Shred your patients fear-based aggression


Fixing behavioral problems in patients starts with removing inciting stimuli.

Photo: Shutterstock.comSeparation anxiety and phobias are two of the most common behavior problems that veterinary behaviorists face. Even more common still? You guessed it: aggression. Traditionally, dominance aggression is most often diagnosed, especially when evaluating owner-directed aggression.

So how do we shred these behavioral issues before they take a turn for the worse? One key facet of the basis of treatment is to remove exposure to inciting stimuli. This can be accomplished in several ways:

Attempt response substitution. Discontinue all forms of punishment. Focus instead on distraction and redirection of inappropriate behavior to more appropriate responses that can be reinforced.

Use a head halter. Help facilitate response substitution using an indoor drag leash. A head halter decreases arousal and allows safe, efficient, non-emotional interruption of problem behaviors.

Avoid reinforcement of the behavior by withdrawing in response to aggression or giving positive attention (telling the dog, “It's all right”).

Have unfamiliar people ignore the dog at first greeting to allow more time for the dog to assess the situation without feeling threatened.

Identify and avoid fear-inducing triggers. For example, if the house has several young children, isolate the dog to avoid potentially negative interactions.

Increase consistency of owner and dog interaction. Instruct pet owners to always give a command, wait for a response and reward.

Avoid inconsistent, casual interactions by ignoring all attention-seeking behaviors. Punishment should never be used.

Train with reinforcement methods. This is often called “Nothing in life is Free” or “No Free Lunch.”

Finding the inciting stimuli and-most important-getting rid of it can bring pet owners (and pets!) one step closer to living a stress-free life. This, along with avoiding possible trigger stimuli in the future, using counter conditioning and desensitization and adding appropriate medication where needed can make a serious difference.

John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, is a veterinarian with Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants in Carol Stream, Illinois.

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