Enriching The Environment Of Our Pets
The Psycology of Play and Behavior Modification
Veterinary Forum December 2002
Part Two Dogs
The human-animal bond is a fragile relationship that can be
quickly altered if a pet develops a behavioral problem that erodes that bond.
Five veterinary behavior specialists met during the American Veterinary Medical
Association Convention held in July 2002 in Nashville to discuss ways in which
oitmers can enrich their pet's environment and introduce play activities that
encourage healthy behavior and social well-being. Part 1 of this two-part roundtable
addresses how directing normal behavior through appropriate environmental
outlets can strengthen the bond between cats and their owners. Part 2 will discuss the same issue in dogs.
Debra Horwitz, BS, DVM,
DACVB, is affiliated with Veterinary Behavior Consultations in St. Louis, Missouri.
Gary Landsberg, BSc, DVM, DACVB, Moderator,
is affiliated with Doncaster Animal Clinic in ThornMI, Ontario, Canada.
Andrew Luescher, DVM, PhD, DACVB,
is director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Jacqui Neilson, BS, DVM, DACVB,
is affiliated with the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon.
Barbara Simpson, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, is affiliated with The
Veterinary Behavior Clinic in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
The Need for Social Companionship
Gary Landsberg, BSc, DVM
(Moderator): Play can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of pet ownership. It can improve the physical health of both the pet and owners and help strengthen the pet-owner bond. However, play also serves some important behavioral functions by providing outlets for some of a pet's innate needs and preventing the development of many behavioral problems. I'd like to begin by having you describe some of these needs and how the environment might be enriched to prevent behavioral problems from developing.
Debra Horwitz, BS, DVM: Most of the information regarding canine
behavior is based on dogs that are housed in confined areas, such as research
facilities and shelters. To my knowledge, there is little documentation regarding
the time budget of feral dogs. However, dogs in shelter-type facilities devote
about 80% of their time to being relatively inactive and apparently are active
for approximately 7% of a typical day. Dogs housed in larger pens are more active
than dogs kept in small pens, and dogs housed alone are less active than dogs
housed together. Although it is limited, this information provides an idea of
how dogs control their environment and what choices they make with regard to
their time. We know that, when dogs have canine companions, they are more active
and social. Thus, an appropriate environment should meet both a dog's play needs
and its social needs.
Andrew Luescher, DVM, PhD: A study conducted in dogs housed
in cages showed that pair-housing was the primary social enrichment having an
effect on the activity level and abnormal behavior of dogseven more so
than when solitary dogs were provided with toys.1
Landsberg: Other studies seem to indicate that being able to see another animal or dogeven if there is no direct contactis preferable to being alone. Therefore, one of the keys to promoting a healthy environment is to provide for the dog's need for social companionship.
Barbara Simpson, MS, PhD,
DVM: Unfortunately, many of the laboratory studies are conducted in the absence of
"live-in" people. Thus, these studies do not realistically simulate a home situation, and it may be difficult to extrapolate laboratory results to a real-life home environment. We know from observations of dogs suffering from canine separation anxiety that affected dogs may exhibit signs of separation distress even when left at home with other dogs. This suggests that, at least for some dogs, a human companion is not the same as a canine companion. This was confirmed in a study of dogs tested in a novel environment.2 Increased activity and glucocorticoid levels resulted when the dogs were confined alone or with a long-standing kennel mate. However, these negative responses were not evident when the human caretaker was present.
Landsberg: Some independent studies have looked at both canine play with people and canine play with other dogs. The authors concluded that dogs enjoy play both with other dogs and with humans and that one is not a substitute for the other.1
Horwitz: It is interesting to observe the individuality of
dogs when they are initially housed separately or in small groups and then introduced
to a human caregiver in a larger room. Some dogs spend most of their time attempting
to solicit attention from the caregiver, while others spend
their time trying to interact with other dogs. Thus, there is considerable individual variation in what types of social interaction a dog needs.
