Treating Behavior Problems in Dogs
Over the last two decades, the role of the
domestic dog has undergone significant change. Dogs who used to live in a house
with family members around all day, every day-and who had a big backyard in
which to play and chase rabbits-may find themselves in an empty house 8 to 10
hours a day and being taken on a leash to a place to eliminate. Some dogs have
a difficult time adjusting to this lifestyle, and many behavior problems occur
because dogs are on their own and entertaining themselves inside the house.
Other problems arise because dogs are more intimate members of the family than
they were before and share closer quarters with their human families. Still
other problems occur because of the difficulty dogs have adapting their natural
behavior’s to the limited environment of the modern urban home.
Behavior problems arising from the limitations imposed by the modern urban
environment can be complex and difficult to treat. Anxiety is often a factor.
In such situations, medication can help with treatment success.
Is Medication Necessary?
Some pet parents don’t want to give their dog behavioral medication. They’re
not comfortable treating behavior issues with drugs and would rather resolve
the problem through training and behavior modification. This reaction is
understandable. However, some problems can be resolved more quickly and with
less distress (for the dog and the pet parent) if behavior medication is added
to the treatment plan.
In an ideal world, the most effective approach to treating a behavior
problem is behavior change training. Behavior modification treatments designed
by knowledgeable, qualified professionals treat the problem behavior by either
changing the dog’s perception of a situation or a thing, by changing the
consequence of the dog’s behavior, by giving the dog an acceptable behavior to
do in place of the problem behavior, or by a combination of these things.
(Please see our article, Finding Professional
Help, for help choosing and locating a qualified expert in your area.)
However, with many problem behaviors related to fear, medication is
necessary to reduce the dog’s fear to a level that allows treatment to begin.
Please see our article, Desensitization
and Counterconditioning for information about these effective treatments
that are commonly used for fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.
Can Medication Be Used Instead of Behavior Modification?
Behavioral medication alone isn’t usually effective for resolving a behavior
problem. For the dog, medication serves to make a situation tolerable but not
necessarily acceptable. Behavior modification can then be used to make the
situation acceptable. For instance, if a dog is afraid of thunder storms,
medication can ease the dog’s fear enough that he can tolerate the storm and
undergo the counterconditioning necessary to treat his fear. But it’s the
counterconditioning that helps him overcome his fear. In addition, many dogs
can develop behavior habits because of a problem that requires medication. The
medication can help the core problem, but behavior modification is still
necessary to treat the accompanying behavior habits.