When behavior of dogs is undesirable, there are three levels of consideration: 1) Behaviors within the normal range for the species, age, and breed. In these cases, the owners need guidance on how to effectively manage the behaviors. 2) Behaviors more difficult or challenging, because they might fall within or just beyond the range of what is considered normal but are particularly intense or difficult to manage. Examples include mouthing, urine marking, mounting, barking, chasing, predation, or overactivity. Also in this category might be what could be normal for the breed but unsuitable for the family and home (ie, mismatch). These cases require behavior assessment and counseling to ensure the owners have a realistic understanding of what might be achieved and to implement treatment strategies, including environmental management and behavior modification, to achieve an acceptable level of improvement for both the owners and the pet. 3) Behaviors that are abnormal or pathologic, as a result of emotional disorders or mental health issues. These may have developed as a result of genetic factors, stressful perinatal environment (prenatal, neonatal), insufficient early socialization, medical conditions affecting brain health and development, or particularly traumatic environmental events. For these pets, the prognosis may be guarded, and owner expectations altered to achieve an acceptable outcome. Treatment generally requires both environmental management and behavioral modification, often in combination with medication (natural products, diet, drugs) to improve underlying pathology and facilitate learning.
The process to diagnose behavior problems and their treatment with behavior modification and drugs has been previously described (see Treatment of Behavioral Problems). If the problem is determined to be a normal but undesirable behavior, the owners will need counseling on how to effectively provide for the pet’s needs and how to reinforce what is desirable while preventing what is undesirable. For most canine behavior management problems, counseling from veterinary staff or trainers and quality resources are required, as well as hands-on guidance from a trainer. Trainers should be selected based on their credentials and screened to ensure they use reinforcement-based training techniques. Positive punishment−based techniques should not be used in training, because at best they serve only to suppress undesirable behavior and can lead to fear, avoidance, and even aggression. Management issues include inappropriate play (eg, nipping or mouthing of people); unruly behavior (eg, pulling, lunging, jumping up, mounting, overactivity); and some forms of barking, destructive behaviors, and housesoiling.
If the problem is determined to be an emotional disorder or abnormal behavior, resolution will require a combination of behavior modification techniques, modifications to the environment to prevent further problems, and medications to help reestablish a more normal mental state and facilitate new learning (see Treatment of Behavioral Problems).