Providing Play Opportunities
Landsberg: Perhaps one focus today could be on how social interactions
between people and dogs are key elements of environmental enrichment. What can
owners do to stimulate play in their dogs, and what specific toys might you
Simpson: There are several stages of canine development, and
I believe we need to consider toys according to those stages. Very young dogs
seem to have a greater need for oral toys that encourage chewing exercise than
their older counterparts. Providing suitable toys to puppies allows owners to
encourage what I refer to as a good chew-toy habit early in life. As they grow,
many dogs become more interested in toys with textures that promote gnawing
with the molars. Regardless of the dog's age, I encourage owners to meet their
dog's need to chew to prevent the dog from chewing on unacceptable objects.
Sometimes it is helpful to reward dogs for chewing on acceptable objects. For
example, placing food such as peanut butter into a hollow rubber toy is a useful
way to reward a pet for appropriate behavior.
Toys can also be used for age-appropriate play. Dogs have a need to play just as they have a need to chew. Our goal is to direct these needs in appropriate ways to prevent behavioral problems from surfacing. For young dogs, it is possible to have too large an array of toys, which may teach a dog that it's okay to chew on anything available. For dogs that seem "confused" about what is acceptable, owners can offer a small selection of toys, such as chew ropes or bone shapes, which are dissimilar to nontoys. Dogs can better develop good habits if their choices are minimal and clearly distinguished.
Jacqui Neilson, BS, DVM: To follow-up on your comment regarding
food toys, dogs actually prefer to work for their food rather than having it
given to them. Therefore, the food puzzle-type of toy provides an appropriate
outlet for oral activity and a cognitive challenge.
Horwitz: In Part 1 of this roundtable, we emphasized that cats
enjoy a lot of predatory play. While some dogs enjoy predatory or chasing type
of play, dogs generally prefer oral exploration. Thus, owners should select
toys that the dog can place into its mouth. There are also breed variations
in the type of toy a dog needs to satisfy its chewing habits. Some breeds of
dogs almost destroy chew toys and are very physical in the way they want to
play, while other breeds are content to simply hold a toy in their mouth or
gnaw gently on it while carrying it throughout the house. Thus, veterinarians
need to advise owners to account for the individual nature of specific breeds
and their tendency to be more or less activesort of their innate personality.
Simpson: Individuality, not only among breeds but within breeds,
is also obvious with exercise-type toys, such as a Fris-bee or ball. Some dogs
enjoy considerable interactive exercise, while others don't. Similarly, the
age of a dog can affect its interest in exercise activities.
Landsberg: Toys are also an excellent way to increase social
interactions with people. Owners can spend quality time with the pet during
playtime and training, using toys as rewards and motivators. Chewing and self-play
may be necessary when owners are not around, but they are not a substitute for
interactive play with owners, which provides both exercise and social interaction.
But, as Dr. Simpson indicated, toys need to fit the individual dog. Some dogs
like to leap in the air and chase an object while others are more interested
in tug-of-war. Thus, choosing not only the right toy but the appropriate game
to play with that toy is important.
Establishing a Predictable Daily Routine
Horwitz: Dogs are interested in predictability, consistency,
and reliability. They like to engage in social interaction with owners around
the same time and in basically the same style every daydogs seem to like
routine. They like to be taken for a walk, exercised or involved in interactive
play, groomed, fed, and petted at generally the same times during each day.
Doing so makes the interaction with owners more enjoyable and reinforces the
ownerpet bond. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling behavior.
Luescher: Actually, the time frame can be adjusted slightly, but not the routine. For example, during the work week, the dog may get a walk at 7:00 AM and then again at 6:00 PMjust before the owner eats breakfast or dinner. On the weekend, owners may prefer to sleep in and not get up until 9:00 AM. That is fine, as long as the walk or exercise outlet follows the same routinethat is, before the owner has breakfast. The dog can then predict what is going to happen and is much more relaxed living in a routine environment.
Landsberg: I entirely agree. A schedule is very important elimination,
exercise, play, training, sleep, eating, and even times to nap and relax should
be programmed into the dog's day. In this way, when the dog needs to be ignored
or left alone, it should already have had all of its needs provided for. Then,
there may need to be slight modifications to that schedule as the age and health
of the dog change. How can predictable activity affect the behavior of dogs?
