I am often asked why I only accept behaviour cases with a veterinary referral, so I wanted to share with you why I think this is so important.
The main reason I require veterinary referral is to try and ensure that there aren’t any medical problems underlying, or adding to, a behaviour problem. If there are, working alongside a dog’s own vet can enable the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of any medical problems.
A study carried out by the University of Lincoln found that 23% of behaviour cases referred to their behaviour clinic had an underlying medical condition. When looking at cases involving aggressive behaviour, the number with an underlying medical condition rose to 27% – that is more than one in four cases.
Why is this important?
Medical problems can trigger or worsen aggressive behaviour – with pain in particular having a marked effect. Imagine you are a young dog with hip pain caused by hip dysplasia. Other dogs come running up to play with you in the park; one jumps at you a little too hard, ouch that hurt. Another dog bumps you, ouch that hurt too. You turn fast trying to catch another dog in a game of chase, and again you feel pain in your hip. What do you learn? You learn that interactions with other dogs aren’t comfortable, they can hurt. You may learn to be wary of other dogs, to use aggressive behaviour to keep them away. You may want to be sociable and interact with other dogs, but you aren’t sure because sometimes it hurts, you become frustrated and conflicted around other dogs.
This is just one example of how pain can specifically trigger a problematic emotion around other dogs, and why it is so important to work alongside a dog’s own vet to identify and treat these problems. Behaviour training for a dog like this will only help so much, if their hips are still painful they are still having negative experiences around other dogs, even during training. The underlying hip problem itself needs treating to enable the behaviour training to be fully successful.
Another example of a simple medical problem adding to dog to dog behaviour problems is anal gland issues. Over-full, blocked, impacted or infected anal glands can not only be very uncomfortable and so lead to a dog being less happy with dogs around their bottom, but they can also make a dog smell more interesting to other dogs – they give off more of an odour which makes other dogs want to investigate them. So for the dog, having more unwanted attention around a bottom which is sore, can lead to them feeling the need to use aggressive behaviour to make the other dogs go away.
As well as a direct effect on behaviour, medical conditions such as arthritis, skin allergies or dental disease can have a marked effect on a dog’s overall mood state too – more on the importance of mood state in the next blog post…….