Preventing canine behaviour problems - Veterinary Practice
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Preventing canine behaviour problems

JACQUI NAYSMITH joined in a webinar on the challenges faced by dogs and the role of practices in preventing problems

THE role of the companion animal
has changed over recent years and
there is significant pressure on dogs
to fit into an increasingly
challenging domestic environment.

A recent veterinary webinar, hosted
by Ceva Animal Health and featuring
leading veterinary behaviourist Sarah
Heath, examined the challenges dogs
face in their day-to-day
lives with humans and
the role of the
veterinary practice in
preventing canine
behaviour problems.

Dogs are socially
obligate mammals with
a range of emotional
responses that affect
the way in which they
behave. Although it is
important not to
regard them as little
humans, it is essential
that we consider their
emotional capacity to
cope in an increasingly
challenging world and
offer them appropriate support.

Buying a puppy

There are many factors for potential
owners to consider and veterinary
practices can offer valuable advice prior
to taking on a new pet. The type of
dog, be it a pure pedigree or
crossbreed, will be important and
genetic influences on behaviour do
need to be considered.

However, behavioural development
in the early weeks of life is highly
significant in influencing adult
behavioural patterns and the most
influential period in puppies is between
four and eight weeks of age. Puppies
within this age range will be much
more open to socialisation and
habituation and benefit from
appropriate interaction.

As puppies are most likely to be
with their breeders at this age it is
advisable that owners buy puppies
from establishments that closely
resemble their homes in order to
maximise the benefits of early positive


Adult dogs need to live not only in
their own home but also within society and training is an important part of
puppy development in order to
improve obedient and sociable
behaviour. Owners need to be
encouraged to gain reasonable control
over their pet by teaching simple
obedience signals and ensuring a
reliable recall, which is an essential part
of responsible pet ownership.

Simple words
should be used as
signals and the whole
family should be
consistent in order to
minimise confusion
for the dog.

Training should be
fun and sessions
should be kept short
(about five minutes at
a time for young
puppies) but frequent.
Remember that
“disobedience” is
often due to
misunderstanding and
reward is always more effective than
punishment. It is advisable that pet owners aim to teach the puppy what it
should be doing rather than chastising
it for doing the wrong thing.

It can be helpful to provide owners
with practical handouts to help them in
their early training and basic guidelines
can be beneficial. For example,
guidelines for establishing a reliable
recall, which could be implemented
into a veterinary practice handout,

  • always reward the dog when he
    comes, however long it takes;
  • make the recall signal friendly,
    exciting and unpredictable;
  • be as welcoming as possible by
    adopting a crouched body position;
  • do not grab at the dog if he runs
  • maximise the chance of success;
  • never punish a dog for not coming
    back when it is called.

Creating emotional stability

In addition to training for compliance,
it is also important to work to increase
the dog’s self-confidence and to
establish expectations which are
realistic for the individual’s

Rewarding puppies for spontaneous
appropriate behaviour and encouraging
independent relaxation and low levels
of needy behaviour will help to
enhance self-confidence and protect
the puppy against problems of anxiety.

House rules are very important in
order to establish realistic expectations
but they need to be applied in a
positive manner.

The purpose of the rules is to make
the environment safe and secure for the
puppy and owner interaction with their
pet should be based on the principles
of parenting rather than the outdated
and discredited theory of “dominance”.

One of the particular challenges of
a domestic environment relates to
sound stimulation and habituation to a
range of sounds can help. This can be
started at the breeder’s premises by
using CDs which can then be used in
the new home. The Sounds Sociable CD
can expose puppies to a range of social
and environmental noises, whereas the
Sounds Soothing CD introduces
companion animals to the specific
sound stimuli associated with babies
and children.

Other challenges from a canine
perspective include travelling away from
home and habituation to car travel and
the chosen method of restraint, such as
a seat belt or boot guard, is important.
The use of DAP spray (Ceva) can assist
in the process of habituation to the car.

There is now significant evidence
that providing support in the means of
the synthetic appeasing pheromones
which mimic those naturally released by
the mother helps dogs cope better with
first experiences and
promotes the social
development of a puppy
into a balanced and well-
behaved adult dog.

Preparing for the
veterinary practice

It is important to
maximise the puppy’s
positive perception of
the veterinary practice
and in order to do this
it is helpful to set up a
number of calm and
rewarding visits to the
veterinary practice.

The likelihood is
that a veterinary visit may
be associated with an unpleasant
experience at some point during the
dog’s life and in order to reduce the
impact of any negative experience it is
important to maximise positive
veterinary interaction while the puppy
is in the right emotional state.

