It was many years ago when I was faced with my first dog’s first behaviour problem – separation anxiety. We had moved into a new place, on our own for the first time, and Carmac learned to open the windows and let himself out to find friends. Thank goodness I lived in a small town where everyone literally knew everyone else and his/her dog – a friend would often spot him close to home, add him to his/her daily adventure, and then drop him off and barricade him in. I had to come up with a solution to this problem, and there were little to no trainers where I lived. So I ordered some books off of the internet (this was also before social media and in home internet), and I called my veterinarian.
Changes in your dog’s behaviour may indicate a health problem – a brewing urinary tract infection could cause a lapse in house training or pain could cause the dog to snap or even bite at a visitor that pets him while he is sleeping. In many cases, a health problem may be easier to resolve than a behaviour problem. This is why I always recommend to rule out health problems first.
Why else should you call your veterinarian? Because he/she has been through years of rigorous schooling, he/she are familiar with supplements and medications that may help your companion with his/her behaviour problem (once we have ruled out health issues), and he/she often are in contact with trainers and behaviour consultants in your area, so he/she can direct you to a suitable individual to help you. Your vet can also refer you to a specialist if he/she feel it is necessary. Veterinarians also come with an entire staff of animal loving technicians, assistants, and receptionists, and it is a good bet that some (if not all) of these people have experience with behaviour problems and are able to help you network within your community.
As a behaviour consultant, I love it when clients have a veterinarian on board to help with behaviour challenges. With the client’s consent, I can share the behaviour modification plan and ask for the veterinarian’s input. I can find out if we are considering medications pending my visit, so that the vet knows there is a plan in place. I also know that my client is on top of any possible health changes.
For Carmac and I, my vet listened to my concerns, and I showed him my training plan. We did bloodwork as I was behind on having Carmac’s renal values checked, and we agreed to talk further should my training plan not work – we would look at medications. However, my plan worked, and Carmac was well on his way to loving home alone time. My second dog, Shorty, required a trip to the vet for her separation anxiety, but she presented different challenges, and we ended up choosing to use medication to assist with her behaviour modification plan. In both situations, my vets were key in helping my dogs overcome their struggles.
I’ll briefly get out my soap box and please, for the love of dog, ask qualified people for advice. I understand that everyone has good intentions, but some people have gone the extra mile for education, testing, certifications, and continuing education. Their opinions are better formed and come from science, not glitter or television or the dog park. Your dog will thank you for this.
I would like to thank Dr. David Lane of Points East West Veterinary Services and Dr. Julie Mountifield of Eagleview Veterinary Hospital for the use of their photo as well as Sam Bishop and the staff of Vancouver Animal Emergency and Referral Centre for the use of their photo.
I would like to thank all of the veterinarians who have helped me along the way, whether with behaviour or health concerns – in particular, Dr. David Lane for his help with Carmac, Dave & Dr. Donna Scott for their help with Shorty, and Dr. Wendy Cullen and the staff of Oakridge Animal Clinic for their help with Mulder and his many wounds.