Behavior problems frequently seen in rescue animals
By: Gary L. Clemons, DVM Date: 03/19/1997 Category: | Canine Issues | Rescue | Shelter Issues |
Rescue animals pose many problems that are not always apparent to those people adopting or rescuing them. Many of these medical problems may not surface for weeks, months, or, in some cases, years.
I will discuss some of the dog behavior problems that we often encounter when dealing with rescue animals. First, though, I would like to discuss a few of the medical conditions that can greatly influence an animal's behavior.
Hip dysplasia and other related arthritic conditions can sometimes go unnoticed, especially in early or mild conditions. Often these dogs exhibit a pronounced pain response if touched or pushed on the spine or rump. Unknowingly, a small child could push or fall on one of these dogs and get bitten.
There are a whole group of medical ailments that can indirectly result in animals getting taken to the animal shelter by their owners. The first group of diseases includes many skin diseases we see in dogs caused by hypothyroidism and atopic or inhalant allergies. These dogs often have chronic ear infections, usually secondary to their allergies, and chronic pyodermas or skin infections. They scratch constantly and often develop very objectionable, rancid body odor. The owners get discouraged with the scratching and bad odors and the dogs often lose their "house dog" status and become outside dogs. They no longer get enough attention, and they bark constantly (trying to get the family to come outside and play), which irritates the neighbors. Often they find a way to escape and they run off. When the kids or other family members finally do come outside, the poor animal is so excited to see them that he jumps up, often knocking people down, scratching them, or getting them dirty. Usually, these "outside animals" receive very little grooming or bathing, their haircoats become matted, their skin condition worsens, and their next car ride is to the humane society where the owner is sure the pooch will find every dog's dream -- a nice home in the country.
Dogs with external parasites can freak out some people, too. I often see clients who will never allow their dog back in the house after they discover the pooch has fleas. Pass a few tapeworm segments on the bed covers and you might as well pack your food bowl and move outdoors. Some people just cannot deal with such things.
Behavior problems in dogs
Malnutrition of very young dogs can lead to stunted development, both mentally and physically. Many of these dogs become so food-motivated that they become overly protective of their food bowl, chew toys, and treats. If they are rescued and then adopted by people who don't know how to interpret a dog's body language, there can be disastrous results. A good example occurs when a dog is lying by its food bowl and a small child strolls by, completely unaware of the dog's needs. The dog stops eating for a split second, without so much as a growl, and the child walks by. The dog assumes the child went past because it was protecting its food and the child was reading its body language. The next time the child nears and gets too close, the dog bites. The owner then takes the dog to the vet, often after the husband beats it within a hair of its life, to have it euthanized because it bit their child "without any warning." Another dead dog or at least a trip to the humane society for just being a dog, and another child who grows up terrified of dogs.
Neglect may be one of the leading causes of many of the dog behavioral problems we currently see in dogs. As experienced dog owners, we know how important it is to spend a lot of time with puppies prior to the time they are 14-16 weeks old, or even better, prior to 10 weeks old. If they are never exposed to small children or strangers or never taken from their homes or yards, they can develop "fearful-aggressive" tendencies. When a small, active child finally corners such a dog, or a stranger reaches for the collar, they often bite out of fear. Shelter, here we come.
Families where both adults work often end up with dogs that never get properly housetrained because their owners are never home to take them outside when they have to eliminate. The pooch greets his owners at the door when they arrive home, and the owner grabs him, yells at him, and rubs his nose in his feces, usually several hours after the deed was done. This occurs every day. The owner is convinced the dog knows he did something wrong because he runs and hides when the owner arrives home. Pretty soon the pup becomes an "outside dog." I hope he doesn't bark too much or you know where his next home will be.
Destructive behavior is another common problem. Dogs are often left alone all day. One day, a pooch gets real bored and decides to eat the couch. This time, he gets severely beaten, several hours after the damage was done. The dog thinks Dad must have had a real bad day at work because usually he doesn't get beaten as hard or as long. Get ready to move outdoors, pooch, because you can't be trusted inside any more. Please don't bark or run away, though, or you'll really be in trouble.
