The Dog Daily: Health Care
Health Problems Can Cause Behavior Problems
By Liz Palika for The Dog Daily
Behavior problems in dogs are very common; it would be unusual to find even one dog that doesn't do something that annoys its owner. However, dog owners learn to live with minor annoyances -- it's just part of living with a dog. But some behavior problems can be more than dog owners are willing to live with, and in these instances, stopping the behavior could mean the difference between keeping the dog as a member of the family, or not.
Identifying why a dog does what it does is a vital part of stopping or controlling a behavior problem. For example, most canine behavior experts understand that dogs jump up on people to greet them face-to-face. If you watch a puppy or young dog greet an older dog, the puppy will come up under the older dog's face and lick the older dog's muzzle. Puppies and young dogs, when given the chance, will do the same thing to people. When dogs are taught to sit and hold that position before they are petted, they can no longer jump up. When they learn they get petted while sitting, they no longer have the need to jump up and that behavior problem is eliminated.
It can be difficult to identify the cause of all behavior problems, however, because not all are associated with normal canine behaviors. Many behavioral experts feel that about 20 percent of problem behaviors may be caused by a physical problem. For example, most people know that epilepsy can cause seizures, but not all seizures are convulsions. A seizure may show up as twitching, or a blank look in the eyes or a frozen appearance. These signs may look like the dog is ignoring you or taking an aggressive posture. Epilepsy can also cause changes in the dog's emotions, showing up as fearfulness or aggression, sometimes even uncontrollable rage.
There are some other physical problems that can cause behavior problems:
- A loss of vision (especially a sudden loss) can cause either fearful or aggressive behavior.
- A hearing loss can cause startle reflexes, sometimes aggressively.
- Arthritis can cause pain, leading to frustration and aggression.
- A brain tumor or other problems in the brain can lead to severe behavioral changes.
- A bladder or urinary tract infection can lead to a loss of housetraining skills.
When behavioral changes occur, especially when they happen without any obvious cause, dog owners should consult with their veterinarian first, before talking to their dog trainer or behaviorist. When talking to the vet, be very specific about the dog's behavior. Mention anything you see, no matter how tiny it seems. Sometimes all those little things you noticed, when put together, make a much clearer picture of what is going on with the dog.
Once the health problem is identified, the veterinarian can provide guidance as to what happens next. Depending upon the problem, your vet may recommend medical treatment only; or may recommend medical treatment first, followed by assistance from your trainer or behaviorist. You may want to put your veterinarian and trainer or behaviorist in touch with one another to discuss the dog, so that they can both agree on what should be done.