If my dog is having behavior problems, are they capable of change?

It depends on the behavior, but a lot of times, the answer is yes. They are capable of change. Dogs are creatures of habit, and so sometimes, the behavior is the result of a habit. What we can do is work to change that habit. Sometimes it's stuff that we don't even realize that we're doing that could be stressing the dog out. Sometimes dogs have things like separation anxiety. Sometimes they're a little nippy. But talking to your veterinarian and really working with a dog trainer or a behaviorist is going to be the best place to start to address these behavioral issues.

Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

When should you start obedience training with your dog?

As soon as you get them is honestly the best time to start. Even if they're a little puppy, that doesn't mean that they can't learn good behavior. They can really help with potty training your dog or housebreaking your dog, getting your dog comfortable and familiar with a crate, if you're going to be gone at work during the day, helping your dog, if they have separation anxiety. Maybe you got your dog from a shelter, and they're a little bit older, but they're struggling with some separation anxiety. Starting with training as soon as you can is really beneficial for a lot of pets.

What are the most common behavior problems in dogs, and how can they be addressed?

I would say the number one that I see here in the clinic is going to be separation anxiety. But we even see some things like aggression, whether it be towards other pets, maybe it's towards food, and you have a food aggressive animal. Sometimes we can see nipping or biting. Sometimes we see inappropriate marking or urination. Sometimes we see mounting or inappropriate behaviors in intact males. So, there's a ton that we do see.

Are any of those able to be addressed by veterinarians?

Some of them are. I think veterinarians really work well hand in hand with dog trainers and behaviorists. Veterinarians are great when it comes to giving you some places to start, some basic tips and tricks. But sometimes the best thing to do is to have a dog trainer come into your house because maybe it's the placement of the crate, or maybe it's the fact that a radio needs to be played or a TV needs to be played while you guys are gone because that helps your dogs settle and stay calm while you're away.

Or maybe it's the placement of the food bowls with the other dogs that a veterinarian not being in your home can't really help you with, but a behaviorist or a dog trainer coming to your home can. But where the veterinarian really comes into play is if it's determined or decided that your pet would really benefit from some medication. We do have a lot of pets that go on medication, whether it be temporary for things like fireworks or thunderstorm anxiety, or maybe they need it long-term because the owner is away every day at work and the pet has severe separation anxiety.

Can behavior issues in my dog ever indicate that they are sick?

Sometimes it can. If you notice a change in their behavior, that would definitely, especially if it's all of a sudden or even gradual with time over a month's time, any change in the behavior that just seems off or peculiar or not like your pet would definitely be a reason to get checked out because maybe it's a sign of pain or discomfort. Maybe they have a bad tooth in their mouth, or maybe they've got something going on that really should be checked out.

What are some behavior problems that may be associated with a medical condition?

If you notice really bad breath, maybe your dog isn't eating as well as they used to, maybe they're getting a little nippy if you're trying to pet them on the face or something like that, that could definitely be an example of behavioral changes due to a medical issue. There are some endocrine-related issues where maybe you notice that your dog is panting a lot more. They seem much more anxious. They're not able to settle down at night or rest comfortably. Maybe they're just constantly shifting or moving. Those would be some behavioral changes that could indicate something going on internally, or maybe they have some issues going on internally.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 518-8303, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Behavior - FAQs

Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

When should my dog start obedience training?

Right away. As soon as you get them. So even if that's a puppy when they're small, that's a great time to start training, or if you adopted an older dog from a shelter, or maybe from a family member, or what have you, any age is the perfect age to start training.

What are the most important, basic commands my dog should know?

My big ones are going to be to sit, to stay, to come. Really the reason being for that is if for some odd reason, you're in a situation and your dog is off-leash and maybe there's a car nearby, having good control with those commands is going to be really safe so that hopefully your pet doesn't run out in front of the car. The last one is going to be to drop it because as a lot of us know, sometimes dogs eat things that they shouldn't and if we can catch them in the act and they can appropriately drop something out of their mouth, it might be the difference between eating something that could kill them and then dropping it out and them living.

How can I socialize my puppy?

