A behavior wellness exam is an opportunity to check up on a pet's behavioral health and answer any related questions a client may have. This can either be offered in conjunction with a physical exam or as a separate event.
Pet owners often don't think of veterinary staff as being knowledgeable on behavior. Owners may also be embarrassed to bring up concerns to their veterinarian. Staff members are the ideal professionals to address these concerns as many times physical problems may be masquerading a behavioral problem and vice versa. They should also be prepared to refer to other pet professionals for additional support. This may include Veterinary Behaviorists, pet trainers, daycares and dog walkers.
Adolescence is the most trying time in pet ownership. Although dogs may appear fully grown physically, they are not yet socially mature. There is often no physical reason for a veterinary visit. Pets have been neutered and vaccination protocols completed by 6 months of age, just as they are entering adolescence. By scheduling a behavior wellness exam, technicians can provide an opportunity for the client to learn about this stage. They can share their knowledge on what is normal behavior and what might be more concerning. Adolescence is the most common time for relinquishment at shelters.
Behavior check list
A behavior check list should be created by veterinarians and technicians. There should be lists that include common behavior problems. There also should be room for clients to tell their stories, allowing for consideration to be given to specific issues related to household dynamics. This check list should become part of the pet's permanent file. This will prompt staff members to update the pet's behavior throughout their life when they visit the practice.
- Eliminative: Bed/crate wetting, diarrhea/vomiting, house soiling, marking, excitable urination, submissive urination
- Social: Barking; demanding, stress, watch dog, excitable, aggressive, howling, whining
- Demands: Touch, jumps up, super submission, separation anxiety
- Reproductive: Mounting, masturbating, inappropriate nursing
- Ingestive: Anorexia, chewing, coprophagia, compulsive eating or drinking, excessive amounts of grass/plants, pica, prey catching, steals food, wool sucking/licking/eating
- Grooming: Excessive licking self, other pets, people, air; excessive grooming, self mutilation
- Locomotory: Fly snapping, light chasing, circling, tail chasing, pacing, digging, roaming/running away, car issues
- Fears: Loud noises, men, women, children, situations, objects, other animals
- Aggressive display: During punishment, training, grooming, pain, while on furniture, when sleeping, when eating, over a bone or rawhide, over a stolen item, when stared at, hand over dogs head, grabbed collar, toward household members, toward strangers, in car, unknown dogs, familiar dogs, other animals
- Unlike other species, owners of dogs should be carefully questioned on their pet's training background or lack of.
Training check list
- No training. No class/self trained, Private in home instruction, Puppy class, Basic group class, Competition obedience, Schutzhund/guard dog training, Board and train, other
- Training style: Positive, with corrections, combination, other details of instruction
- Age dog started, Age dog finished, Number of dogs in class (es), Instructor(s), How dog behaved in training, Outcome of dog training
- Commands dog responds to: Sit, stay, down, come, wait, loose leash walking, leave-it, fetch, drop it, other commands
- What type of collar/harness dog is walked on?
- Yard containment, activities in yard, walks length & frequency, activities indoors, favorite toys
Housing of dog
- Owner home, owner absent, at night, daycare
Frustration arises when dogs lack direction and are under stimulated both mentally and physically. It's likely the most troublesome dogs are also the most intelligent. Veterinary staff needs to quickly identify this issue and come up with positive solutions that will fit into the life style of the client and meet the pet's need. Dogs like consistency in their daily routine. Because of this, they respond best when there are rules and boundaries in the home.
Using your voice
- Avoid yelling, as an effective communicator you should speak in a clear confident voice. Yelling tends to increase the level of excitement.
- When training, praise should be soft and simple so not to excite your dog. A simple “yes” can mean just as much as a lot of words and is also a clearer message for the dog. Consider using a clicker paired with a food treat to reinforce desirable behavior.
- Your body often communicates more to your dog than the words to say. Teach your dog to wait using your body. Instead of letting him bolt ahead of you through a doorway, stop and turn into him leaning your body toward him, blocking him from bolting through first. Once he has backed off, proceed through the doorway and invite the dog to follow.
- Practice looking away when your dog approaches you with pushy behavior or stared at you soliciting something. Fold your arms and turn the other way.
- Look and move away if your dog leans on you, clubs you with its paw, or nudges you to demand petting.
- Use a leash to control your dog in the house if necessary. In many instances I may also recommend the dog be fitted with a Gentle Leader as well. This is an excellent way to control and redirect unwanted behaviors.
- It is perfectly fine to limit your dog's access in your home. They don't always have to have the run of your whole house. Let them earn the house a room at a time with their good behavior.
