Behavior therapy in dogs part 1 3

Behavioral therapy in dogs – part 1 / 3
In this 3-part series we look at behavior therapy in dogs. We clarify how behavioral problems can arise and which details are necessary for a professional analysis, diagnosis and finally for the creation of a therapy plan based on learning theory principles and medical measures.

Unfortunately, living together with a dog is not always as harmonious as initially imagined.

behavior therapy in dogs part 1 3

Behavioral problems are commonly referred to as behaviors in which the dog exhibits a behavior "considered problematic.

Specifically, in various gradations, he causes harm to himself, members of the family, other people or animals, or at best only "disturbs" them.

However, in living together in all these cases, more or less long-lasting stress is experienced.

Different terms around behavior problems

From a professional point of view, three terms and levels of severity are distinguished:

Undesirable behavior

The dog does not behave as the owner expected or hoped. However, the behavior itself is part of the normal behavior of dogs.

Examples: Hunting behavior, jumping at things, rolling in foul odors, eating feces, etc.

Problem behavior

This includes behavioral abnormalities that are not only "disturbing" from an individual point of view. These behaviors fulfill the facts of suffering. This can be of an emotional nature (e.g.B. Anxiety) or be linked to physical causes (e.g.B. Reaction to pain, bacterial infections favoring uncleanliness, etc.).

Examples: Noise anxiety, separation anxiety, certain forms of aggressive behavior, uncleanliness, etc.

Behavioral disorder

Behavior problems are abnormal behaviors. They are basically classified as pathological. There is no normal or (etho-) "logical" trigger for the shown reactions when these behaviors occur. This means that the vast majority of all dogs would not show this behavior in the same situation. At best, the behavior is not even part of the so-called overall behavioral catalog (ethogram) of dogs.

Examples: Repeatedly spinning in circles in tight arcs for an extended period of time, snapping at the air in pursuit of imaginary "flies," inflicting wounds on oneself, etc.

Psyche or body?!

By definition, "behavior" is all that we can observe or measure in terms of response to stimuli. It is important to know that behavior does not arise from itself. It is rather a response to internal or external stimuli.

Notice: Behavior is the response to Totality of all stimuli, that act on the dog.

The 4 conflict strategies of a dog

If a dog feels threatened, it has four options open to it, taken from English, called "the 4 F's of behavioral response":

– Fight (attack, struggle) – Flight (flight) – Freeze/Faint (terror, helplessness, expression of learned helplessness) – Flirt/Fiddle about (appeasement gestures, offers to play, ingratiating behavior)

Breeding and rearing

Lack of reliability and/or control in the selection of the parent animals in terms of health and character.

Lack of support for the puppies (deficits in socialization and habituation).

– Dispersion of disease dispositions – Dispersion of stress or frustration intolerance – Poor guidance of puppies when the mother dog exhibits behavioral problems (imitation learning) – Stress and anxiety due to lack of encouragement and/or excessive demands


The dog suffers from one or more underlying diseases that lead to or promote the behavioral abnormality.

– The intended performance goal does not match the dog's physical or mental capabilities. – By the use of punishments the dog takes physically (injuries) or psychologically (z.B. prere in training) damage.

Social environment and grooming

The way of keeping, the handling of the dog, the applied care or. Management measures are not animal welfare compliant. The training approach is in the best interest of the animal's welfare. Of a safety-conscious problem solution badly chosen or technically not correct.

– Lack of structure based on learning theory – Use of techniques and aids that do not conform to animal welfare standards – Punishment-based training, especially without prior development of a solution strategy that is successful for the dog

Beware of misinterpretation

It is important to know that dogs do not show any behavior "for us humans". Your behavior is bound to the details of the respective situation (totality of all internal and external stimuli. So when dogs exhibit behaviors that bother us, that are problematic or even dangerous, they are not out to get back at us humans or otherwise drive us to despair.

behavior therapy in dogs part 1 3

However, the same is true for behaviors that we perceive as positive. Quickly germinates here the belief that this may be the case. an expression of gratitude or similar would be. Both are a misinterpretation.

The bottom line is that behavior management is about two mundane things: meeting needs and avoiding harm. If one of these two goals appears "at risk," the stress response is set in motion as a counter-regulatory response.

Effects of stress

"Stress" is controlled by hormones. One of these hormones is cortisol. A high cortisol secretion leads to a clearly increased readiness to perform, which can also be called up in the short term. It serves as a protective mechanism for the animal. The dog is capable of reacting faster, more forcefully, and more violently in any form.

Exactly here lies however also a part of the problem, because conditioned by the simultaneous distribution of another hormone, the Noradrenalin, the organism is in stress situations on acting and no longer on thinking poliert. The receipt in this case are not seldom affective short-circuit actions. Their occurrence is all the more likely if the dog has not previously learned a positive solution strategy for the corresponding situation (consolidated by several repetitions).

Regeneration possibilities are important

Another negative aspect of a generally too high or frequently occurring stress load is the lack of regeneration possibilities.

For the regeneration the dog needs time for complete relaxation, the feeling of security as well as the possibility to sleep and to be able to take food in peace.

If denied (often in rapid succession or for a single but long period of time), the dog's body increasingly falls behind in terms of the power resources available to it.

Behavioral therapy in dogs part 1 3

Image: C. Wagner

Stress can also have long-term consequences

The door is wide open for the development of diseases. What the dog gets sick of first varies from individual to individual. His "weakest" organ system is the first to suffer damage.

Just like many people who suffer from too much stress, health problems in dogs often manifest themselves first in the digestive tract (stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea) or in the skin (dull coat, high hair loss, skin inflammation). Impairment of fertility is also not uncommon.

Briefly summarized

If the organism cannot withstand an individually too high stress load physically or psychologically, this manifests itself in behavioral abnormalities, which we classify as undesirable, problematic or even pathological, depending on the circumstances.

The entire series "Behavioral therapy for dogs read

We are aware that the individual contributions of this series are somewhat longer than usual. But this important topic is exceptionally close to our hearts. For a good understanding of the relationships, we did not want to divide the series even further.

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