Practice visits without the need for
specific veterinary intervention can be
beneficial and handling the puppy on a
daily basis at home will also be helpful.
Handling should include actions such
as raising its tail and checking its
mouth, eyes and ears. The appropriate
use of food rewards and provision of
DAP within the practice can help
during this process.

The first examination in a veterinary practice should be as
positive as possible. The use of
minimal restraint and the appropriate
delivery of treats can help to reward
and relax the puppy. However, the
inappropriate use of treats can create
negative associations which may lead to
behavioural issues in later life so it is
important to always be mindful of the
emotional state of the puppy when
interacting with it.

The use of confrontational
interaction is never appropriate,
especially when dealing with puppies.
Dogs need to trust human hands and
owners should take this into account
when they are interacting with their pet
in the home environment as well.

Mistaken belief in the outdated and
discredited concept of canine
dominance threatens appropriate
emotional development in puppies and
can lead to distrust and ultimately
cause a range of behavioural problems.

Advice for owners

Beneficial and positive experiences
early in life can help to prevent
behavioural problems in adult dogs and
socialisation and habituation are
crucially important to developing emotional stability.
Examples of behavioural issues that
need to be raised with
new puppy owners

Provide suitable
introductions to
people and other
animals, taking into
account the emotional
state of the puppy.

  1. Provide a complex
    environment and
    introduce the puppy to
    a variety of
  2. Introduce suitable
    toys and games.
  3. Use positive house training techniques.
  4. Reinforce appropriate behaviours
    when greeting people and other dogs.
  5. Teach basic obedience including sit,
    stay and recall.
  6. Prevent specific behaviour problems
    such as play biting.
  7. Introduce the puppy to the
    experience of being alone.

What is the most valuable advice
for puppy owners?

  1. Form a trusting relationship between
    pet and owner.
  2. Avoid the use of punishment
    (remote or direct).
  3. Provide a consistent and predictable
    environment which fosters realistic
  4. When puppies behave inappropriately, redirect them to a
    suitable alternative.
  5. Use adequate supervision and indoor
    pens when appropriate.
  6. Provide support in the form of

Puppy classes

Puppy classes held at a veterinary
practice can help to start owners on
the right track in their relationship
with their pet and can assist in
forming positive associations with the
practice. However, if the practice does
not have the staff or the facilities to
be able to run them effectively, it is
better not to offer them. Badly run
puppy classes can do more harm than

It is necessary to create calm,
positive associations and high arousal
and lack of control in the puppy class
context will be counterproductive.
The prevention of behavioural issues
in dogs should be promoted, together
with the fact that the practice can
provide an overall healthcare centre
for their new pet.

The aim of the class is to increase
the puppy’s positive perception of
people and other animals and
maximise positive exposure to novelty
and challenge in the environment.

Some important requirements of a
good and effective puppy party are:

  • A good venue with appropriate
    flooring (slippy floors can be
    frightening for puppies).
  • Appropriate noise levels – the aim is
    to keep social and environmental
    noise levels to a minimum.
  • The provision of adequate and
    suitably-trained staff.
  • Appropriate numbers of puppies –
    6-8 puppies to a class is ideal and a
    mixture of breeds will help to teach
    puppies that not all dogs are the same.
  • The use of DAP to create a positive
    and secure environment and help to
    reduce arousal levels.

The aim of puppy parties is to
promote a positive and trust-filled
relationship between owner and pet
and help in the development of a
happy and healthy pet that complies
with signals so that it is safe and

On-going training

Training is defined as “the process of
learning the skills that you need to do
a job” and the aim of training a dog is
to create a sociable, obedient and
adaptable individual who can cope
emotionally with the challenges that it
may face throughout its life.

A well-trained dog should be
emotionally stable and able to live in a
domestic environment. Puppies need
to gain positive experiences in as
many environments as possible and a
well-run training class can also be of
benefit in terms of socialisation with
other dogs and with people. Training
needs to be on-going and owners need
to be encouraged to use appropriate
signals when their puppies are in the
home environment as well as the
training club venue.


The first few weeks of life are crucial
in terms of appropriate emotional
development of puppies and the
subsequent prevention of behavioural
problems. Making sure that owners
are ready and prepared for the
commitment required to give a dog
the best start in life is as important as
selecting a good breeder.

Veterinary practices can support
owners in this process by providing
appropriate handling, interactions and
experiences in the veterinary practice
and advising on how this can also be
achieved within the home

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