geriatric senior dog in veterinary appointmentBehavioral counseling and modification for cats and dogs is an ever-growing area of veterinary medicine. Many behavioral modification strategies and medications exist to help our pets deal with anxiety, aggression, destructive behavior, inappropriate urination, and a variety of other behavioral disorders. Many of these problems are incredibly frustrating to owners and can oftentimes be helped with a wide variety of techniques. 

veterinarian holding puppy
Dr. Bryna Felchle, Animal Clinic of Billings and Animal Surgery Clinic

One of our very own doctors at the Animal Clinic of Billings, Bryna Felchle, DVM, has taken a special interest in veterinary behavioral medicine and is our in-house, go-to source for providing effective and appropriate recommendations for dog and cat behavioral problems.

Problems in animals don’t always have a physical cause, and the sad truth is that more dogs are forfeited to shelters and put to sleep because of behavioral problems than the number of dogs that are euthanized because of actual health problems. Obedience training for your dog can ensure your canine companion is a safe, trusted, loyal, and enjoyable family member throughout his or her life. Our veterinarians are here to help counsel you on dog behavioral problems so that you may achieve the best possible bond and relationship with your canine companion.

animal clinic of billings veterinariansAt the Animal Clinic of Billings, our veterinarians and support staff have many years of experience diagnosing and prescribing treatment methods and modification techniques for dogs with behavior issues. We can help you determine the cause of your dogs disorder such as aggression or separation anxiety, and develop an effective and humane way to go about tailoring the best behavioral modification protocol to meet your dogs individualized behavioral needs.

BEHAVIORAL COUNSELING FOR DOGS

dog at veterinary hospitalThe Animal Clinic of Billings offers behavior counseling for dogs exhibiting problematic behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, inappropriate defecation or urination, aggression, and inappropriate chewing and barking, as well as any animal conflicts that have resulted with an already existing pet from introducing a new dog or cat into your household. Many times a dog’s behavior problem can be brought on by a medical issue such as bladder stones, cystitis, or kidney disease, so a thorough veterinary examination is very important.

Although there are many effective solutions to problematic pet behaviors available to us, it’s important to understand that sometimes an animals behavioral issues are so severe or pronounced, that even our best medical remedies fall short in attempting to modify the behavioral problem.

Oftentimes though, we are able to vastly improve or even eradicate the behavioral problem.

Dog Behavior Problems That Can Be Fixed With Behavioral Modification

veterinarian with dog at 24 hour emergency vet clinicPuppy training in addition to adult dog training both play an important role in raising a well-behaved and socially-adjusted dog. These initiatives are also helpful to address and modify any problematic behaviors that may develop later too. 

Some of the common behaviors that can be treated with behavioral modification programs and environmental management are as follows:

Aggression towards people or other dogs

Aggression towards people or other dogs is the number one reason dog owners seek dog behavioral help. Aggression may target people or other animals, and may be motivated by several different impulses. The best strategy for fixing aggression depends on which one of these impulses is causing the behavior. Fear or anxiety-based aggression, territorial aggression, aggressive pain-reactivity, resource-guarding aggression, redirected aggression, protective/defensive aggression, predatory behavior, and aggression related to abnormal brain activity may occur alone or in combination. 

dog scared of the vetIn these cases, a medical workup including a complete physical exam, bloodwork, and possibly x-rays, should first be performed to rule out any possible medical causes for the aggressive behavior. If a medical cause is found, an appropriate treatment plan will be instituted to alleviate the condition. If no medical cause for aggression is identified, the veterinarian will then collect a detailed history of the behavior, including meticulous descriptions of the conditions preceding, concurrent with, and following the aggressive behavior. Based on this history, the veterinarian will determine which type(s) of aggression is/are present and will design a treatment program to address the behavior and its motivating causes. 

A typical treatment plan will include components of environmental management (such as avoiding triggers) and behavioral modification measures (such as desensitization and counterconditioning). This program will require time, effort, and consistency on the part of the owner, but will often pay off as the dog’s aggressive behavior decreases over time. Periodic rechecks are important in these cases to discuss a dog’s progress and modify the treatment program as necessary. Once the aggressive behavior is fully under control, the measures that have proven effective must be continued indefinitely in order to avoid recurrence.

