Different Kinds of Aggression in Dogs

Understanding the Types of Canine Aggression

If you have ever been bitten by a dog, you are certainly not alone. More than 2 percent of people in the United States are bitten each year – that’s more than 4.3 million people! But what causes aggression and how should an owner handle it in dogs?

What Is Aggression in Dogs?

Aggression in dogs is defined as a threatening or harmful behavior directed toward another living creature. This includes snarling, growling, snapping, nipping, biting and lunging. Dogs that show such behavior are not abnormal; they are merely exhibiting normal species-typical behavior that is incompatible with human lifestyle (and safety). There are many reasons why a dog will act aggressively toward strangers or even his owner.

The first step, when attempting to find out why your dog is being aggressive, is to take him to your veterinarian. Some veterinarians will visit you at your home – but dogs tend to be more aggressive on “their” territory. If there’s no medical cause for the aggression, your veterinarian may refer you to a behaviorist, who will then obtain a full behavioral history and recommend therapy.

Even if treatment appears to be successful, you should always be on guard. The frequency and severity of aggression may be reduced but, in most cases, aggression cannot be eliminated completely. You must weigh the risks of keeping an aggressive dog against the benefits. Remember, safety for yourself and people around you is the primary concern!

Diagnosis of Aggression in Dogs

In the course of a veterinary examination, your veterinarian will determine if there is a medical reason underlying your dog’s aggressiveness. For instance, a dog with neck pain may show aggression when pulled by the collar.

Once medical causes have been ruled out, your veterinarian will refer you to a behaviorist. At the behaviorist’s, you’ll be asked to answer many detailed questions regarding your dog’s behavior. The session may last a couple of hours. An accurate description of your dog’s behavior is necessary. Keeping a journal is helpful. You should note:

  • What elicits the aggression
  • How often it occurs
  • To whom it is directed
  • The specific behaviors
  • The dog’s postures at the time

Videotaping your dog’s behavior is helpful for the behaviorist, but don’t get hurt while making the video. Answers to the many questions asked can lead the behaviorist to establish the cause of the aggression, and then outline an individualized approach to its treatment. The behaviorist will also provide a professional opinion of the risk involved.

Aggression is influenced by several factors, including: genetic predisposition, early experience, maturation, sex, age, size, hormonal status, physiological state and external stimuli. Behaviorists use a classification system based on patterns of behavior and the circumstances in which they occur. This is done to determine the dog’s motivation and the cause of the behavior. The classification is as follows:

  • Dominance-related aggression is one of the most common types of canine aggression that behaviorists treat. The aggressive acts are directed toward one or several family members or other household pets. Dogs are pack animals, and they relate to humans as members of their own species and pack members.
  • Territorial aggression is directed toward approaching animals or people outside of the pack in defense of a dog’s area (home, room or yard), owner or fellow pack member.
  • Inter-male aggression between adult males usually involves territorial or dominance disputes. Inter-female aggression occurs most frequently between adult females living in the same household.
  • Predatory aggression is directed toward anything that the dog considers prey, usually other species, but sometimes any quick-moving stimulus, like a car or bike.
  • Pain-induced aggression is caused by a person or animal that causes pain. It often occurs when a person attempts to touch a painful area or when injections are given.
  • Fear-induced aggression occurs when people or animals approach a fearful dog. This is common when the dog cannot escape, and is sometimes seen when an owner uses severe punishment. Active, unpredictable children may also stimulate this type of aggression.
  • Maternal aggression is directed toward anyone that approaches a bitch with puppies or in false pregnancy.
  • Redirected aggression occurs when a dog that is aggressively motivated redirects the aggression from the source to another. For example, a dog that is barking at the door may redirect his aggression onto an owner that is pulling him back. Dominant dogs often redirect onto subordinates.

Treatment for Dog Aggression

Treating aggressive behavior may involve a combination of behavior modification techniques (habituation, counterconditioning and desensitization), drug therapy, surgery (such as neutering/spaying), avoidance and management (such as leash or head halter). Each case is unique, and the success of treatment varies depending on the diagnosis and in accord with your capability, motivation and schedule.

Nipping and Mouthing by Dogs

Dealing with Canine Nipping and Mouthing

When puppies play with each other, they use their mouths a lot. When they play with you or when they are petted, they usually want to bite or “mouth,” too. This behavior is not frankly aggressive at this stage – though it may be pre-aggressive.

There are two different life stages in which mouthiness can be an issue – before maturity and after maturity. The pre-maturity variety, all too often not taken seriously, and misguidedly interpreted as puppy play, leads to the adult version.

