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Healthy Pets

Does Your Pet Need Therapy?

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

If you think your dog or cat has some bad habits, you’re not alone. “Ten to 15 percent of owners say that they have pet behavior issues,” says certified applied animal behaviorist Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, science adviser to the ASPCA.

But does your animal need therapy? Yes, if his behavior puts him or others in danger.

“Any time the safety or well-being of either the pet or human is in question, a professional should be brought in to determine the best course of action,” says certified dog behavior consultant Michael Shikashio. “It doesn't have to be as severe as aggression. An animal exhibiting 'quirky' behavior like excessive tail-chasing [could] be suffering from underlying issues.”

The first step is seeing your veterinarian. There may be an underlying medical issue that needs to be treated. If you decide to meet with a certified pet behavior professional, be prepared to really work with your animal to get the problem corrected.

“A pet owner shouldn't expect a quick fix,” Shikashio says.

These are some of the behavior issues common in cats and dogs:

Aggression

There are several reasons why a pet may become aggressive: He may be protective of his home or family; possessive of his food, bed or toys; fearful; or feel a need to be dominant.

In dogs, signs of aggression include growling, showing the teeth, charging, barking, snarling, snapping, nipping, and biting.

Going for a walk in the neighborhood provides so much stimulation in some dogs that it makes them feel more alert and aggressive. These are dogs that may benefit from "growl" classes, or reactive dog classes.

In these sessions, behaviorists put together two to four dogs in a controlled situation, to teach them social skills, Zawistowski says. The dogs and their owners are under strict supervision and given plenty of space. Each dog is slowly trained to be able to get closer to the other dogs without showing signs of aggression. These classes can help your pooch become more comfortable whenever other dogs or people are around. This will lead to more enjoyable walks for everyone.

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