Can Your Dog Really Help His Bad Behavior?
When you feel under the weather or have a disease of any nature, other people notice it. Your behavior, attitude, body language, and facial expressions change. Your friends may tell you “You are not your usual self.” You may feel nervous in certain situations, irritable even aggressive and you may also make mistakes that you would not normally make – plus other behaviors can emerge that you have never had before. This can be the same for your dog.
Let’s take one common behavior problem – housebreaking. There is nothing that owners get more frustrated with than their dog soiling the house. When presented by this problem I ask questions about the dog’s age and previous cleanliness record. Soiling the house can occur for a number of reasons but if a dog suddenly begins to do this or is urinating many times in small quantities, I always suggest taking an early morning sample and getting it to the vet for analysis. Kidney problems, urinary tract infections and other diseases can create excessive and irregular urination. In addition Female puppies can have an inverted vulva, which is difficult to clean and gets an infection that creates irritation making them want to urinate more often. Whatever the reason for the infection we cannot expect to change the dog’s behavior if he/she cannot help it.
When I ask questions and indicate a visit to their vet may be a good idea. often my clients tell me that the dog has just been to the vet and he checked him over. This however will have taken the form of a general check over. If you have not told the vet that you have a behavior problem they will not know to look for specific causes. To identify certain diseases and in this case irregular urination, tests will need to be made of samples from the dog. This is a simple analysis however in some instances of behavior change you may require more detailed information obtained from X-rays and MRIs. The important part to remember is your vet cannot or will not know how to help unless you tell him the problems you are encountering.
Lets have a look at some of the problems I have seen, just to give you an idea of what behavior changing ‘diseases’ your dog could experience – I repeat “could”. So don’t panic!
Your dog can encounter hormonal imbalance and we are seeing an increase in thyroid abnormalities in some breeds of dog. With today’s technology we do have the advantage of being able to identify these abnormalities much more easily and conveniently. Fearfulness, aggression, and altered brain function can be just some of the results of what is caused usually by hypothyroid disease. And this is not easy to detect even with a full Thyroid panel taken. I personally had a young pup that tested normal, but she was loosing coat and just not acting as I expected. You know when your dog is not quite right. The Thyroid panel taken (baseline screening T4) showed to be in the normal range.. A discussion with a good friend who is an excellent nutritionalist (Wendy Volhard http://www.volharddognutrition.com/about-volhard-dog-nutrition.html), who has vast experience both in training, behavior and physical causes of bad behavior, advised me to change the pups diet and to ask my vet if he would consider a low dose thyroid medication. (However before this you could also ask vet to expand the thyroid panel, before a thyroid drug trial. Such a trial can have hyperthyroid effects if there really is normal thyroid function). My vet agreed and recommended a low dose, which improved the pups condition dramatically over two weeks. It can happen to any of us, and with the most healthy looking pups and dogs.
A previous client of ours was experiencing aggression problems with her little female cocker. Comprehensive tests and examinations ultimately showed her to have a tumor on one of her ovaries. Speying resulted in a completely rehabilitated dog with the help of a additional training. There is no doubt that diabetes, testicular and ovarian cancers can certainly affect behavior
Parasites can create internal disorders and these are often the prime cause of behavior changes. Therefore regular worming for parasites is essential especially heartworm. It has not been uncommon for me to notice a client’s dog has tapeworm when they come in for Board and Train. The owners did not realize there was an infestation because either they had not made an effort to pick up the feces immediately, or the dog had defecated in bushes where they never saw it. Tapeworm is easily identified. It shows mainly first thing in the morning where it can be seen quite clearly as what looks like moving white rice grains in the feces. Some breeds can experience chronic bowel syndrome, pancreatitis and have food allergies. In fact, we are seeing more allergies today than ever before, allergies that create skin problems and internal disorders. The resulting discomfort once more creates behavior changes and these can be quite unpleasant behaviors. One dog we worked with had severe skin allergies and as a result had become very aggressive due to not wishing to be touched.
Heart problems, Bacterial and Viral diseases and certainly stress also play a part in affecting a dogs behavior as especially does pain which can be the result of many diseases and physical problems. Pain and discomfort felt by your dog is probably the most common reason for unwanted behavior. I started off this short article by saying we do not behave as we normally would when we are feeling ‘under the weather’ or in pain. Your dog is the same.
Work together with your trainer and your vet to help your dog be the dog you want him to be. Sometimes it is not simply training or behavior modification that is required. It is a healthy, fit dog, and that is where your vet as part of the behavior ‘team’ plays an important part in helping you achieve this.
One of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met and who has educated me on these matters is my good friend Peter Eeg DVM. A more comprehensive article on health and behavior can be found in the International Association of Canine Professionals web site at