Bear in mind that it is easier to “nip” the problem in the bud at this stage by training youngsters what is and is not acceptable behavior. Even if the behavior has been permitted to flourish into adult maturity, it is still possible to take corrective measures.

Puppy Manners

When pups are raised by their mothers, there comes a time when mom starts to set limits. Demanding youngsters often want to nurse whenever they feel like it, but a good mom starts to rebuff some of their efforts from the tender age of about 3 weeks. Nipping is also addressed, not just by mom but by the pup’s littermates as well. Too hard a nip might result in a physical admonishment from mother, or the nipped littermate may cry out and stop playing. These natural checks and balances help to develop a puppy’s good manners and eventual understanding of their impact of certain behaviors on others.

When a puppy is raised by a well-meaning human caregiver, however, proper limit setting is sometimes neglected. Some new puppy owners do not realize that nipping is not acceptable behavior and that they should discourage it.

However, a certain amount of puppy mouthing is acceptable, even desirable, in the very early stage of a pup’s life. If a pup doesn’t engage in any oral behaviors toward his minders, he can never be taught when enough is enough. To emphasize this point, consider improper rearing of usually inscrutable chow pups as an example of what can go wrong. As cute as they are, chow puppies are often too serious for their own good, don’t play much, and may be reluctant to interact. If not coaxed out of this indifference, the first time they lay teeth on skin may not be until they’re 18 months old and the message they deliver at this stage is likely to be overkill – sometimes with disastrous results.

Instead, permit and even encourage mouthiness, even nipping – up to a point. But when mouthing becomes annoying, or the pup’s needle teeth start to make an unforgettable impression, it’s time to curtail the behavior. The idea is to teach the pup that humans are soft and ouchy. Let’s suppose your puppy nips you for the first time when it is 4 months of age. Having carefully planned out your course of action, you wait until the next time your pup lays his teeth on you, withdraw your hand rapidly, and loudly exclaim “OUCH.” Your interaction with the pup should then cease for a few minutes, just as would happen if the pup were with his littermates. You are teaching “bite inhibition”

– an essential early lesson for any family dog.

If things turn out as they should, your pup will adore you, respect you, and understand that, even in extreme situations, humans do not need to be punctured in order to send them an intense signal. Having your dog understand this concept should be part of an overall strategy of limit setting and control. Not engaging in such a program with a would-be dominant dog often leads an unwitting owner down a sorry path of avoidance and subservience – a sorry state of affairs, and sometimes a dangerous one, too.

Adult Dog Nipping and Mouthiness

Adult dogs that exhibit excess grabby oral behaviors do so because they have not been properly schooled as youngsters. They may nip you or grab people by the arm to indicate their wishes or admonitions. Being nipped and grabbed by your dog against your will is a fairly distressing consequence for an owner. The correct way for an owner to deal with such a problem is to immediately implement a “leadership” program in which the dog must learn that all good things in life come from you – and for a price. One common name for such a program is Nothing in Life is Free. 

As for adult nipping, avoid circumstances that can lead to nipping while working on the leadership program. If nipping or grabbing occurs do not shout, try to wave your arms around, or pull away. Instead, “turn to stone” and reward the dog when he lets go and stops nipping. A refinement of this approach to management of the mouthy dog is to arm yourself with a clicker and/or delicious food treats and ignore him when he engages in any rude and rough nipping behavior. The clicker is clicked and the food treat is supplied when his nipping ceases. Specifically, 3 seconds after a bout of mouthy behavior stops you should click, say “good dog,” and offer him a food treat. For more frenetic nippers, a head halter with training lead attached can be employed as negative reinforcement to increase the frequency of the desired behavior – letting go when instructed, e.g. Out!

Dealing with Dogs that Dig

Dealing with Canine Digging

Some dogs just love to get down and dirty by digging and digging. Meanwhile their masters can do nothing but watch as the yard starts to resemble a minefield. What you should do about digging depends on why your dog is scooping up soil by the pawfull in the first place.

Why Do Dogs Dig?

There are a number of reasons that dogs dig. One is a well-founded urge for comfort, particularly on hot days. Dogs do not sweat very effectively and so they don’t cool off as efficiently as humans. Digging into moist soil and then lying in it can provide summer relief. Even if the weather is not particularly hot, a well-appointed hole may be comfortable for nesting. Looked at from that point of view, digging is an indicator of how ingenious dogs can be.

