Some of the most frequently asked questions I receive in my practice relate to behavior problems in dogs and cats. Behavior problems take in a wide array of issues from aggression to house soiling.
Aggression is of course a concern because it can cause serious injury to humans and other animals. There are documented cases of pets attacking, seriously injuring, and even killing people. While human deaths are rare even one is too many, especially considering that they really are completely preventable.
The most important aspect of preventing aggression problems is responsible pet ownership. Keeping your pet on a leash is the single most important aspect of keeping your pet and others safe. Even if your pet is trustworthy you cannot trust other dogs. Dog parks, where pets are off leash, and doggie day cares, that comingle pets, are areas where there will be a problem at some point. Dogs are pack animals and as such must establish a social hierarchy. Establishing that social hierarchy will result in conflict, some of those conflicts will result in bloodshed. Even if you have comingled your dog with strange dogs before, no given day is the same. At any given time, with even one new dog those will pets will need to establish a new social strata that will result in new conflict, and the possibility for injury for your, or someone else’s pet.
What do you do however if you keep your dog on leash and it is still difficult to handle? One of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal to train pets is the Gentle Leader Collar. The Gentle Leader is a training collar that goes around the muzzle and the back of the dog’s head. These are natural pressure points that show the pet that we are the ones in charge, not them. For example if your pet was in a pack of feral dogs the Alpha Dog would place his or her mouth over the muzzle or the back of the neck of a subordinate to show them that they must submit to the wishes of that individual. Your pet may not respond well to the Gentle Leader that first time it is put on, because he or she may resent you communicating to them that you are the alpha individual. This is similar to a teenager not responding favorably to new rules that are imposed on them if they have not been expected to respect authority previously. I recommend that when first purchasing a Gentle Leader that you come to your veterinary clinic and have the collar fitted to make sure that it is an appropriate size and that you know how to put it on, as it can be confusing to put on the first time. An added advantage to fitting at your clinic is that if your dog goes through a tantrum, you have the assistance of the clinic’s staff to help guide you through it.
There is no need to despair if you have pet with behavior problems. Help is available and it is only as far as your family veterinarian.