There is another classification of behavior problem called "rage syndrome" that is frequently seen in Springer Spaniels. Many times, however, this condition is actually a "dominance-aggressive" syndrome in Springers. Similar conditions are called "mental lapse syndrome" or "idiopathic viciousness" syndrome. "Frontal lobe epilepsy" seen in Bull Terriers also has a poor prognosis. These dogs often chase their tails and exhibit a type of rage syndrome where they become glassy-eyed and can often make unprovoked vicious attack, often directed at their owners. Most of these dogs are eventually euthanized because nobody knows when the attacks will occur or what provokes them. These animals are often beaten by their owners, which is very inhumane to do to an animal with a condition he cannot control.
Unneutered purebred male dogs lead the list of "dominant aggressive" dogs. After the dog has bitten the kids and finally the old man, he will often strike back at the individual beating him. This combination of "dominant" and "fearful" aggression can be a dangerous combination for the new owners that might adopt the dog after its previous owners have finally taken him to the animal shelter.
As previously mentioned, many dogs are forced out of their homes because they are never properly housetrained, they are destructive, or they bite. Next they get chained to a dog house because for some reason they try to run off all the time. Then, after they bark at the neighbor dogs, strangers, or sounds in the night, the neighbors complain, they end up at the humane society. Because the owners feel guilty about taking the pooch to the shelter and because they hope someone will adopt him, they don't tell the shelter the real reason they are abandoning the dog. They usually say they are moving or the kids are allergic to the dog. The kids, of course, know the truth: their dog is now living on a beautiful farm in the country.
Many of these dogs get adopted because they are purebreds and it may be only a matter of weeks before the behavioral problems resurface, often with dire consequences. These problems will continue as long as people purchase dogs without knowing how to properly train and socialize them, especially during the first four months of life.
It will take concerted efforts on the breeders' part to pay more attention to selecting breeding stock with good temperament and pay less attention to choosing animals solely on looks and proper movement. It will also take concerted effort by breeders to be sure the prospective buyers know the bad traits of each breed as well as the good ones so the new owners can be ready to head off dog behavioral problems before they get established. Most good breeders are already doing this.
Many breeders are already doing temperament testing prior to placing puppies, but recent works have shown little correlation between traits as a puppy and future behavioral problems. The handling a puppy receives once it leaves the breeders' home and whether or not it is properly socialized will determine future behavior. The best use of temperament testing is for selecting dogs that will be able to excel in the obedience ring.
Breeders must make sure they are selling their puppies at the proper age- between seven and eight weeks old. I am alarmed how many times I have clients come into our office with new puppies that are five to six weeks old. All the breeder was interested in in these cases was having someone else take over the chore of cleaning up puppy papers. These pups never learn proper puppy play behavior and bite inhibition, and their new owners suffer the consequences.
I personally feel that veterinarians bear a tremendous responsibility too. We have to be more than surgeons and diagnosticians. We must take a leading role in making sure new dog owners know how to properly socialize and train their puppies. We have to be able to teach them how to think like a dog and direct them to good puppy training classes before behavioral problems start.
To do this successfully, we must see these pups around eight weeks of age, which means that breeder must make sure they direct owners to take their new puppies to the vet, even if the next vaccination is not due for several weeks. The veterinarian must schedule at least 30 minutes for the first puppy visit. The main emphasis of the first visit must concentrate on things such as proper socialization with small children, proper bite inhibition techniques, housetraining, destructive behavior, and a brief description of basic 101 dog psychology. Every veterinarian should make available to each new dog owner a copy of Ian Dunbar's "Sirius Puppy Training" video and make it required viewing. The video can be made available at cost or as a loaner at a minimal fee. We have clients leave a $10 deposit; they get the video for three days and when it is returned on time, they get the deposit back.
If veterinarians don't care to spend time providing this extremely valuable advice to their clients, they should at least make the video available. During the subsequent puppy visits, the veterinarian should ask the client if the pup is showing any behavior problems and address them before they get out of hand.
We can never hope to have clients with properly socialized dogs if we don't make the effort to teach them. This all takes a lot of the veterinarian's time, and owners and breeders should be willing to pay for it. All too often, some breeders do their own vaccinations and medical care and only seek veterinary care as a last resort. Some seek care based on low fees, but low fees and good, quality care don't generally go together. Good breeders have their veterinarians examine their puppies and give them the first vaccination prior to sale.
We must all work together—shelters, breeders, rescue organizations, breed clubs, training clubs, and veterinarians. We are all in this together. We all love dogs or specific breeds of dogs and we want others to share our joy of “man’s best friend.”.
I applaud everyone doing rescue work. Your time and effort often goes unnoticed by many. Keep up the good work
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Gary L. Clemons, DVM |