Teddy has had quite a few health problems since he was a puppy and has visited specialist veterinarians regularly for both medical and surgical problems. He is adored by his family and has a wonderful relationship with them.
There is one thing Teddy does not like to share with his family though - his bed or any location he rests in. This problem developed gradually, and he first began to show aggression when sleeping on his parents’ bed. The week that I saw him, an incident had occurred. While Teddy was sleeping in his parents’ bed, his dad had approached to check on him. Unfortunately, Teddy saw this as a threat and bit his dad on the lips. His dad required plastic surgery (which has since healed nicely) and they were worried by the situation.
During my visit, I assessed Teddy’s behaviour, personalities, preferences, his relationship with his family and the environment he lives in. I also reviewed his medical history and performed a physical examination to determine whether his health conditions have contributed to the problem. Teddy was lovely and very cooperative with the assessment. He was so eager to learn and work with me. I determined that the problem was unlikely to be due to a medical condition and as such, Teddys’ treatment plan involved working on understanding his needs and minimising conflicts.
I created a behaviour modification plan and Teddy’s parents worked very hard to implement it. When I saw them again, they said there had been no more aggressive episodes, and they felt much more confident that people will be safe around Teddy. I am sharing Teddy’s story because there are a few things we can learn from it:
An aggressive dog is not a bad dog:
Aggression is one way that dogs express what they need. Most dogs that bite, in my experience, are not truly aggressive. Often their aggression is triggered by fear or anxiety, or ongoing conflicts with other animals or people. In Teddy’s case, he was fearful of losing something that he valued very highly - his resting place. He had no desire to share it with anyone and that is completely reasonable. As such, I designed a treatment plan based upon his needs to reduce his desire to use aggression to express his needs.
Not all pets that see a behaviour vet get given medications:
Anti-anxiety medications are backed by extensive research and have improved significantly over the years. In many cases, they are an important tool used by behaviour veterinarians to treat mental illness when it is diagnosed. However, as a veterinarian that practices animal behaviour specifically, I spend a great deal of time studying other tools and approaches for managing behaviour problems when mental illness is not diagnosed.
Committed pet owners make a lot of difference:
Behavioural problems in pets can be very damaging to the human-animal bond. Seeking professional help early will significantly increase success when implementing behaviour modification plans. Time and dedication to the plan are also crucial, and in Teddy’s case, paid off well.