Simpson: Many behavioral problems are associated with inappropriate
behavior toward children in a household. This may be, at least partially, because
children's behavior may seem unpredictable to a dog. Children can inadvertently
present signs that a dog may perceive as a threat, such as staring in its face.
We certainly want to avoid such
encounters, which may end in some assertive or aggressive "back-off signal from the dog toward the child. One way to promote positive interactions between dogs and children is through controlled play. Children and dogs can be taught how to appropriately interact with and respect each other and have fun together. Adults in the family can use dog toys to help train the dog as well as the children. For example, the dog can be taught to come and sit each time before a ball is thrown. Then the child can be similarly k trained to play with the dog. This can avoid inappropriate Dehavior, such as the dog jumping or lunging for the ball [n a child's hand.
Having the child participate in the training activity teaches the child what constitutes appropriate interaction with the dog while instilling controls for the dog and its behavior toward children. In a similar way, dogs need to learn that they have their own toys and the children in the household have their toys. Parents need to train or teach dogs not to chew their children's toysonly the dog's own chew toys. Likewise, children should be encouraged not to play with the dog's own chew toys but instead to use other toys for interactive exchanges. Thus, it is important to recognize inappropriate interactions on the part of both children and pet.
Neilson: Unfortunately, there is some public misunderstanding
about the value of tug-of-war activities. Some might consider it an inappropriate
interaction and believe that owners should never play tug-of-war with their
dog, especially if the dog is "dominant." However, some dogs are very
energetic and may benefit from this activity. Just because a dog "wins"
at tug-of-war does not mean that it is dominant. Instead, this game can be a
valuable tool in teaching a dog to release an item, such as the tug-of-war rope.
If a dog learns the drop-it command and gets rewarded for obeyingperhaps
a food treatthe learning experience becomes a valuable tool.
Horwitz: When observing dogs playing tug-of-war with one another,
it often appears that competitive power is not the issue, but rather the sheer
joy of pulling (Figure 1). As soon
as one dog "wins," it usually runs around for a while and then tries to involve the other dog in more tug-of-war. Thus, it often seems it is not the possession of the object but ultimately the actual pulling that dogs enjoy. When owners select toys or enrichment activities, they therefore need to first determine what is most exciting or challenging for the dog. For example, when some dogs are taken for a sniff-walk, their tails never stop moving while they are sniffing the ground. Likewise, owners need to create situations in which the dog is clearly pleased or happy, such as hiding a special tre'at inside a toy. In other situations, owners may discover that certain toys or activities are clearly stressing the pet and thus are not fun. Finding the right "toy" for the dog to play with is equally as important as the act of playing.
Landsberg: Before discussing behavioral problems that might
be avoided by implementing play activities, I would like to summarize some of
what we have discussed. As with cats, there are individual differences between
not only breeds of dogs but also between individuals within a specific breed.
The types of play or games must be appealing and enjoyable to the individual.
Some dogs prefer hide-type toys rather than rubber ones, for example, while
others prefer synthetic materials such as rubber. Some like stick-type toys,
while others prefer balls or Frisbees. Regardless, the toy needs to be the right
texture, size, and shape. Chew toys should either be indestructible or made
of digestible material. For example, cooked bones are not ideal chew toys because
they can splinter and are not digestible. Owners therefore need to be aware
of safety issues when selecting appropriate toys.
Luescher: I have found that dogs prefer toys that they can
destroy, so the safety issue is quite important. Dogs find considerable joy
in "getting the squeaky," so to speak.
Horwitz: Squeaker toys are a favorite of my own dogit
spends considerable time trying to figure out how to get that squeaker. Once
it "kills" the squeaker, the toy becomes boring. So, each dog needs
to reach its individual fun point. For some, that is being destructive, while
for others it may be burying the object and retrieving it later. The latter
becomes a separate behavioral issuetraining dogs that enjoy burying objects that the couch is not the ideal digging ground.