Puppies are a little tricky when it comes to socialization from a veterinary perspective. Of course, we want your puppy to experience a lot of stuff because starting them out early with those experiences makes a really big difference for them later on in life. And whether that be an experience to people riding bicycles, or going to a park or being exposed to water at a young age or things like that. The other half of that is making sure that we don't put your puppy at risk for contracting some fairly nasty diseases that could be fatal to them early on in life. And so, what I would urge you to do is to get your pet lots of exposure, but to make sure that you're doing it safely.

So I would avoid dog parks, or maybe even in places like PetSmart or Tractor Supply until they finished their vaccine series so that they don't pick up things like parvo or distemper, or other viruses that could be really, really harmful to them. But if you've got friends who have dogs that are vaccinated and they're healthy, take them over to your friend's house and let them play or take them to just a normal people park and let them see kids, or people riding bikes, or all kinds of fun stuff like that. So take them out there and let them live, just try to do it safely.

Should my dog be punished for bad behavior?

Definitely verbally telling them no and letting them know that what they did is not okay verbally, I think is really important because they need to understand that. But I think what really helps too on the other end of that is when they do something right, making a really big positive deal about that being like, "Yay! You did that right. Here, have a treat, have some positive reinforcement. Yay! You pottied outside. I am so excited for you!" Making it a big deal when they do something right is much more impactful on them than making a big deal when they do something wrong.

Is my dog too old to be trained?

Never. My other dog is 10 years old and this is my favorite story to share for this. They say you can always teach an old dog new tricks, and my husband and I were convinced that our older dog could never learn a new trick. And actually, one of the employees that works here house sat for us for the weekend and taught her three new tricks through the weekend that my husband had been working on one of those for two years with her and could never get her to learn it. So old dogs can learn new tricks and it's never too late to start working with your dog.

What vaccinations are needed for dog training classes?

I would recommend making sure that your pet is for sure up to date on rabies, that's going to be the most important, and then the other ones are going to be really the core vaccines for your area. So every area of the United States is going to have varying core vaccine recommendations. Here in Kentucky, and here in Berea, what I would really recommend is making sure that they're up to date on their distemper, parvo with or without lepto, making sure that they're up to date on bordetella or the kennel cough vaccine. And then lastly, and they're going to be around a lot of other dogs, maybe if you're going to some larger cities like Lexington, Nashville, things like that, making sure that they're up to date on their canine influenza vaccine as well.

What is environmental enrichment and how can it help my dog's behavior?

That's something indoors, making sure that they have plenty of toys to entertain themselves with if you're crating them, making sure that their crate is in a safe area, and maybe you have a special toy that's just for the crate or maybe you put some peanut butter and bananas in a Kong and you freeze it and they get that when they go in their crate for enrichment, or maybe it's playing the TV while you're gone. And then things outside, making sure that they have a safe space outside with plenty of toys that there's not any junk or garbage that they could get into to hurt themselves or anything like that in their outdoor space. And if they are having an outdoor space where they're spending a significant amount of time, making sure that there's access to plenty of clean, freshwater, making sure that if it's in the summer, they have a cool, shady place to get to, to get out of the heat, or if it's in the winter, that they have a warm sheltered place to get into to get out of the cold.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 518-8303, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Behavior - FAQs 2

Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

Why is addressing dog behavior problems early on so important?

As soon as we recognize that there may be a behavioral issue, the faster we can correct that behavior, the better it will be. Just kind of like humans in a sense, dogs are creatures of habit. And so, if they're constantly doing an inappropriate behavior and repeating it over and over, it's much harder to break that cycle of repetition and that habit down the road than it is right when they may be developing it or learning it.

Are certain breeds predisposed to behavior problems?

You know, I would say yes and no. I think any dog can develop any behavioral issue. Do I think that maybe some breeds are more prone to it, in the sense of, are all pit bulls bad? No, not all pit bulls are bad. Are all Dobermans and rottweilers bad? No, they're not all bad. But some dogs instinctively have an internal sense of a job or need to do a job. Many dogs have those requirements as a breed. A Border Collie is a very active, intelligent dog. They need the stimulus to fulfill that need for activity and challenging them and everything like that in terms of their mental capabilities. And so, I think that there are breeds that have needs, and when those needs aren't met, then that could lead to some behavior issues.