- Access to beds and furniture should only be given with permission and rules. Do not allow your dog on the beds and furniture if it has been a site of any aggressive displays.
4 on the floor
- Allow no jumping. Teach your dog to greet while maintaining a “sit-stay”. Household members can turn and look away with their arms folded. You can also use the leash and gentle leader to help control jumping with incoming guests, and then redirect your dog into the sit.
- Don't allow unsolicited pawing behavior even if your dog has previously been taught to shake as a trick. This can actually be an attention seeking behavior in dogs.
- Nothing in life is free: Identify your dog's “Life Rewards”. These are activities you do in your dogs normal routine that it values. Some examples are being fed, going for walks, playtime, greeting you and car rides. Precede all these activities with an obedience command such as “sit”.
- You control the food; therefore, free choice feeding is not recommended. Designate your dogs meal times (morning and late afternoon are ideal times); put the food down, and whatever your dog doesn't immediately eat should be picked up and put away until the next meal time.
- Teach your dog to “sit and wait” for his food.
- While the dog is eating its meal, approach and toss something better than what's in his bowl to prevent food bowl guarding.
- In some cases hand feeding your dog all its food may be recommended. You can deliver the kibble after your dog has responded to a command.
- Consult with your veterinarian on the possibility of lowering the protein in your dog's diet. Certain universities have done research in this area, and a diet change may have an affect on your dog's behavior.
- Although food treats can be an important training tool, make sure you know how to wean you dog off receiving a treat for every good response. We don't want a dog that will only obey if there's a food treat dangling in its face.
Hands on – hands off
- Avoid prolonged petting. Pet your dog only after he has performed a command such as “sit” and then only for 5 seconds, then stop. If your dog demands more, fold your arms and turn away from him.
- Groom your dog daily. Make sure they allow you to touch them on all areas of their body. If certain handling has produced an aggressive response in the past, start with a very low intensity of handling. Pair the handling with a high level treat.
- Enroll in an obedience class if appropriate for you and your dog. If the group environment is not a good option, hire a trainer to work privately with you in your home. This will be an excellent way to build a healthy relationship while learning to incorporate obedience in your dog's daily routine.
- Practice obedience daily. Several short lessons throughout the day is better than one lengthy lesson. Make sure you involve all household members.
- The settle-down is several things. It is a station the dog goes to on command, being able to maintain a down-stay there, and calm its behavior. Chose a settle-down station for each room in the house your dog has access to.
- During household meal times, your dog should be on a settle-down in the room where you are eating.
- Teach your dog the leave-it command. Use it at times when you want him to turn his attention off an item or person and on to you. It can be used to prevent him from stealing something or jumping on people and will allow you more control on walks.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. There can be a definite correlation between under exercised dogs and unruly behaviors.
- Walk your dog daily. Two 20-minute walks twice a day is ideal for the average dog. Remember, the handler should be in control of the walk, with the dog walking by your side attentively. Do not let your dog pull ahead, sniff or relieve itself as it wishes. Access to do those activities should only be given with permission from the handler. The Gentle Leader head halter will help you accomplish a controlled walk on leash.
- Allow plenty of fetch, indoors or out (hopefully your dog is inclined to this activity). Incorporate a sit at the beginning; give command to take-it as the dog goes to pick up the object. Make sure your dog brings the object back; if necessary, use a long line to reel it in. Add a sit at the end, and make sure your dog has a word to release the object on command.
- Avoid any wrestling or chasing games. These types of activities tend to be under the dogs control, and it's important that you be in charge of the play.
- If any time during play your dog becomes over stimulated, the activity must abruptly end. Fold your arms, turn and walk away. If your dog jumps and leaps at you after you have turned away, use the leash and quietly put it in a brief time-out for 1 to 2 minutes or until it becomes calm.
- Any toys that dispense food are also great for mental and physical stimulation. This would include Kongs, Busy Buddy toys and treat balls. These should be rotated to keep the dog's interest. They are especially useful for times when the dog may exhibit unruly behavior (evening or morning when trying to leave). Be sure to give them to the dog after a command is given and prior to the engaging in unwanted behavior.
- Avoid confrontations. If something has provoked aggressive behavior from your dog in the past, avoid it. Contact your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
- Physically punishment of any kind should also be avoided. The dog may become defensive and use a bite as a way of defending himself.
- Dogs will also benefit from other areas of training. Veterinary staff should be well versed in reputable programs in their area. It's helpful to look at what job the dog was bred to do and then direct the owner. Such dog sports as agility, field trials, tracking, herding and fly ball are sure to enhance the life of those with a lively personality. Canine good citizen classes and pet therapy programs such as Delta Pet Partners® can be excellent programs for the quieter, more focused pets.