Controlling Problem Behaviors
Landsberg: Let us move from prevention to treatment of behavioral
problems. We might say that toys serve as a linkpreventing a behavior
from surfacing as well as treating some types of undesirable behavior. The most
recent canine addition to my family prefers predatory and oral playgrabbing
and flipping toys, chasing and pouncing on themand, although she really
likes squeaky toys, her objective is enjoyment of chasing the toy rather than
trying to chew out the squeaker. Unfortunately, this dog also decided that the
corners of the carpet are fun to rip up and chew, along with telephone cables
and cords. So, more than one behavior is involved in her "fun" activitypredatory
play and chewing (Figure 2). One solution in preventing or treating inappropriate
play behavior is to substitute toys that are equally or more appealing than
the household items that the dog might chew or play with. For example, hide
toys, rope toys, or dental chews might be a good substitute for chewing on carpets
and telephone cords, while a plush squeaky dog toy might be more appealing than
a slipper or pair of gloves.
Simpson: What owners might consider inappropriate behaviors
may actually represent normal basic canine behaviors. For example, exuberant
play is "normal" for some dogs but may be deemed by owners as inappropriate.
Such play may be controlled by allowing it outside (not inside) and by using
toys as signaling devices. For example, a Frisbee removed from a closet may
signal to the dog that it is okay to run and play. The owner brings out the
toy only when such play is acceptable and takes the dog outside. Of course,
the owner must remember to do this regularly if this is an important activity
for the dog. If the dog tries to initiate this activity at an unacceptable time,
the owner should put a house leash on the dog (not the leash used for walks)
and praise it for being calm and obedient.
Play signaling is especially important in households with young children or toddlers, who may race around the house or jump on the furniture, inappropriately encouraging the dog to join in the "fun." Thus, parents need to teach their
children when and where exuberant play is acceptable. Toys can become "signals" of what behavior is appropriate in various home environments.
Horwitz: Other behaviors that can be dealt with using toys
involve the dog interrupting normal family activities, such as dinnertime when
the dog may attempt to beg at the table. Many owners try to prevent begging
by confining the dog to another room, putting it outdoors, yelling at it, or
feeding itnone of which really resolves the problem. However, by encouraging
the dog to play with a particular activity toy while the family eats dinner
peacefully can modify unacceptable behavior. The owners' thought process should
be: We're going to eat dinner now, so Fido should go to his bed with a food-stuffed
toy that he only is allowed to play with during family dinnertime. Such training
helps the dog to meet the owners' expectations of what is deemed acceptable
To avoid unwanted attention-seeking behavior, such as while children are studying or while they are being bathed, again parents can encourage the dog to play with a particular toy in a particular locationalways the same toy and the same area of the housewhile the family is completing other tasks. Thus, toys can be used preemptively to prevent problems and help the dog remain part of the family.
Exploring Its Environment
Neilson: Another very common problem, especially inj young
dogs and puppies, is mouthing behavior. Mouthing is a normal part of a dog's
learning experience. Dogs use mouthing for environmental exploration, and they
learn bite inhibition by mouthing. Dogs do not have opposable thumbs, so they
need to explore their world through their mouth. However, the result can be
damaging and painful and if the owner allows the behavior to continue, it can
become more serious. By substituting mouthing exploration with a toy, the behavior
can be preempted.
Landsberg: In dogs, toys can also serve as a cue for calmness
or may even act as a security blanket, if I can use the term loosely. In particular,
some retrievers seem to be most comfortable when they are walking around the
home carrying one of the owner's possessions, such as a glove, towel, or piece
of clothing that's been "stolen" from the laundry hamper. These dogs
may carry the object around the home with no chewing or destructive component
to their behavior. Provided this behavior does not appear to be arising from
anxiety or serving as some form of attention-getting behavior, owners might
not need to discourage the behavior as long as the object being carried is acceptable
to the owners and safe for the dog.
Horwitz: Another "security blanket" is to have owners
rub their hands on items before they leave the house and make their scent more
prominent on toys, which can have a calming effect on the dog while owners are
The Role of Enrichment
Landsberg: Thus far, we have been concentrating on how behavior
can be modified through the use of toys. What other enrichment activities can
be used as part of a behavior modification program?
