This role comes into play when a pet’s behavior problems go beyond undesirable or unruly behaviors. For some unwanted behaviors such as pulling on the leash, jumping on people, or counter surfing, positive reinforcement training with a qualified or credentialed trainer will help the dog learn to choose and perform more acceptable behaviors.The pets that I work with are those that have a more serious behavioral disorder which is similar to what we would think of as a mental illness in a person. Examples would be fear and anxiety disorders of all types including Noise Phobia and Separation Anxiety, compulsive behaviors and disorders causing aggression. I also work with cats who suffer from fear or anxiety that can lead to aggressive behaviors and on house soiling problems which are a common cause of cats being turned into shelters and rescues.My first job is to rule out medical causes for these behaviors.Illnesses that cause discomfort such as arthritis, a urinary tract infection, an ear infection or nervous system disorders such as seizures may cause abnormal behaviors and require treatment before behavior achieved. If a medical cause is ruled out and a behavioral diagnosis is made; some of my patients will benefit from anti-anxiety supplements or medications.If medications are indicated; they should not be thought of as a badge of shame, instead they should be considered humane!Behavior Drugs can act like pain medication for the brain. Dogs suffering from intense anxiety or fear need relief from suffering just as a dog with a broken bone needs relief from suffering from bone pain. Medications alone never cure behavior disorders but they can help relieve anxiety, help change emotional responses, and help prepare an animal’s mind for learning new behaviors. Dogs cannot learn in states of great fear and anxiety and if severely affected, medication must start before training will be effective.A big part of my job is to help a pet’s family understand why their dog might be acting the way it does.Understanding the causes and motivation behind abnormal behaviors can open up a new understanding between dogs and humans.
Once we have a diagnosis of the behavior problem, medication has reduced the anxiety and suffering, and we have created a new understanding and communication system between the pet and caregivers; the dog is ready to learn!This is then the perfect time to team up with an excellent positive reinforcement trainer, who is skilled in marker-reward based clicker training, to teach the dog new and more desirable behaviors.The team collaboration between veterinarians and professional dog trainers can be wonderful and together we can help pet caregivers and their pets in much bigger ways than either profession can do alone.Behavioral medicine is a relatively recent development in veterinary care, isn’t it? Can you talk about your training and how you developed that interest?I am a 1990 DVM graduate of Purdue University and became board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Canine and Feline Practice in 1998 and recertified in 2008. Unfortunately animal behavior and behavior medicine was not taught as part of my veterinary curriculum.Sadly today, very few veterinary schools include behavior medicine in their programs. It is leaving a huge void in the profession but that is hopefully in the process of changing.I struggled for a quite some time to help my clients with their behavior questions without any real training. Finally I decided to pursue more education in veterinary behavior medicine. This was about the time that the amazing Dr. Sophia Yin, both a Veterinarian and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (or CAAB), was creating huge waves of change in veterinary medicine by empowering every veterinarian, to use more patient friendly handling techniques to ease the fear of the veterinary visit.Dr. Yin also started to create amazing and easily accessible resources for veterinarians in all fields of practice to become more knowledgeable about animal behavior.Dr. Yin brought veterinary behavior to every veterinarian so that even at the general practice level, we could provide behavioral care and information on prevention as well as the treatment of behavior problems.Dr. Yin gave the entire world an awareness of how important behavior health is to the complete health and welfare of an animal. She was truly a trailblazer and world changer. Sadly we lost Dr. Yin to suicide in Sept. 2014. Despite her brilliance, this is an all too common tragedy in the world of veterinary medicine. Her loss is immeasurable but she inspired so many to carry on her mission.Because of Dr. Yin’s inspiration and example, I began to seek out more educational opportunities in veterinary behavior medicine. I attended and graduated from North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) Veterinary Behavior Institute in 2013 taught by the world renowned Veterinary Behavior Specialists Dr. Karen Overall of the USA, Dr. Kirst