Some dogs dig because they are pursuing an odor of buried food or a prey animal. Breeds, such as terriers and dachshunds, have been bred for the propensity to dig to facilitate their burrowing into the underground dens of small animals.

Sometimes, dogs dig just for the fun of it while others dig out of boredom or frustration. Then again, some dig because they have figured out that they can escape to roam the neighborhood if they can just get under the fence.

On a more tragic note, some dogs that dig may be frightened into a frantic attempt to escape from frightening situations. Occasionally, dogs with separation anxiety dig out of their yards possibly in an attempt to be reunited with their owners. Thunderstorm phobic dogs just want to get away from the storm. 

If digging does seem to be the result of a broader behavioral condition, such as separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobia, you should seek help through a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. 

Digging is hardly ever a sign of a medical condition though it sometimes occurs as an obsessive-compulsive behavior and, as such, indicates anxiety superimposed on an underlying genetic tendency. Again, veterinary assistance should be sought if such a condition is even suspected.

Tips to Discourage a Dog from Digging 

  • If your dog is digging to find a cool spot, try providing him with a small children’s pool or sand pit in a shady area. Alternatively, try providing a shelter, such as a spot under a deck or insulated doghouse, for use on hot days. (Remember, all outdoor dogs should have access to shade and water at all times.)
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  • If your dog is leaving to find a mate, neutering will probably help.
  • If your dog is leaving to raid a neighbor’s garbage, buy your neighbor a dog-proof garbage receptacle. If you have a benevolent neighbor who is feeding your dog, ask the neighbor to stop.
  • Give serious consideration to improving your containment system. The addition of an underground electronic fence or a fence that extends beneath ground level may be the only way to contain a skillful escape artist.
  • If your dog is digging just to have fun, show him other ways to play. Provide him with lots of exercise. If you don’t have the time, consider hiring a dog walker or neighborhood child to walk your dog and play ball with him in the backyard. Always keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated.
  • Supervise your dog when he is out in the yard. Reprimand (NO!) if he starts to dig. Get him interested in doing other things instead (playing ball). If there is one particular area your dog likes to excavate, try temporarily covering the area with plastic or wood. Or change the texture of the soil – for example, with water, large stones or newly planted grass – as this may discourage the unwanted behavior.
  • Consider providing a special area of the yard for your dog to dig and teach him that it is acceptable to dig there but not in the rest of your yard. Well-placed (buried) treats may help direct him to a suitable area.
  • Why You Should Never Ignore Fear in a Puppy

    Will your fearful puppy grow out of his behavior? Probably not, and ignoring it and hoping it will go away can spell disaster.

    Few people would be surprised to be told that puppyhood is a time when young dogs learn what’s safe, normal, rewarding, and harmful – lessons that will shape the dog he’ll grow up to be. But many people would be very surprised to learn how hard it is to undo those lessons once learned.

    This is particularly true with lessons about fear. It’s also particularly critical, because fearful dogs not only suffer a great deal, but can be much more likely to bite or show other kinds of aggression because they’re afraid.

    At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, behavior specialist Dr. Clara Palestrini of the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health at Italy’s University of Milan warned that puppy owners need to be on the lookout for signs of fearful behavior in their dogs.

    “From a behavioral viewpoint, the most frequently observed signs of fear are avoidance, immobility, flight, and aggressive behaviors,” she said. “An animal's fearful posture depends on the behavior the animal is about to exhibit, but, in general, the body is lowered, the tail is down or tucked under the body, the ears are pinned back against the head, and the eyes are wide.”


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    Additional signs may include:

    • Increased vigilance
    • Reactivity
    • Excessive demands for human attention and reassurance
    • Shyness
    • Freezing
    • Aggressive behavior
    • Self-grooming
    • Erect hairs

    “In extreme cases, dogs show a real state of panic,” Dr. Palestrini said. “They are insensitive to pain and social stimuli and their reaction is immediate and extreme. In these cases, the flight behavior can be so violent that dogs may go to such extremes as breaking their own nails and teeth and jumping out of windows regardless of the height.”

    These behavior problems, some of which frequently go unrecognized as being signs of fear and anxiety, can become firmly entrenched during puppyhood, and lead to fear-based aggression later on. Dr. Palestrini pointed out that dogs who are taken to behaviorists for aggression problems usually are motivated by fear or anxiety.

    Complicating this picture is the fact that normal puppies go through a period when they’re particularly sensitive to fearful events and situations. This period often takes place just when they’re joining a new family, and being taken away from everything they know including their mother and littermates. This fearful response is normal, but steps should be taken to minimize the fearful reaction so it doesn’t develop into a more extreme, permanent response.

