It is rare that a dog and owner walk into our rooms that does not come with a label.
“Oh she does that because she is anxious”.
“Oh she is a rescue, so ya know…”
“He does that because he is fear aggressive”
“My dog is so dominant, so he always …”
Anxious, fearful, reactive, nervous, dominant, frightened, depressed, abused, rescued, hyper, high drive and many other, “diagnosed conditions” that seem to permit the dog to display anti social or aggressive behaviours.
I will have people come to see me as they are seeking help for their dog’s anxiety, and when I ask what that is, they explain that their dog is attacking other dogs.
For example, Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come.
It is not an action, but it can motivate an action.
Anxiety in people is diagnosed by a professional asking a serious of questions, perhaps carrying out a physical exam and sometimes a blood test to eliminate other possible causes.
Based on the information gained and the experience of the professional, they may diagnose you with anxiety.
With dogs, someone looks at the dog and says he or she is anxious.
So what, you might say
Well, the problem with labels is that they sometimes excuse the behaviour, which is not going to help the dog at all.
Other times they determine what treatment is applied, this is where a big problem exists. If that label of “anxious” is wrong, then any treatment you apply will be based on an incorrect label.
When that label is simply someone’s opinion, very often this is why no improvements are being made.
Leave the labels at the door, I want to meet your dog!
I want to know your dogs story, and I want to know it from your dog, not a human perspective.
I want to meet the dog you live with, see what he or she is like and what is driving the problem behaviour.
I will handle every dog, there are no over the desk diagnosis here.
I want to learn about your dog and see what they know and start talking about how they “should” behave.
I may describe or label the behaviour is driven by fear, or predation but I am not going to get hung up on labels and let those labels dictate the course we will be taking.
Many dogs that are anxious, are suppressed in their behaviours away from home, but this can mean they are overconfident in the home with the owners and or other dogs.
So, their anxiety is situational and not at all the reason why the dog is displaying aggressive behaviours towards the owners in the home.
So, a blanket “anxious” diagnosis will be only correct half of the dogs life.
The root cause.
People may feel that the root cause of a behaviour problem is anxiety, but in fact that is not the root cause, anxiety may be a symptom of the root cause and that root cause may be something like, insecurity within the relationship.
The dog never knows what they should be doing or when something they are doing is wrong, or right sometimes, they just worry the whole time.
Some dogs get over worrying and just ignore all direction from the owner and just try and push their way through stress.
Here is an example to consider.
We had a dog come to us that was biting owners, vets etc.
The dog was medicated for anxiety, but it kept biting.
The vet said the dog needs to be put to sleep, there is something wrong with it.
The dog came to me for a consult, they found a new vet and the dog came to stay with us in our rehab program.
The vet found an acute ear infection deep in the ear canal.
We found that the dogs coat had some very tight matting at skin level and had grown around the genitals also.
Movement was pain for this dog she kept walking with so much tension, she reduced her movement and her back was stiff and sore.
This combined with a lack of rules and boundaries was the root cause.
We set some expectations by teaching the dog “how to” behave. We had our Osteo treat the back pain and we had our groomer remove the coat matting.
This dog had not forgotten how to bite, but she stopped biting.
In the end, the label is a way to classify a behaviour or pattern that has some elements in common.
This is not necessary to apply therapy, support or help.