Luescher: I believe that the anxiety level of dogs diminishes
when they are taken for a walk away from the home property. In addition, dogs
need to be protected from childrenallowed to find a safe hiding place
where they know children can't pester them. Often dogs prefer this safe haven
when guests are visiting. Thus, we need to encourage owners to enrich the entire
environment and use environmental enrichment to manage behaviors, not simply
accomplish good behavior through play activities.
Neilson: A study in feral silver foxes found that increasing
exploration of their environments decreased baseline cortisol levels, thus lowering
stress levels. Applying this information to a dog's environment may have a similar
positive effect and produce a beneficial environmental enrichment regimen.
Landsberg: This is likely similar to what we might see in
dogs. If we allow our dogs to have some control over their environment and give them the opportunity to explore their surroundings, this might help reduce overall fearfulness and anxiety. In what other ways can owners enrich a dog's environment?
Horwitz: Often owners have a mlsperception that dogs always
need to be social. Actually, I believe that a dog needs its own bed, or at minimum
a safe area, where it can be alone and rest undisturbed (Figure 3). Our discussion
seems to be emphasizing the value of playand it is valuable but
dogs do not need to have constant interaction anytime a human is around. Part
of creating an enriched environment is also showing the dog that there can be
quiet time in the environment and that there is access to enrichment that
they can have it when they need it but there will be times when they do not
want or need interactive time. Owners should strive to create a balance between
interaction, play, and quiet time for both themselves and their dog.
Simpson: Again, we need to consider the individual personality
and history of each dog. Owners should be encouraged to train a young dog or
puppy to accept a small room or crate for confinement and safety. However, if
the owners adopt an adult dog that never was trained to accept such confinement,
the dog may actually become phobic when confined in that manner. Thus, adopted
adult dogs need to be trained very slowly and positively to accept confinement
when left alone. Owners are often surprised that the dog becomes phobic or responds
negatively to confinement because they are attempting to help their dog cope
with certain situations.
Landsberg: If the dog uses its crate or bed as a safe place
where it can freely come and go as it pleases, then it has some control over
its environment and where it sleeps. On
the other hand, if the dog becomes anxious when separated or confined from the owners and the crate or bed is used to prevent damage when the owners are out, then the crate might further increase anxiety and would be inappropriate. A safe haven must produce positive results.
Horwitz: Because wild canids choose to rear their young in
small enclosed areas, that is, a den, I think there is a misconception that
all dogs feel comfortable in a similar environment. But there is considerable
difference between a den and a crate. A den is never locked, but often owners
lock the dog inside the crate. So the choice to be inside the crate and not
being able to leave it may not be creating a safe haven for certain individuals.
What needs to be accomplished is creating a suitable placewhether that
is a crate, closet, underneath a bed, or in the middle of a room where
the dog is comfortable, relaxed, and safe.
Landsberg: One way to encourage a dog to accept its safe haven,
even a crate, is to provide novel and highly appealing toys in the crate or
bed so that it also serves as the dog's toy box. The area then becomes a safe
haven as well as a favored place to return to for exploration, chewing, and
play. This approach might also help improve or prevent separation anxiety.
Using Toys as a Reward
Simpson: At my clinic, we have found that toys play a significant
role in addressing and managing separation anxiety. This problem behavior surfaces
when the person or persons to whom the dog is attached leave the environment.
Often the dog becomes anxious and pants, paces, eliminates, excessively salivates,
or destroys objects. One strategy that can help the dog cope is to give the
dog a special distracting toy, such as a food-filled toy or other object, at
the time of departure. When the owner is ready to leave, he or she can offer
the dog this "reward," which becomes something positive that the dog
can associate with departure. In mild cases of separation anxiety, dogs seem
to look forward to the owner leaving so they can get their special treat, thereby
smoothing the transition from when the owner is home to when the owner is gone.4
Landsberg: What other behavioral problems may be improved or
corrected by introducing toys?