    Differentiating between normal and extreme puppy response to new situations, as well as knowing how to provide the right response to a puppy’s natural display of anxiety during this period, can be tricky.

    If your puppy shows signs of being anxious or fearful, and establishing an attentive, appropriate, loving routine doesn’t help with the transition, don’t ignore the problem. Seek the help of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to reframe the dog’s fears before they’re so hard-wired they’ll be difficult if not impossible to reverse.


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    Is Your Cat’s Behavior Problem Really a Medical Problem?

    Is your cat urinating outside the litterbox because she’s upset at changes in the household, or because she has a urinary tract infection? Is she clawing up the furniture because she’s upset, or because she’s sick?

    Cats are incredibly sensitive to stress, and that sensitivity often translates into genuine medical problems such as urinary tract and respiratory infections. What’s more, cats often hide signs of illness as part of their evolutionary defense against predators. That’s why behavior changes are often the only sign even the most attentive owner can pick up on that something’s wrong.

    On the other hand, sometimes a behavior problem actually is primarily a behavior problem. How can a pet owner know what’s really going on?

    At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz and board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Gary Oswald mapped out a path to guide veterinarians through that tangled terrain. Their advice will help frustrated cat owners too.

    The most important message for pet owners and vets alike is this: The first step when behavior changes are noted by the owner is to rule out all likely medical causes. This goes for changes in eating habits, grooming, meowing or other vocalization, or litterbox usage, as well as the onset of aggression toward people or other pets.

    That means the appropriate response to a cat who is urinating or defecating outside the litterbox is not to try to figure out what message the cat is sending you, but to visit the veterinarian to see if kidney disease or some other health condition is behind the change in behavior.

    It means that if your cat suddenly turns on another cat in the home with whom he’s always gotten along in the past, you need to head to the vet to rule out medical causes first.

    It means if your cat stops grooming herself, or starts grooming herself obsessively, you shouldn’t spend time wondering if it all traces back to some kittenhood trauma; you need to visit the veterinarian.


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    In their presentation, Drs. Horwitz and Oswald cited neurological disorders as frequent causes of mood and behavior changes in cats. Cancer affecting the central nervous system, toxic exposure, seizures – the list of neurological conditions that can manifest as behavior changes is lengthy, and covers nearly any behavior problem that might occur.

    Ditto for the endocrine system, which maintains and balances the complex system of communication by hormonal signals in the body. “Cats with endocrine disorders frequently manifest behavioral changes and clinical signs that can be confused with primary behavioral disorders,” noted the presenters in the conference proceedings. “Cats with clinical signs including aggression, withdrawn interaction with owner, weight loss or gain, poor grooming habits, and inappropriate urination should be evaluated for a variety of feline endocrine disorders.”

    Gastrointestinal and skin or ear problems can be behind many behavior issues as well, but one of the biggest triggers is pain. Pain itself can be caused by any number of underlying medical conditions, including arthritis, and is something the cat will often try to hide. Those efforts to act as if nothing’s wrong can lead the cat to withdraw from the owner or from normal behaviors such as play, as well as change the cat’s relationship with other pets in the family.

    “Physical examination may not always reveal pain,” cautioned the presenters. “The most common signs that indicate an animal is in pain tend to be behavioral: vocalizations, agitation, abnormal postures or gaits, and subtle signs such as loss of appetite, trembling, stupor, or biting.” They suggested veterinarians proactively encourage their clients to report behavior changes when they first occur, in order to identify pain or illness as early as possible.

    This is important with all kinds of illness, but untreated pain carries a particular risk. When an animal is in pain for a long period of time, even when the cause is removed or the pain physically relieved, the behavior changes it caused can persist or become permanent.

    Canine Scent Marking: What’s An Owner To Do About Urine Marking?

    While there is much experts do not yet know about the intricacies of canine urine marking, they do have a pretty good idea of why it happens—and how to manage it. Primarily, dogs who mark are "branding" or "staking their claim" to what they believe is their territory. When dogs hikes up their leg on a tree or fence… or even your shoes or purse, the dog is saying, "This is mine." It's the same behavior that compels many dogs to sprinkle their urine all around their yard or up and down the neighborhood.