Barking

handsome french bulldog smilingBarking is the main form of vocal communication for a dog, so barking is usually intended to get your attention or alert you to something concerning. Many times, a dog will also bark to communicate a perceived unmet need like he or she wants food, water, or attention for example. However, barking can also be motivated by anxiety, boredom, or excitement. When barking becomes incessant, it can become a serious problem for you, your family, and your neighbors. To address such a situation effectively, the dog’s motivation for barking must first be determined. 

By collecting a thorough history of your dog’s barking problem, your veterinarian can determine what is driving the behavior. Once their reason for barking is understood, measures can be instituted to decrease their motivation. These measures will vary widely, but may include avoiding stimuli and teaching calm behaviors for an excitable barker, ignoring an attention-seeking barker until they are quiet, environmental enrichment for dogs barking out of boredom, and instituting measures to reduce anxiety for a stress-barker. 

Punishment and shock collars are not recommended, as these often increase fear and anxiety and do not address the underlying motivation for the behavior. With detailed guidance and consistent work, most barking problems can be significantly improved.  

Chewing

cute dog with veterinarianChewing is a natural behavior in puppies, being one of their primary methods of exploring their environment, as well as a means of alleviating the discomfort of teething. Chewing in mature dogs is usually motivated by play, boredom, anxiety, or habit. There are many strategies that can help control destructive chewing. 

Crate-training your dog is one of the most effective ways of preventing damage. For smaller dogs, baby gates can be used to prevent access to areas of the house containing chewable items. Providing an abundance of appealing and safe chew toys can help to channel their impulses to more acceptable targets. Rubber Kong toys can be stuffed with canned food, peanut butter, or soft cheese and frozen to provide a long-lasting distraction. Pet Safe produces a variety of food-dispensing chew toys that most dogs love.  

If your dog has a habit of chewing up and/or swallowing items they find on the floor, be meticulous in picking these up and storing them out of reach. If you find that an item has been chewed up and there are pieces missing, it is possible your dog may have swallowed them. If any of these pieces of material are too large to pass through the intestine, surgery may be necessary to remove them to avoid serious tissue damage. As this can be potentially life-threatening, any dog that has swallowed non-digestible material should be monitored very closely and taken to the veterinary clinic at the first sign of GI upset.  

Mouthing

While this is perfectly normal dog behavior, mouthing can also lead to biting and potentially serious injuries. If your dog begins to nip or bite you, other people, or other animals as a way of playing, we recommend seeking veterinary advice and a proper dog training program ASAP.

Separation anxiety

dog holding leash in mouthSeparation anxiety is by far one of the most common behavioral problems encountered in dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety experience severe stress and agitation when left alone for any period of time. This commonly manifests as destruction of material inside the house, excessive vocalization, and house soiling, and may even result in self-injury. 

Dogs that experience separation anxiety are typically hyper attached to their owner and have never learned to be calm and confident when alone. This frustrating and stressful condition can be treated with a combination of techniques encouraging independent activity, desensitizing them to clues that you are preparing to leave, and counterconditioning them by providing a soothing and reassuring environment with high-value toys and treats when alone. 

Often anxiety medication is also necessary. Our veterinarians are experienced in the treatment of separation anxiety and other anxiety disorders in dogs. Call to schedule a veterinary consultation with one of our vets if you feel your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.  

Noise Phobias

dog scared of lightningNoise phobias in dogs are not uncommon. A dog with a noise phobia will exhibit signs such as hiding, shaking, panting, drooling, whining, and trying to escape from a room or enclosure when they hear specific types of loud noises. The most common stimuli for noise phobia in dogs are thunderstorms and fireworks. The cause of these phobias is not known for sure, but it is believed that both genetics and lack of exposure to the specific noise during puppyhood play a role. 

Treatment for noise phobias typically involves both behavioral modification techniques (distraction, limiting exposure, creating a calm environment, gradually desensitizing to the stimulus) and calming medications. Our veterinarians successfully care for many noise-phobic dogs; if your dog shows signs of panic during storms, fireworks, or any other loud noises, call to schedule an appointment to discuss treatment.  

