does your dog have a behavior issue?

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Sep 15 2014

In the course of any dog’s life, little (or big) behavior hiccups are bound to happen. Whether it’s a problem with crate training, chewing, aggression or just a lapse in social graces, problems like these are best nipped in the bud. But who is the best person for the job?

There are two main avenues available: dog trainers and animal behavior specialists. The best choice for your pet will depend on his or her specific problem. The very best place to start is at your regular veterinarian’s office. There, you can fill your vet in on the problem at hand and get her advice as to where to go next. Often, your regular veterinarian can offer you advice that fixes the problem, but if she can’t she’ll refer you to the best person for your dog.

So often, behavior problems have an underlying medical cause. Pain, fears, anxieties and compulsions can lead a dog to do all kinds of weird stuff, from trashing the house when you’re not home to suddenly starting fights with another four legged housemate. Problems that you may think are strictly “bad dog” behavior may actually be something much more complicated.

That’s what makes behavior problems such a sticky wicket, and it’s the number one reason why I think you should head to your vet for advice before heading to the internet to find the nearest dog trainer.

The business of dog training is booming right now, and I bet your town has multiple dog trainers ready and willing to offer you some advice regarding your dog’s behavior problem. But here’s the thing—dog trainers have zero training in veterinary medicine, and for them to offer up any kind of diagnosis for your pet’s problem (separation anxiety, fear aggression, etc), they would be practicing veterinary medicine without a license. And that’s not cool.

Dog trainers do have a very important role to play in your dog’s behavior, though. I whole heartedly believe that every dog should have at least basic obedience training, starting with puppy kindergarten to socialize pups and going through adolescence to teach good manners. Dog trainers are perfect for these types of lessons.

Beware, though. Dog trainers employ different methods to get their points across, and not all of them are good for your dog. Interview trainers before you start training sessions and be sure their methods are gentle and their teaching style works with positive rewards for good behavior. Harsh treatment should play no role in your pet’s training, regardless of your dog’s breed or size.

If your pet has an underlying medical condition, including phobias, anxieties or aggression, she will need the help of a veterinarian. If your regular vet doesn’t feel comfortable addressing your pet’s problem, he or she might recommend a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior. This means that in addition to veterinary school, a residency in animal behavior was completed, making the referral doctor board certified to practice animal behavior.

An animal behavior specialist will be able to diagnose and treat your pet, usually employing a combination of behavior modification techniques and oral medications (if necessary). There are many occasions, however, where a dog trainer can help in cases like this. Once a diagnosis is made and behavior modification exercises are recommended, a trainer can help you carry out these exercises.

If you need help with training exercises like sit, stay, come, play dead, or the like, a dog trainer would be perfect. But if your dog’s behavior problems are a bit more serious than that, it’s time to ask your vet for some advice. Behavior problems tend to escalate over time and are easiest to address in the early stages, so don’t delay—the sooner you make the call, the sooner you and your pooch will be back on the road to good manners.