Behaviour and Training
For most of us, our pets are not just a huge part of our lives, but they’re also family members! Because of this, when our pets don’t behave as we wish, we’re more aware of this and likely to want to make changes!
So, where to begin? Why not at the beginning!
The first place most people start when they get a new pup is Puppy Preschool!
Puppy preschool is a great way to introduce manners, basic rules and structure into your puppy’s life. It also helps you to set a routine with your new pup; much like human babies, having structure and routine for your pets is important for their growth and progression. From puppy school, some owners will take their pups further, into canine obedience classes. These classes generally add a further layer of complexity to your pup’s training, and further their mental stimulation.
When looking into both puppy preschool and obedience classes, make sure to look into how the classes are run. Finding a trainer who uses current, force-free and fear-free techniques is hugely important! Good training techniques lead to a healthy mind, while poor techniques can be emotionally damaging. However, it is very important to remember that a behavioural disorder is not always due to poor training techniques or abuse.
Like with all behaviours and training techniques, ‘practice makes perfect’. Regular practice of desired behaviours and happy behavioural responses makes them good habits; alternatively, regular practice of undesirable behaviours (thinking, biting, jumping) and unhappy emotional responses (growling, snapping) become bad habits - but they are not bad animals! Once undesirable behaviours become well practiced, they are much more difficult to change, and so the more effort put into prevention of these behaviours, the better set up for life we are.
When do veterinary behaviourists become an option?
There are many more factors including genetics, a lack of appropriate socialisation at a young age, and environmental factors, that go into undesirable behaviours in your pet.
Behavioural medicine covers anything to do with improving the function of the emotional brain of your pet, and how it relates to the function of the rest of the body. This includes preventative behavioural medicine, the diagnosis of abnormal behaviours, and the treatment of behavioural disorders; it is slightly different to, but complements, behavioural training.
Visiting a veterinary behaviourist is always an option, particularly when dealing with behaviours that you, as the owner, and we, as your regular vet team, need a little more guidance on.
Veterinary behaviourists are there to help owners understand the differences in normal and abnormal behaviours, through dedicated behaviour consultations. Sometimes, this can be incredibly difficult, and so, assessing the genetic, learned and environmental components of a
behaviour problem takes a lengthy and detailed consultation, and an even lengthier treatment program - it can take a lot of time and effort to change habits that have been well practiced!
You mentioned the ‘emotional brain’ of the pet. What does this mean?
Just like people, animals can suffer from mental illnesses. Pets can have fears and phobias, anxieties and compulsive disorders. Behavioural medicine will help with understanding how dogs communicate their emotions, and altering our human behaviours, and their environment, to improve their wellbeing, as well as using medication to treat any illnesses (brain or
body-related) along the way.
How do I know if my pet is really behaving abnormally?
Unlike humans, animals do not have a verbal, linguistic language; therefore, they use other methods of communication with each other, and with humans, to indicate how they’re feeling. When your pet is generally unwell due to an illness somewhere else in the body (not necessarily the brain), we rely on looking at their behaviour to help determine where to start looking for the cause. While it certainly doesn’t provide all the answers, it’s definitely a great start. Just like humans, some pets are more likely to be grumpy when they’re feeling unwell; they may growl or snap when they normally wouldn’t!
So, a snapping dog or a hissing cat is not a bad pet! They are just communicating some kind of discomfort, and it’s up to us as owners and vets to work out what it is. Signs of actual aggression are more concerning if they are occurring out of context and too frequently; this may indicate a behavioural disorder which requires a behavioural consultation.
My pet only acts out when they’re at the vet clinic!
We are completely understanding of the fact that coming to a vet clinic can be a scary time for your pet. Some animals may have had an unpleasant experience previously, but even those who haven’t may just think we smell funny! They’re noses are much more sensitive than ours!
A bad experience doesn’t have to be physically painful - your pet just needs to think it’s a threat to their safety or comfort! It’s worth thinking of mental distress (confusion, frustration and fear) as another type of ‘pain’ for your pet, and as we cannot explain to them in verbal sentences exactly what is going on, we tend to employ other methods to try to help them relax. This can involve desensitising through regular happy visits or the use of short-term anti-anxiety medications. Puppy school is also a great way to help prevent this fear (just to round-back to the beginning!).
What does this all mean?
Here at Wellpets, we do run Puppy Preschool (for pups aged 6-12 weeks old), and our vets are happy to discuss ongoing behavioural management.
In the end, we all own a pet because of how they behave; it’s what makes them so endearing to us. Unfortunately, the most common reason for pets to be placed into shelters or humanely euthanised is for behavioural issues. For this reason, it’s so important for us as pet owners and
vets to promote mental well-being and positive behaviours from the start, and to address any problems that arise as they do!
For the cases we get stuck with, however, we know a wonderful vet who has done further study in veterinary behaviour, and are happy to refer you to her if needed!
If you do have any concerns with your pets’ behaviour, please don’t hesitate to contact us!