Luescher: Rotating toys, as well as providing the pet with
various interactive toys, can help correct hyperactivity in a dog. Interactive
toys might be food-dispensing toys, such as the buster cube, or hollow toys,
such as the Kong toy stuffed with treats. We explain to owners that the dog
should have a couple of toys that it really likes always available to play with
but then to occasionally rotate new toys into the routine.
Landsberg: How might toys also be used to improve the physical
health and well-being of dogs?
Horwitz: Unfortunately, many dogs have serious dental disease,
which can be somewhat avoided if they have access to chew toys designed to keep
tartar off the teeth. Thus, there are two basic benefits of chew toys: The dog
fulfills its innate mouthing behavior, and the toys are instrumental in preventing
dental disease. Similarly, enriching the environment by taking the dog for a
walk allows the dog to engage in exploration, can help control obesity, and
is beneficial if the dog has arthritis. The dog needs to engage in a certain
amount of activity to keep the muscles strong, and walks and interactive playtime
are therefore beneficial to the animal's health. In addition, it strengthens
the human-animal bond and is enjoyable for the pet and owner alike. Thus, through
all these avenues, the owner is not only enhancing the health of the animal
but also improving the overall environment.
Simpson: An animal's response to play or toys can also serve as a marker of the general health of the animal. We can monitor the animal's health status using play as a "bioassay" in the same way that we monitor its eating, drinking, or elimination habits. For example, something may be amiss if a dog uncharacteristically refuses to play with its favorite toy. Owners need to be advised to let their veterinarian know if there is a change in the interactive or play behavior of their pet.
Neilson: Toys may also be used to offset cognitive decline
in animals. Studies in humans have looked at how elderly people who are active
and engage in social activities are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Thus, environmental enrichment using puzzle toys, long walks, or novel stimuli
may also prevent cognitive decline in senior dogs.
Landsberg: Preliminary studies conducted in a laboratory environment
indicate that old dogs subjected to enrichment activities and new tasks or tricks
learned better than their counterparts that were not exposed to an enriched
environment. Such an environment apparently has a strong effect on maintaining
cognitive function and slowing cognitive decline. How might enrichment enhance
the development of young animals?
Luescher: Although the topic is tot) comprehensive to be covered
completely in this forum, it is quite amazing that enrichment has broad effects
on the speed of development, amount of aggressiveness displayed, prevention
of behavioral problems, and avoidance of anxiety or stress in the daily life
of young dogs. For example, puppies start to develop their senses at about 3
weeks of age and their senses improve until they reach about 14 weeks of age.
Animals exposed to enriched environments during that time frame are more capable
of learning later in life, develop their sensory abilities more completely,
both perceive and receive greater stimulation from their environment, have increased
resistance to some diseases, and cope with stress better.
Using Play as a Training Tool
Landsberg: What play activities can be used for training?
Luescher: As we already mentioned, one of the most important
activities in a dog's environment is the interaction between dog and owners.
To control or treat many behavioral problems, we institute a very regimented
training program and encourage consistent interaction in a commandresponse-reward
format. This approach increases predictability and reduces stress.
Horwitz: Many dogs prefer an opportunity to engage in^ new
and novel tasks. Thus, owners can use playtime as, training sessions: Play and
training are not mutually exclusive. When owners throw a toy to their dog.and
then ask the dog to drop it, they are in essence engaging in a training exercise.
Dogs also enjoy identifying a toy with a name. For example, if the owner says, "Go get Mr. Hamburger" or "Go get your chew toy," most dogs love to search for the specific toy, find it, and bring it back. Thus, this type of exercise has a training component that involves mental stimulation and alertness as well as physical activity.
Luescher: Independent of toys, training in itself represents
a great form of enrichment.
Landsberg: Definitely. Training is both an essential component
of preventing behavior and an important component of any treatment program.
Training must be reinforcement based. To get started, the owners must be able
to direct the pet into displaying the appropriate response so that the reward
can be given. Although there are a variety of opinions as to what might best
be used to motivate dogs, toys can be used as both lures and rewards to encourage
the pet to learn and obey commands. How might interactive play with toys affect
the human-animal bond?