Can my dog's behavior problems resolve on their own?

It depends on what we're considering the issue to be. But a lot of times, I would say, if you feel like you're noticing an issue with your pet or they're developing a bad habit, then the best thing to do is to work right away to correct that bad habit.

When should I seek professional help for these dog behavior problems?

If you feel like it's getting out of hand or out of the realm of what you feel like you know to do, or maybe what you've looked up a suggestion on the internet, and you're not getting the results you want, then it's time to step in and either work with a dog behaviorist or a dog trainer. Or sometimes, medication may even be needed for a short period to help correct the behavior.

What can I do to reduce my dog's chances of developing these behavior problems?

Work with them early on with training, whether it be obedience training or just learning some basic commands, and then continually enforcing those commands and ensuring that you and your dog are staying on the same page. But maybe you get with a dog trainer early on, and start that way. But the earlier, the better, and just keeping it up, staying on top of it, and making it's a part of your routine is the best thing you can do.

Can getting my dog spayed or neutered help with their behavior problems?

Spaying or neutering can help with some dogs. Say, if we've got inappropriate marking in a male or inappropriate urination in a male, or humping behavior in a male, sometimes neutering them can help with that. Or even sometimes, we see a little bit of aggression in females that improves after a spay. It depends, but the best thing to do is have a conversation with your veterinarian.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Behavior - FAQs 3

Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

When should I seek professional help for a dog behavior problem?

Suppose you feel like your pet is having an issue at home with their behavior. In that case, many people's first reaction nowadays is to go to Google and maybe have Google make suggestions about resolving that behavior. Perhaps you have experience in the past, and you're just not getting the success you would like, so you may be at the point where we would recommend consulting with a veterinarian and/or a dog trainer behaviorist to help your situation. But sometimes, some things could be considered behavior issues, like maybe your dog is having accidents in the house, which is unusual for them. And we'd consider that a behavioral issue, but perhaps it's medical, and the dog has a urinary tract infection. So if you feel like it's just weird for your pet, then I would schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

How can I tell the difference between a behavior problem and a medical problem?

Your veterinarian's going to be the best help with that. Just like the example that I gave, maybe your dog is having accidents in the house, and it could be because of something like a urinary tract infection, or perhaps they've developed urinary incontinence with age. Your veterinarian is going to be the best one to help you diagnose that. Now let's say they rule everything out and can't find anything wrong with the urinary tract or urinary system and deem it a behavioral problem. They can pull in something like a trainer behaviorist or maybe administer some behavior-modifying medications that could help your pet's situation.

What information will my vet need to know about my dog?

The more information you have, the better. And suppose the behavior is repeated, and you can catch it on video or take pictures of it. In that case, that's super helpful to us because we're not in your home with you, and we're not experiencing a lot of these behaviors with you because the pets don't like to perform the behavior in the clinic for us. And so anything that you can bring to show us is extremely helpful.

What questions should I ask my vet about my dog's behavior?

If you have any concerns, I don't think it's a problem to ask your vet about them, even if you feel like your dog is too active or your dog is having issues where they constantly need to chew their feet. You're not sure if it's because they have an allergy or if it's a behavioral thing. Never be afraid to ask your vet any question that you have a concern about, and they'll be able to do a good thorough physical exam on your pet. They'll perhaps recommend some diagnostics, but then they can also come up with a plan to try to create the best possible outcome for you and your pet.

Is medication a short or long-term solution for my dog's behavior problem?

It really depends on behavior. We use it for both situations. Maybe you have a dog that's terrified of thunderstorms or fireworks on the 4th of July, and we use a short-acting medication that you give as needed for those kinds of situations that freak your dog out, or maybe your dog has separation anxiety. And now that people are starting to go back to work after COVID, they're struggling with that separation anxiety. Perhaps they need to take something every day, long-term. It depends on your pet's situation and their needs.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.