    Dogs don't "mark" out of spite. They don't think, "My mom left me home today, so I think I'll pee on the furniture AND her new purse!" Dogs urine mark both indoors and outdoors for two primary reasons: to define and redefine territory or secondary to anxiety issues, according to Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D., certified applied animal behaviorist at Animal Behavior Consultations. Territorial marking and anxiety, however, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    Anxiety related issues can include:

    • Separation anxiety
    • A new pet in the household
    • Conflicts with other pets or people in the household
    • A new baby, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, relative, etc., living in the house
    • The departure of a baby, friend, relative, etc., from the house
    • An unfamiliar dog urinating in your dog's yard
    • New objects, such as luggage or furniture, in the house that have unfamiliar smells or another animal's scent

    Dogs who urine mark may do so in a variety of situations, such as while on walks in the neighborhood or at dog parks. Some dogs, although not all, mark both in their own home and outdoors. Some male dogs mark only when in the presence of female dogs—especially if they're in heat—as a way of impressing a female. Some females mark as a form of competition. Some male dogs mark only when interacting with other male dogs—usually rival males. Many dogs never mark in their own home but will mark while at unfamiliar places, such as the veterinary clinic or while visiting a friend or family member's home. That one's embarrassing, I know. It happened to me. My 5-year-old intact show dog hiked up his leg on a friend's Christmas tree.

    Urine Marking is Not House-Soiling

    House soiling or submissive/excitement urination and urine marking are completely different behaviors. If your dog is having potty accidents in the house, there are a few reasons why this might be happening:

    • He's not house trained (despite your best intentions).
    • He has a medical issue, such as incontinence (some medications can cause frequent urination).

    If you're not sure what's going on, consider these pointers:

    • House-soiling generally includes a good deal of urine.
    • House-soiling may occur in corners or areas you're less likely to notice.
    • Submissive or excitement urination generally occurs during greetings, physical contact, scolding or punishment.
    • Urine marking generally involves small amounts of urine.
    • Urine marking usually involves dogs hiking their leg on vertical surfaces, such as walls or furniture.
    • Marking normally occurs in prominent locations.

    What's An Owner To Do?

    Urine marking is a normal form of communication among dogs, and they can gather a lot of information by sniffing another dog's pee. Therefore, it's important you not correct or scold your dog. He's not a hooligan or first-class criminal. Besides, this rarely works—even when he's caught in the act. Also, allow your dog some access to marking while outside in his yard or during walks. By preventing him from marking all together, you may frustrate him and actually exacerbate the situation.

    While outdoor marking is usually not a problem for owners—indoor marking can be a deal breaker for the human-canine relationship. To discourage additional heinous crimes against your personal property, experts recommend a proactive approach with the following strategies:

    • Spay or neuter your dog. This will decrease or eliminate sexual motivation for marking but may not completely remedy any learned marking behaviors.
    • Clean up all signs of marking so your dog is not further stimulated to leave pee mail. Use products designed to eliminate urine odor. Do not use ammonia, as this can attract him back to the same spot to mark again!
    • Supervise your dog like a hawk when he's indoors. While typically tedious for most owners, supervision is critical—otherwise the problem is likely to continue.
    • Address the underlying anxiety or territorial insecurity that requires repeated marking from the dog's perspective. The reasons "why" can be complicated; consider the services of a certified animal behaviorist.
    • Consider using a synthetic hormone diffuser (DAP™ Dog Appeasement Pheromone), which can have a calming effect on dogs.
    • Consider medications, such as anti-depressants and selective reuptake inhibitors. Medication alone will not be effective, especially if the underlying causes have not been addressed.

    Turning Down the Volume on the Problem of Excessive Dog Barking

    At first it’s endearing. Eventually it’s a minor annoyance. But by the time you’ve lived with an incessantly-barking dog for an extended period of time, you’re likely ready to pull your hair out.

    Dealing with a canine that barks excessively can prove frustrating for even the most patient dog owner. The constant noise can induce a headache, make you self-conscious of the effect on your neighbors and – worst of all – make you question whether you’re even capable of being a suitable dog owner.

    While barking is a natural form of vocalization for dogs, it should be done in moderation. Rather than accept a bark-filled existence, it’s time for you to take control. Your dog has many appealing qualities – why not highlight those while de-emphasizing barking?

    Once you understand the root causes of dog barking, you’ll be better equipped to seek a proper solution. Just think how much happier you’ll be once your pooch’s barking diminishes. Silence, after all, is golden.

    What Causes a Dog to Bark Excessively?

