Few new pets measure up to the memories of Saint Spot. And first-time pet owners may be shocked by even normal cat and dog behavior.
The new puppy outgrows his cute-faze, but won’t be housetrained. The kitten turns into a china-breaking maniac. The resident pets hate the new one (or vice versa), or they scream in fear at the sight of another animal. The pet you adore begins to growl and snap at you or (horrors) actually bites somebody.
The first line of defense is your veterinarian. . Since a change in behavior very often signals a health issue, it couldn’t hurt to run your concern past a qualified medical professional.
When the issue turns out to be normal pet behavior, veterinarians often can provide some basic behavior modification tips for you to manage the countertop-cruising cat, for instance, or to curb your dog’s frenetic barking. They may also recommend a dog trainer to help you teach that active puppy some manners. Some veterinary clinics actually have a trainer on staff, and can provide ongoing classes and support. You can also find a certified dog trainer at the website www.apdt.com (Association of Pet Dog Trainers).
But not every veterinarian has the time or training to provide behavior advice. Experienced dog trainers excel at teaching obedience and performance skills, but may not have the ability or inclination to deal with rehabilitating emotionally damaged pets.
For instance–a dog or cat in the throws of terror cannot think, and cannot learn. Enrolling such a pet in a standard obedience class simply won’t help. Aggression requires professional help, period. Even then, not all behavior professionals feel comfortable dealing with these cases due to liability issues.
A “quick fix” and claims that something can be easily cured should raise red flags. Longstanding behavior problems tend to require intense dedication on the part of the owner and rarely can be guaranteed to have a 100% turn-around.
Behavior professionals also may teach dog training, but more typically concern themselves with helping owners and pets work through other issues, such as:
- Elimination problems
- Aggressive, shy or fearful behavior toward people/animals
- Household issues such as countertop cruising or jumping up
- Excessive vocalization
- Destructive behaviors, i.e., dog chewing/digging or cat clawing
- Introductions of new pets or human infants to a resident pet
- Environmental challenges– transitioning outside cats inside
- Attachment or separation anxiety and related problems
- Self-directed behaviors like licking, chewing, obsessive tail chasing
Your veterinarian may be able to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist. This is the ideal, since a veterinarian also can diagnose health issues and prescribe medication if needed. Certified applied animal behaviorist also may be recommended. However, there are only a relative handful of these specialists–about 80 throughout the world.
The third alternative is seeking the help of a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. You can locate one specializing in dogs, cats, horses, and/or parrots by going to the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org).
In the best of all possible situations, our companion animals understand us, we understand them, and all live peaceably together. But when the fur (or feathers) flies, take comfort in knowing help is available.
2011 © Amy D. Shojai
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