Top Ten Pet Behavior Myths All Veterinarians Should Know (Part 2)
Here’s Part 2 of my take on Dr. Valerie Tynes’ great pet behavior myth-busting article, "10 life-threatening behavior myths." For a much lengthier take on each of the issues described below, and in the previous post, be sure to read the entire thing.
"See how guilty he looks? He knows what he did was wrong."
This one makes me crazy. But how to convince an owner that the dog hasn’t made the connections they so fervently believe he has?
"The fact is, pet owners need to be taught that dogs make associations between events that consistently occur in association with each other. Punishing a dog for something that it did even a few minutes ago (no matter how the dog is acting) does not teach the dog what you don't want it to do. It teaches the dog that people are to be feared."
"If you use treats to train a dog, they'll always be needed to get the dog to obey your commands."
No dog is that stupid. Not even my Slumdog. That is, he’ll keep doing the one or two things he’s learned right on cue, as long as even once out of twenty times he manages to gain a morsel from it.
"The fact is, when used appropriately, food rewards are an excellent and effective way to teach a dog new behaviors. Once a dog learns a behavior, these rewards should be used intermittently. One of the more common mistakes a pet owner makes is to think that a dog knows a behavior long before it actually does."
"Dogs chase their tails because they are bored."
If only boredom could explain the complex calculus behind any behavior, I, for one, would be grateful. Unfortunately, dogs are like people in this regard. As Dr. T notes:
"The fact is, the cause of repetitive behaviors can be a complicated combination of physiological, environmental, and learned factors."
"Any trainer can handle all behavior problems."
Here’s one she handled beautifully:
"Sending a dog with a behavior problem to the wrong person can be as dangerous as not recommending any treatment. Not all trainers and behaviorists are the same. Explain to your clients that anyone can call himself a behaviorist or a trainer without having any education in the field. Making the wrong choice can have potentially devastating consequences to their pets' health and well-being.
"The fact is, veterinarians must do thorough research before referring a client to a trainer or behaviorist. Sending an animal to an inappropriate trainer can exacerbate behavior problems and may have serious consequences."
And wow, have I seen some seriously messed up pets post "trainer" interactions.
"I don't have time for behavior cases."
You might find this shocking but a large percentage of veterinarians believe this to be the case. Here’s Dr. T’s assessment:
"This misconception seems to stem from the belief that adding behavior services to a practice means blocking off two-or three-hour appointments to diagnose and treat behavior problems, which is simply not practical. However, the role that general practitioners can play is important but does not require that kind of time commitment. It does, however, require a basic knowledge of animal behavior and learning theory, which sadly, most veterinary schools still fail to teach."
Yet, as she so sagely concludes:
"The fact is, [veterinarians] are in the best position to recognize behavior problems early and encourage owners to seek qualified help."
No doubt about it. But will her assertions — however vehement — be enough to change the face of clinical practice? All by themselves, not likely. Luckily, however, we seem to be trending towards a greater openness regarding the role of behavior medicine in general practice. More conferences for hosting symposiums and more local continuing education are available to keep us non-behaviorists on the right track.
So what do you think? Can you get behind her brand of myth-busting, or are you still sticking to your guns on some of these?
Dr. Patty Khuly