Each year, around 7.6 million dogs and cats are turned over to animal shelters nationwide, making up around one-third of the populations of those shelters, according to an ASPCA study in the Open Journal of Animal Sciences. A body of evidence is growing around what traits those relinquished pets have in common.
According to the ASPCA, most relinquished animals are said to “exhibit undesirable behavior.” The sad thing is many pet owners may not know that the “undesirable behavior” they are seeing is a result of how their pet is being cared for, or was cared for in the past. Those pets who were sent back to the shelter also tended to be housed outside or spend their day in a crate, were less likely to be taken to a veterinarian, were often ill or have an injury, and had a history of medical and behavioral issues.
So many pet owners hopefully take home a shelter dog only to learn its past life is still haunting it. But scientific insight into behavioral modification could help them understand and correct past traumas in their pets, instead of giving them up.
The most effective dog behavior modification methods center around positive reinforcement and engaging the animal. These methods require time and consistency but can be easily learned with a small investment — and advice from you.
Share Your Expertise
As a trusted expert and a key advocate for your animal patients, it’s important to encourage your clients to use evidence-based practices for dog behavior modification, particularly if their last resort might be turning the pet back to a shelter.
Research shows that dogs can experience hyper-arousal, depression, or obsessive/compulsive behavior when they are not given enrichment. Walks, social interactions, and food games using treats are all important ways to provide that enrichment. Positively reinforcing behavior with attention and treats, or using second-order reinforcers like a phrase or a clicker that lets the pet know a reward is coming, can be easily be implemented.
As pet owners’ resident animal-whisperer, you are not just a medical expert but a behavioral one too. Consider preparing an FAQ sheet with guidance on how to modify behavior or promote good behavior. This could be a helpful resource for pet owners to take home and refer to.
Send Them Home With Goodies
Consider working with trusted brands and stocking relevant products that might improve enrichment and avoid negative behaviors. A vet who recommends products that change the lives of the pet and pet owner becomes an invaluable partner for customers.
For example, Danish manufacturer KRUUSE has a number of products that can promote good behavior by providing enrichment, creating opportunities for social interaction, and tiring out the dog. Sometimes dog behavior modification is that simple. Their BUSTER Food Cube requires the dog to figure out how to get the treat out of the hole on one of the six sides, while allowing the animal to chew and exert energy in the process.
These innovations in animal health and pet care are game changers for pet owners, and a veterinarian’s knowledge of safe, durable, and engaging products for pets can separate a practice from competitors.