Is Your Dog Behaving Abnormally ?

There are a lot of perceived health problems that a pet dog experiences, and most of these are due to either behaviour issues or preconceived expectations. Your veterinarian should be able to get a behavioural history before coming up with a verdict. This behavioural history usually includes:

  • The age, sex and dog breed.
  • The age at which the condition was detected.
  • How long the condition has been around.
  • Accurate behaviour description.
  • The regularity of the problematic behaviour i.e. hourly, daily, monthly.
  • The length of a typical episode.
  • Alteration in patterns, frequency, length and intensity of episodes.
  • Remedial actions taken and corresponding response.
  • Any actions that caused the behaviour to stop e.g. falling asleep.
  • The daily schedule of both owner and dog, and any variations to it.
  • The family history of the dog i.e. the parents or littermates have the same problems or not.
  •  Any other relevant information from the dog owner.

Modern animal care incorporates regular vetting questions about particular behavioural complaints, such as unsuitable or poor chewing habits, growling, or peculiar behaviour. It also involves routine questions that keep your veterinarian aware of any possible health problems. This habitual screening helps create what a standard for your dog.

It is quite difficult to make an accurate diagnosis based on a one-off event. Therefore, it is prudent for pet owners to fill in a questionnaire on every visit to shed light on the pattern of the dog’s behaviour. It then becomes possible for your veterinarian to then determine whether the signs displayed (barking, growling, lunging) constitute a pattern that meets particular diagnostic criterion. You and your veterinarian should make use of the same definitions for the same nonspecific signs, while also clearly noticing and describing problematic behavioural patterns.

Showing your veterinarian videos of your dog’s behaviour can assist in making a precise diagnosis. The questionnaire you fill in is a subjective document i.e. it is dependent on your viewpoint and description of situations. However, when a video is introduced into the equation, it makes it easier in the diagnosis of any problem. By recognising the elements that cause or precipitate the troubling behaviour, it becomes possible to avoid situations that cause it. The videotape simply allows both you and your veterinarian to review the troubling behaviour and work on treating the condition.

Detecting and Outlining the Problem

Outlined below is a summary of terms that are generally referred to when analysing behaviour;

An abnormal behaviour is behaviour that is bizarre and not useful in any way.

Aggression in animals can be referred to as something that is linked to danger or attack. Numerous forms of aggressive behaviour exist in animals, for example territorial defence, predatory assault, and normal aggression between males. Such acts might involve biting, growling, and scratching.

Anxiety is when there is expectation that something dangerous will occur, followed by tension-filled behaviour e.g. alertness, restlessness, and tense muscles. The trigger can either be internal or external.

Conflict is said to occur when an animal feels multiple emotions or wants to perform more than one activity at the same time. A good example is when a dog wants to draw near to a person to get a treat, but is fears the person and is afraid to get closer. The stimulus of the conflict is difficult to pin-point, except in dire situations linked to survival instincts e.g. eating).

Displacement activity is the settling of a conflict by doing a somewhat irrelevant action. When a dog feels conflicted between sex and aggression or between aggression and fear, it will resolve the conflict by performing an activity that seems out of place. Good examples include grooming, eating, scratching, and sleeping.

Dominance denotes rivalry over limited resources e.g. competing for food, a favourite toy, or a suitable place to lie down. A senior animal can dislodge a lower-ranking one away from the resource. Controlling the available resources is how rank or hierarchy is generally established. A dominant animal doesn’t always engage in fighting, so this criterion cannot be used to identify them. In fact, most senior animals in the hierarchy are identified by the subservient behaviour displayed toward them by others in their group.

Fear is an emotion linked to worrying about an object, individual, or social situation. It is just part of normal behaviour and is reliant on the context in order to determine whether it is abnormal or not. For example, aeroplanes are useful transportation machines, and being scared of a plane crash is normal. However, the fear of travelling using a plane is simply irrational. In the case that this fear becomes continuous or recurring, it would most likely be considered an abnormal behaviour. There is a variation in the intensity of normal and abnormal fears. As the actual or imagined proximity to the trigger or cause of the fear increases, the level of fear also rises.

Frustration comes about when a dog is not able to perform an action due to physical or psychological impediments. Just like dominance, this term is an overused cliché that is usually undefined, meaning it isn’t really useful when diagnosing a behaviour problem.

Most responses based on fear are learned and can thus be unlearned, though gradually. On the other hand, Phobias are deep and rapidly developed fear-based responses that do not easily dissipate, regardless of systematic exposure to the source or even over a long time. A phobia brings about an immediate, all-or-nothing, intense, uncharacteristic response, whose end result is panic. They usually develop rapidly, with minimal variation between episodes. Fear usually forms slowly over time, and there tends to be varied intensity within one episode. This is unlike a phobic reaction, which tends to have a constant intensity of the fearful behaviour. The moment a phobic event has been experienced, any other event related to it or the memory of it is enough to trigger a reaction. Even when there is no re-exposure, for example using a shock collar on a dog, phobias can still maintain or surpass their previous high level for years. Phobic conditions are either completely avoided, and if this is not possible, they are endured with extreme anxiety or anguish. There are some dog breeds that are genetically predisposed to some of these responses.

Stereotypic behaviours are constant or repetitive actions that serve no particular use or function. They are usually products of simple normal behaviour, like grooming, feeding, or walking. They are considered abnormal behaviours due to the fact that they hinder the ordinary performance of the animal.

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