Eating Feces (Coprophagia)

dog at vetThe ingestion of feces (a dog’s own or another animal’s) is a normal behavior in young puppies and lactating mothers that sometimes persists into adulthood and can be very distressing for owners to witness. In a minority of cases, coprophagia can be motivated by an insufficient diet, intestinal parasites, the presence of GI diseases that interfere with digestion and absorption, or the presence of diseases that inappropriately stimulate feelings of hunger, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, and diabetes. All dogs who routinely engage in coprophagia should have a veterinary workup to rule out the presence of a medical cause for the behavior.  

Most dogs who engage in coprophagia have a behavioral motivation. Anxiety, stress, boredom, and simple habit can all cause this behavior to develop and continue. If a medical problem has been ruled out, there are some behavioral interventions that can be effective in reducing this behavior. Prompt removal of all feces will deprive a dog of the opportunity to consume them. 

This may be sufficient to break the habit for some dogs. Sometimes a diet change can have an effect, likely resulting from a change in the consistency and flavor of the feces. Dietary additives fed to the animal whose feces are being consumed are designed to make feces have an unpleasant taste. These have highly variable efficacy, but are sometimes worth a try. If stress or anxiety are at the root of the behavior, a program of environmental and behavioral modification should be implemented. 

If feces ingestion is motivated by boredom, environmental enrichment and increased physical activity may be helpful. Our veterinarians can help you determine the likely cause of your dog’s behavior and design a treatment program.  

Housesoiling

huskyThere are numerous potential reasons why your dog may start urinating or defecating inside the house. First it is important to rule out potential medical causes, such as a UTI, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, female incontinence, and GI diseases. If no medical condition is present, then behavioral causes, such as incomplete housetraining, anxiety, territorial marking, and senility, may be present. A complete history of the behavior will enable our veterinarians to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s accidents and design a treatment plan.  

Jumping Up

happy dog at veterinary clinicJumping up on people is an attention-seeking behavior that most of us inadvertently reinforce by giving them the attention they seek. Even scolding the culprit is a form of attention, so the dog will still feel that he or she has succeeded. To prevent this habit in a puppy, only give them attention (of any kind) when all four paws are on the ground. Everyone who interacts with your puppy should be instructed to do the same. In this manner, the behavior is never reinforced, so they stop trying.  

Dogs that have already acquired this bad habit can be re-trained, but it will take more time and effort. Usually the most effective method is to train the dog to sit when he or she wants attention, while at the same time ignoring them any time those front feet leave the ground. This may take a lot of time, patience, and consistency. It is best to start this process in a calm, quiet environment without any excitement or distractions, and gradually extend it into more dynamic and challenging environments.  

TREATING BEHAVIORAL ISSUES WITH MEDICATIONS

veterinarian gives oral medication to dogMultiple safe and effective prescription medications are available that can be very helpful in treating dogs suffering from anxiety and panic disorders, aggression issues, and other behavioral problems. These are usually used in combination with a program of environmental and behavioral modification designed by your veterinarian, and will not be as effective without these measures. For mild situational anxiety, several natural supplements have been developed that can have a mild calming effect, and Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) products have proven helpful for many dogs.  

Schedule A Veterinary Appointment With Us For Your Dog

If you would like to discuss behavioral concerns with one of our veterinarians, please contact us to schedule an appointment. Our veterinarians are here to help address your dog’s behavioral problems and educate you on how to effectively and humanely keep your canine companion safe, happy and well behaved. Call us today!

406-252-9499

REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT

animal clinic of billings Dr. Bryna Felchle veterinarian

At the Animal Clinic of Billings, we believe that many behavioral problems can be dramatically helped, altered and even fixed with the proper counseling and medical intervention that we’re able to offer pets and their owners. If your cat or dog exhibits undesirable behavior, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians today.

406-252-9499

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ANIMAL CLINIC OF BILLINGS AND ANIMAL SURGERY CLINIC

providing our region’s companion animals and their families what they need and deserve since 1981

1414 10th St. West, Billings MT 59102

406-252-9499

REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT