Answering Pet Behavior Questions at Behavior Expert Meeting


SAN DIEGO — Veterinarians attending the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior symposium answered a sampling of my readers’ questions. The groups met in early August in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association’s annual convention.

Q: Hoosier is a very active Terrier, and stubborn. Last weekend, my grandchildren visited. I asked my 12-year-old granddaughter to put Hoosier in his cage when we were going out. Hoosier was sleeping in the corner of the couch. I didn’t see what happened, but Hoosier bit my granddaughter on her mouth. She only had a scratch.

My daughter has now put a restriction on the children coming over to visit. My choice is to muzzle or she won’t allow the children to visit. Of course, I would do anything for the kids. My daughter says muzzling is good because Hoosier will associate the muzzle with the fun he has with the kids, and because then the dog can’t bite. My suggestion was not to have the kids direct the dog to do anything, and I will always be there and be responsible. To muzzle or not to muzzle, that is the question. — P. F., Batavia, IL

A: “A stubborn dog is usually an anxious dog,” says Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. “If this dog has expressed aggression previously, getting professional hands-on help is a very good idea. If this behavior is new, and surprising (to you) — see your veterinarian; there may be a medical explanation.”

Parthasarathy, whose practice is in Portland, Ore., adds, “The muzzle might do exactly as your daughter describes, whenever the muzzle goes on — it means a fun play session with the children. The problem is that you probably shouldn’t keep on the muzzle on for much longer than 10 minutes at a time. It makes sense that you suggest the kids won’t ask the dog to do anything. But what if they do when you’re not looking?”

Instead, perhaps a workable compromise is in order. For now, muzzle and when you can’t do that, Hoosier should be in a crate or room behind a closed door. Then hire a qualified dog behavior consultant or trainer to work with Hoosier and your family.

By the way, that old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie is a good one.


Q: I have one of those pesky Terriers who I guess wasn’t all that well socialized. She is very aggressive to other dogs in the building, and outside, except a few dogs she knows. She is sometimes aggressive to people. I have to tell you, I’ve been to three trainers and one behaviorist and the best advice I can get is “get a shock collar” and “get a muzzle.” I don’t want to do either. This morning in the elevator she leapt after a woman and growled. Fortunately, nothing happened. I’m not going to get rid of her; I just want to know what to do.” — D. F., via email

A: “I love that your dog is so important to you, and that you are seeking help,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Sueda, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

You said you saw a behaviorist (which implies veterinary behaviorist), and Seuda says she can’t imagine a single one of her colleagues suggesting a shock collar as a treatment to help your dog.

This dog is perhaps anxious, and shocking the dog would likely only serve to increase anxiety. Similarly, a certified dog behavior consultant is exceedingly unlikely to suggest a shock collar.

So whom did you hire? Although anyone can hang a shingle on their door and suggest, “I’m a behaviorist,” the only people who should say they are behaviorists are Ph.D.-degreed behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists. And those dog trainers offered apparently unenlightened answers.

Sueda says, “Keep everyone safe by avoiding confrontation. So, if you know your dog isn’t trustworthy in a elevator, consider a freight elevator, the stairs even. When you see an oncoming dog, there’s nothing wrong with crossing the street. And look for visual cues in your dog, starring, stiffening, ears up. Now is the time to back off; don’t allow a confrontation to occur.”

Yours is a classic example of a pet owner who requires hands-on help from a qualified professional. Check out the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior or the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.


Q: My 14-year old cat has been drinking out of the toilet since he was 4 months old. He like toilet water better than water from his bowl. Is this a problem? — T. D., Henderson, NV

A: “In reality, your cat is still here after 14-years of toilet drinking,” says Mesa, Ariz.-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Moffat. “Still, the additives (like the contraption that makes the water blue which, hopefully, you don’t use) and cleaning products might be harmful. It’s not a good idea to let pets drink from the toilet.”

Instead, she suggests water fountains for cats, available at anywhere that pet products are sold.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services