Is My Dog Crazy?: A Look at Dog Behavior
Two-year-old Zoe, a mix of herding dog and terrier, literally climbs the walls when she sees a reflection. If she sees a cat or squirrel outside, she slams herself into the window. Although she attended obedience school and is good with basic commands “if nothing else is going on,” Zoe is very easily distracted, particularly by motion and sound.
“The buzzer on the stove makes her belligerent and the chime the TV makes when we turn it on sets her off, too,” says owner Linda Gleisser of Cleveland, Ohio. “She’s gotten worse as she’s gotten older. She’s manic.”
For Zoe’s own safety, she has to be crated any time the Gleissers leave her alone in the house and can’t be left unattended in the yard because she can jump their six-foot fence. While Zoe gets along with the family’s five cats, she will approach one within an inch of its face and just blink. “She might be trying to herd them,” says Gleisser.
According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Professor, Dept. of Clinical Science and Program Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, herding dogs will often chase light and shadows and compulsive disorders tend to occur in breed lines with a high prey drive. Enriching their environment and providing interesting things to do in the owner’s absence as well as agility training can be effective.
“Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, behavior is in the eyes of the owner,” says Dodman. Some behaviors might even be advantageous. In the case of a barker, for example, “One owner might say, ‘My house has never been robbed. I think it’s because of Ralph,’ whereas another might say the dog’s barking drives them crazy.”
In some cases, when the dog’s behavior is a risk to him and others, such as aggression toward others, behavior modification coupled with medication tend to work better than either alone. Other conditions that respond well to behavior modification are separation anxiety, compulsive behavior and thunderstorm anxiety. Of the 40 million dogs in the country that have behavior problems, Dodman estimates that 10 million have serious problems, 7.5 million can be treated with behavior medication alone and 2.5 million probably should do behavior modification with medication, which can be weaned, stopped and reintroduced if needed.
A dog and his owner comprise a dyadic relationship Dodman says. “When you have a dog and an owner together, it’s not all peaches and cream. Sometimes the owner needs to be trained and sometimes it’s the dog.”
The first thing a frustrated dog owner should do is rule out physical causes by visiting the vet, according to Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists based at VCA in Los Angeles, California. For example, a dog that is urinating in the house may be doing so because of a urinary tract infection, says Sueda. Sometimes the environment needs to be changed or the dog has not been taught what not to do. One of her clients, a German Shepherd, was aggressive while eating; his owner could not approach him.
“After a period of desensitization, during which his owner would put his bowl down, walk away, come back with a treat, then walk away again, he got to like when his owner was in the same room with him while he ate and now the owner can walk up to him and pet him while he’s eating,” says Sueda.
“There are some, but very few, dogs that are really crazy. Most can be rehabilitated,” says Val DeSantis, Certified Master Trainer and Certified Behavioral Consultant in the Pueblo, Colorado area. “You can’t mess some dogs up and others are more sensitive. A lot of times the behavior of the owners is the reason for the dog’s behavior.”
A high-energy dog who is cooped up for 10 hours a day and not given an opportunity to release his energy is more than likely going to act out. DeSantis suggests merging sports for herding dogs that can help their "high strung" behavior.
“Agility for one. Another good one is ‘fly ball. Also some farms are offering herding sheep, geese, ducks and goats. Jack Russell's also can benefit from these things but there is nothing specific to the breed. Nothing will replace a good game of fetch with the owner. It builds a bond as well as vents an overabundance of energy. We take dogs and put them in a human world and expect them to act like humans. They’re not. They’re dogs.”