Had dogs all your life but this one has you stumped?

Have dogs been part of your family all your life but you now have that ‘un-trainable’ dog that is leaving you flat? Without a shadow of a doubt you have yourself a dog with a behaviour disease, which will not resolve with training. Why? What’s the difference between a training issue and a behavioural disease? Want to know more? Read on….please!

There are two main categories of problems when it comes to behaviour in dogs: 1) Problem behaviours and 2) Behavioural disease.

Problem behaviours are behaviour’s that are frequently a problem to someone other than the dog. This category includes behaviours that are normal for dogs to perform but unacceptable to the family or community. These behaviours frequently respond well to training using positive reinforcement and by providing for the dogs daily mental and physical requirements. I like to refer to problem behaviours as knowledge-gaps which is why we use training, which teaches a particular (and preferred) behavioural action.

In category two is behavioural disease. A dog with behavioural disease is a dog living with mental health issues or challenges.

It’s fair to say that the more complicated a machine the more parts of it that can potentially fail. Well…… sometimes a few of the hundreds of millions of neurons (wires) in a dogs brain run into trouble or perhaps the chemicals that facilitate communication between these wires are in short supply or out of balance? It is not all about anxiety though…… there are many other behaviour problems including canine autism, trauma-related disorders, disruptive disorders and neurocognitive disorders. Identifying which brain regions are affected is key to an accurate diagnosis which in turn is essential to successful management.

If you think your dog has a behaviour problem then seeking help from your veterinarian is always the best place to start since many diseases can cause behaviour problems (e.g. pain or hormonal disease).  While small improvements with training are possible (especially where there is a combination of training problems and behaviour problems), training does not address the problem. You can’t train anxiety or any other behaviour problem away because these individuals do not have a knowledge gap they have problems with emotionally driven behaviours…..its emotions that need to be changed. Treatment and expectations are very different for these types of issues. Patience, a multi-modal treatment plan and commitment are the recipe for success. Veterinary Behaviourists and Veterinarians with a special interest in behaviour are uniquely skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems.  The earlier treatment starts the better the outcome.

Oh… one last little but very important bit of advice ….. please avoid any type of punishment  – the result can be very harmful and while it may not always be immediately obvious it, without fail, will make the problem worse … no exception. If you are feeling cross, annoyed, frustrated or angry with your dog breathe deep and remember your dog doesn’t do things to intentionally annoy you….they live from moment to moment and do the best they can with what they know about the world.


Dr Kate

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