Animal Behavior Myths

dvm (47)Behavioral issues are the leading cause of relinquishment of pets to local shelters and also the number one reason for euthanasia of pets in the United States. Many pets lose their lives because of myths about behavior problems. A little understanding of these issues could prevent needless loss of otherwise healthy animals.

One prevalent myth is, “I can’t take my puppy to puppy classes until he’s had all of his vaccines.” The fact is that dogs are more likely to be euthanized due to a behavior problem than to die from contracting parvovirus or distemper at a training class. Puppies that are properly socialized beginning at around 8 weeks of age are more tolerant of new stimuli and people and are less likely to grow into nervous, fearful dogs. Find a class that is held in an indoor, easy-to-clean facility that requires the puppies be vaccinated and groups them by age. It is important to avoid places such as parks and playgrounds until puppies are fully vaccinated.

Another common misconception is, “My dog was abused as a puppy.” By focusing on this unlikely scenario, pet owners and veterinarians often miss opportunities to address more common causes of behavior problems such as fear or anxiety that will only worsen with time if ignored. Fearful and shy behaviors are highly heritable traits, but the expression of these behaviors is a complex interaction between the genes and the pet’s environment.

Also, “Giving my dog a medication will solve the behavior problem.” Despite their propensity to relieve anxiety, psychotropic drugs are not a cure-all and alone will not provide long-term relief of the problem. These drugs may be used as a tool to help manage a particular behavior issue. Behavior-modification training is also needed to affect positive change and a potential cure.

Some mistakenly believe, “Aggressive dogs are acting dominant and need to be taught their place.” Unfortunately, this myth is a leading reason for unsound training practices. Most aggression, especially in the veterinary hospital, is more likely due to fear or anxiety. Many dogs are inappropriately labeled as dominant aggressive when they resist scary situations, such as kenneling or nail trims. Regularly handling and restraining a puppy can help avoid aggressive problems due to fear.

These are just a few of the many behavioral myths that cause pets to be treated inappropriately and surrendered to animal shelters or euthanized.

Any behavior problem can have an underlying medical cause. Your veterinarian is the best source of advice and information for all of your pet-care needs.

Dr. Russell N. Ueckert has been providing veterinary care for animals in the Big Country for over 19 years. This article was produced in part with contributions from Veterinary News Network. For all of your veterinary needs look to

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