Yes, puppies are teething and exploring the world at this age, but Deagan’s behavior was off the charts. He just couldn’t seem to leave anything alone unless he was in his crate or exercise pen, became almost frantic if he was thirsty or hungry, and sometimes became manic when exercising outside, launching himself at us and grabbing our arms. Despite training for relaxation on a mat and self-control exercises, it was difficult for Deagan to calm down when he became over-excited, and restraining him often resulted in aggressive behavior (see this blog about conflict behavior).
Despite getting plenty of physical exercise, Deagan was not able to settle down outside of his pen or crate. As the weeks passed, it was more and more difficult to interrupt his aggressive behavior, and I was getting increasingly frustrated. And angry. And getting angry (not what I recommend to my clients!) at Deagan just caused him to get more excited and more aggressive. What was the matter with this puppy? – I was providing him with the best care possible and he was so difficult to handle at times! Deagan was not like any puppy I had raised before.
There were multiple behavior issues.
There were multiple triggers for the problem behaviors.
The behavior was getting worse and was sometimes dangerous.
Deagan’s behavior was a serious problem for me and him.
A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who specializes in treating behavior problems. They are skilled in diagnosing and treating these problems with management, training, and sometimes with medication. Medication is not a panacea and prescribing it is not taken lightly. In addition, physical or medical issues are always a possibility when a behavior problem occurs, and must also be considered.
And many people view the dog’s problem behavior as solely being the owner’s fault – perhaps as the result of not providing enough exercise or “leadership”. The reality is that all behavior has both inherited and environmental components and all dogs benefit from clear and consistent communication, positive reinforcement for good behavior, and a regular routine in their daily lives. It is the job of the veterinary behaviorist to discover if the problem is the result of a lack of training, structure, or exercise in the dog’s life; or if the problem has an underlying basis in the dog’s physiology (genetic) or from traumatic experience (environmental). Problems with underlying causes may benefit from medication prescribed in conjunction with training.
Deagan’s blank facial expression seen in the
puppy picture above has been replaced with
a more relaxed, happy face.
We are able to play soccer again, safely, without Deagan escalating into a “launch and grab” episode.
|Deagan sleeping in the office next to a bone|
Deagan is able to relax and fall asleep outside of his crate or pen which he was not able to do previously.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month for humans: Bring Change 2 Mind is a national organization that is working to end the stigma and discrimination of mental illness. A similar stigma extends to our companion animals and their owners. I have avoided talking to very many people about Deagan’s behavior problems because I am afraid of what they might think of me – as a responsible pet owner and a professional dog trainer. I know that there are people who think that his problem behavior occurs because I don’t get him enough exercise, or because I use positive training methods. I know there are people who think that prescribing medication for behavior disorders in pets is wrong. I have to remind myself that there are many misconceptions about mental illness and that keeping quiet doesn’t help to end these misconceptions. The Bring Change 2 Mind website states that “one of the best ways you can help someone with mental illness is by understanding what it is – and what it isn’t. After all, myths about mental illness contribute to stigma, which in turns prevents those who are living with one from seeking help.”