutiny from the public, therefore, they may feel more pressured to euthanize their dog.

Age of onset
If the behavior started at a young age, there could be a stronger genetic predisposition to engage in the behavior, compared to another animal for which the behavior started at social maturity. Likewise, if the behavior started at an older age, there is a higher likelihood that there is an underlying medical condition predisposing it to a behavioral change.

Diagnosis and motivation
Most cases of aggression are due to an underlying motivation of fear. However, some dogs have been continually punished for expressing any type of aggression, such as growling, so that eventually the dog doesn’t display ANY warning sign, but instead goes directly to biting someone.

Rarely do dogs display aggression based purely in confidence. However, if a dog truly has this motivation, the prognosis is much poorer for a more complete resolution of the problem. Additionally, there are breeds with a stronger genetic predisposition for some behaviors (terriers bred to hunt rodents—kill the pet rabbit; Border Collies bred to herd—nipping the kid’s heels), which make it more difficult to manage. Predatory behavior is a normal (but unacceptable) behavior, and can be very difficult to manage.

Animals can also have severe anxiety that must be managed with medications. If an owner is resistant to treating the animal with medication, it will suffer.
Bite inhibition
It is a much worse prognosis if the animal has bitten, and bitten hard, than if the animal growls over many things, but it never escalated beyond a growl. It is not necessarily true that the bite severity increases over time, but it could if the owners continue to ignore the early warning signs.

It is important to seek help for pets with problem behaviors from a professional such as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. They can be helpful in diagnosing the problem and giving you a prognosis for the outcome.
http://behavior.vetmed.ucdavis.edu
www.facebook.com/ucdavisbehaviorservice