Horwitz: I believe the bond is frequently broken because of
a pet's behavior. Often, that behavior is not atypical of a species but nevertheless
is undesirable to the owners. Play
activities can redirect some normal behaviors into more acceptable outlets. There is ample evidence that behavioral problems are linked to pet relinquishment: Up to 40% of dogs are relinquished to shelters because of owner complaints about the dog's behavior. Improving the interactions between people and pets and redirecting normal behaviors toward appropriate outlets therefore can improve the human-animal bond.
Luescher: On the other hand, the interaction has to be appropriate
and predictable. Some owners are constantly interacting with their dogs but
the result is not positive because the continuous interactions are actually
very stressful for the dog.
Horwitz: Yes, it is also important to set boundaries for play
activities and petowner interactions so that the best results are obtained
for both the owner and the pet.
Landsberg: Often relinquishment of a pet leads to euthanasia,
which is the most drastic result of poor bonding. A study conducted in western
Canada indicated that 11% to 13% of dogs were euthanized in veterinary clinics
because of behavioral problems. That statistic is in itself startling, but what
Lmust also be considered is the owner who retains the pet [with a behavioral
problem. Behavioral problems are likely to considerably weaken the bond or attachment
between owner and pet and, as a result, the level of care and veterinary attention
the pet receives may be greatly reduced.
Horwitz: Thus, inappropriate interactions between owners and
their pets and the need for appropriate veterinary intervention to correct them
actually become an animal welfare issue. If a pet does not live in a predictable
and safe environment, its welfare suffers tremendously.
Luescher: Unfortunately, most owners do not seek veterinary
advice on how to deal with a destructive or aggressive behavior. In some instances,
however, the behavior may not be overly inappropriate but simply annoying to
the owner who over time allows its impact to become more troublesome. The public
therefore needs to be educated on how effective behavior modification can be
and needs to consult with a veterinarian.
Landsberg: Although we need to consider the consequences of
poor bonding, we are fortunate that most owners enjoy pet ownership and are
constantly working to improve the bond. Healthy interactions can foster physical
and mental well-being for both the owners and the pet while the result of poor
bonding often leads to poor care and euthanasia. If an owner has a pet with
a behavioral problem and needs advice or counseling, what is an appropriate
course of action?
Neilson: Owners should be advised to contact their veterinarian,
who is their most reliable resource. If a veterinarian
does not feel comfortable dealing with a particular behavioral problem, he or she can rely on a referral network of behavioral specialists.
Simpson: In addition to addressing the behavioral problem,
the general practitioner can rule out any medical problem that might be responsible
for secondary behavioral misconduct. For example, pain, cognitive dysfunction,
or separation anxiety are medical realities that can be medically controlled
at a general practice level.
Landsberg: I likewise recommend that the veterinarian be the
first resource in determining the appropriate course of action, whether that
be medical advice, behavioral advice, or referral to the appropriate resource.
In some cases, the best option might be referral to a behaviorist, while for
some problems a few sessions with a trainer or some reading material might be
the best course of action.
Horwitz: Although most problem behaviors can be addressed effectively
by implementing training, environmental enrichment, and play activities, some
behaviors may be so severe that more direct consultation is needed to successfully
realize behavior modification. Thus, practitioners need to understand that there
are some problems that may require more than just training and need direct intervention
on the part of a board-certified specialist who is specifically knowledgeable
about a particular behavioral problem.
Luescher: Possibly we need to reemphasize that enrichment,
training, and toys are only a part of the whole package of behavior modification,
particularly when dealing with more severe behavioral problems.
Landsberg: There are many techniques and approaches that can
be employed to resolve problem behaviors, one of which is environmental enrichment.
Likewise, there are different treatment protocols for behavioral problems, one
of which is providing an environment that is conducive to success. However,
these are only tools and need to be coordinated into an overall behavior modification
program that is designed to meet the individual personality and needs of each
dog while fostering a healthy human-animal bond.
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