AVMA Collections: Canine Behavior in Clinical Practice

February 2012

In this collection:
General principles


Relationship to other conditions and events


General principles

Behavior wellness concepts for general veterinary practice

SUMMARY: Resolution of behavior problems in clinical practice can be difficult and time intensive, whereas behavior wellness services tend to prevent behavior problems and are more rewarding for all concerned. Behavior wellness care is defined as the planned attention to a pet's conduct and the active integration of behavior wellness programs into the delivery of pet-related services, including routine veterinary medical care. Components of such programs outlined in this article include establishing criteria for what constitutes a behaviorally healthy pet, educating owners about pet behavioral needs, encouraging pet socialization, and helping owners learn successful methods for discouraging inappropriate behaviors.


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Suzanne Hetts, Marsha L. Heinke, Daniel Q. Estep

J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;225:506-513. August 15, 2004.


Differences and similarities between behavioral and internal medicine

SUMMARY: The necessity of incorporating behavioral medicine into the practice of veterinary medicine has become almost irrefutable. Pharmacologic intervention is particularly helpful in anxiety disorders (including separation anxiety), compulsive disorders, aggression disorders, marking behaviors, and cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Dr. Horwitz compares behavioral and internal medicine and delineates their differences. For example, she states that behavior problems can be owner-driven as well as pet-driven, whereas internal medicine problems are typically driven by the medical condition of the pet. Also, she explains that the lack of behavioral diagnostic tests make extensive history taking essential to a behavioral diagnosis, whereas diagnostic testing is more central to a diagnosis in internal medicine.


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Debra F. Horwitz
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:1372-1376. November 1, 2000.


Signalment factors, comorbidity, and trends in behavior diagnoses in dogs: 1,644 cases (1991-2001)

SUMMARY: Studies of owner opinions have suggested that unruly behavior and house soiling are the most common behavioral problems in dogs, whereas case studies typically suggest that aggression is the most common behavioral problem among dogs examined by a veterinarian. A review of the medical records of 1,644 dogs referred to veterinary behaviorists over a 10-year period because of behavioral problems revealed an increase in the number of dogs examined because of aggression, anxiety, and unruly behavior over the course of the study and an increase in the overall number of dogs evaluated because of behavioral problems. In addition, the distribution of behavioral problems changed over the course of the study.  

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Michelle Bamberger, Katherine A. Houpt  
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:1591-1601. November 15, 2006.
Evaluation of a behavioral assessment questionnaire for use in the characterization of behavioral problems of dogs relinquished to animal shelters

SUMMARY: In this study a discrepancy was found in behavior problem reporting by relinquishing owners based on their perceptions of the confidentiality of the data. Half of the owners were told their assessments would be kept confidential, and in those instances the number of behavior problems reported was significantly greater. The authors submit that these findings suggest the results of behavioral questionnaires used in shelter settings may be inaccurate.

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Sheila A. Segurson, James A. Serpell, Benjamin L. Hart

J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:1755-1761. December 1, 2005. 

Development and validation of a questionnaire for measuring behavior and temperament traits in pet dogs

SUMMARY: Behavior problems are some of the leading reasons for euthanasia of dogs in the United States and Europe. Major hindrances to research in the area of behavior problems in dogs have been the absence of a generally accepted system for classifying and naming behavior traits in dogs, and the difficulty of observing pet dogs in their natural environment. One solution with well-established precedents is the use of questionnaires to obtain behavioral information from dog owners. This study resulted in development of a questionnaire that produced stable and consistent results across populations of dogs and which could be useful in a variety of clinical situations.  

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Yuying Hsu, James A. Serpell
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;223:1293-1300. November 1, 2003.

Relationship to other conditions and events

Health and behavior problems in dogs and cats one week and one month after adoption from animal shelters


SUMMARY: Owners of adopted animals were surveyed to characterize health and behavior problems in recently adopted animals and to identify factors associated with whether a new owner will seek veterinary care for their recently adopted pets. Although more than 75% of owners had taken their pets to a veterinarian within a month after adoption, this was primarily for medical reasons such as respiratory disease; whether the animal had behavior problems was not associated with the odds that the new owner had visited a veterinarian. It was concluded that veterinarians may not be the first option new owners consider when an animal they adopted has a behavior problem and that greater efforts should be made to encourage individuals who adopt an animal from a shelter to visit a veterinarian in the immediate period after adoption.


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Linda K. Lord, Linda Reider, Meghan E. Herron, Kristy Graszak
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;233:1715-1722. December 1, 2008. 


Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs

SUMMARY: Some shelters have found that most of their unadopted dogs are adolescent or adult dogs that are relinquished because of behavior that was unacceptable to the adopter. This suggests that unplanned litters of puppies must be reduced while also minimizing the frequency of preventable behavioral problems that might lead to relinquishment. In this study of long-term effects of early spaying and neutering, associations between the occurrence of 56 medical and behavioral conditions and dogs' age at gonadectomy were evaluated. The authors found that noise phobias increased with early neutering whereas separation anxiety and escaping behaviors decreased.

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C. Victor Spain, Janet M. Scarlett, Katherine A. Houpt
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;224:380-387. February 1, 2004.
Evaluation of association between retention in the home and attendance at puppy socialization classes

SUMMARY: Owners of dogs adopted as puppies were surveyed to examine associations between retention of dogs in their adoptive homes and attendance at puppy socialization classes. Higher retention in the home was found for dogs that participated in humane society puppy socialization classes, were female, wore headcollars as puppies, were handled frequently as puppies, were more responsive to commands, slept on or near the owner's bed, or lived in homes without young children. Male dogs that did not attend puppy classes were most likely to be relinquished. The authors concluded that the lower rate of retention of dogs in homes with children emphasizes the importance of helping owners develop realistic expectations, knowledge, and effective tools to manage interactions between their children and dogs.

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Margaret M. Duxbury, Julie A. Jackson, Scott W. Line, Robert K. Anderson
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;223:61-66. July 1, 2003.