    When a dog barks incessantly, it doesn’t happen by pure chance. Rather, there’s likely a specific causation that’s prompting your dog to make himself heard. The following represent reasons a dog may resort to barking:

    • Separation Anxiety: Dogs that become anxious when separated from their owners often bark.
    • Reaction to a Specific Stimuli: Some dogs bark in response to exciting stimuli, such as delivery people, loose dogs or cats, squirrels, or unfamiliar noises.
    • Attention Seeking: Many dogs bark because they’ve been inadvertently rewarded for past barking with attention or praise.
    • Play Behavior: Barking can be a normal component of play, and can be directed towards people, other animals, or toys.
    • Medical Problems: Older dogs that suffer from deafness or cognitive problems and dogs that are in pain may also bark excessively.

    Training a Dog When to Bark

    Just as a dog can be trained to comply with commands, it can also be trained to know when barking is appropriate (such as when an unexpected visitor arrives at your house). Positive reinforcement often serves as the most effective means of improving behavior.

    When trying to curtail a dog’s barking, as with any other training program, be consistent and clear about just what you want your dog to do. If you tell your dog to be quiet, you must enforce what you’ve instructed.

    This can be accomplished by keeping your dog by your side on an indoor lead at problematic times. When you anticipate your dog preparing to bark, pick up the lead and tell your dog to sit. Should your canine comply, shower him with praise and a treat. Repeated positive reinforcement can curb your dog’s barking problem.

    Additional Treatment for Excessive Barking

    While there are few sure-fire ways to eliminate barking altogether, many strategies exist to curb dog barking to a tolerable level. These include:

    • Avoidance of Stimuli That Trigger Barking: Sometimes it’s easier to prevent the catalyst of your dog’s barking than to alter your dog’s reaction to that stimuli. This might entail keeping your dog away from windows or supervising your dog when he goes outside.
    • Extinction: This technique involves ignoring your dog when he’s barking. Eventually, your dog’s barking will lessen, as he no longer associates barking with getting what he wants.
    • Punishment: This strategy takes many forms, including bark-activated collars, spray bottles, and loud noises (such as coin-filled “rattle” cans). Dog owners should be cautioned that use of punishment sometimes backfires, resulting in increased barking.
    • Counter-conditioning: This method involves teaching your dog an alternative behavior in response to a stimulus that would normally induce barking. If your dog barks at other dogs while on walks, you can train him to instead focus on you in order to receive a treat.

    Seeking Aid from a Veterinary Behaviorist

    A veterinary behaviorist is a vet with specialized training and qualifications designed to address behavioral issues within animals. In the case of a behavioral problem like barking, a veterinary behaviorist could assess the issue and provide viable treatment options. For example, this type of specialist could establish whether separation anxiety is, in fact, the catalyst of your dog’s barking.

    A veterinary behaviorist can also determine whether your dog’s barking originates from an underlying medical problem, as serious health issues can incite some dogs to bark excessively.

    The Controversy Over Debarking Surgery

    As frustrating as incessant barking can be, most veterinarians agree that debarking surgery is not the proper solution. With this method, a dog’s vocal cords are surgically removed in order to prevent barking.

    Crazy Cats: Can Cats be Mentally Ill?

    Can cats have mental illness? Can cats actually be crazy? My exotic cat, Xiao Mei, was rescued as a kitten after having spent days in the top of a tree. The poor thing must have been terrified, yet the truth is, she prefers to be way up high. She gets on top of a door and lets her four legs hang down like a lion in a tree. She never has purred, and she despises the other cats. Another of my rescue cats hisses and spits a lot, even when he is purring. Where he learned such language is beyond me, but that is all it is: noise. I know Siamese who yowl their heads off and tortoiseshell cats with a “tortie ‘tude” who just can’t seem to calm down. Are they crazy? Not at all; these are breed-specific characteristics encoded to some degree in each cat’s respective DNA. Sometimes, when they have no safe and acceptable outlet for their instincts, they tend to get into trouble. They need their space, entertainment, a safe place, and high perches to truly be happy.

    However, can cats actually be “crazy” or “mentally ill”? The answer is YES.

    What is Mental Illness?

    According to The Mayo Clinic, “mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions: disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.”

    Can Cats be “Mad”?

    Laurel Braitman, Ph.D, wrote her book Animal Madness in 2014 using her observations based on personal experience and scientific research. “There is not a branch of veterinary science, ethology (the science of animal behavior), neuroscience, or wildlife ecology dedicated to investigating whether animals can be mentally ill,” she writes. “[H]umans and other animals are more similar than many of us might think when it comes to mental states and behaviors gone awry: experiencing churning fear, for example, in situations that don’t call for it, feeling unable to shake paralyzing sadness, or being haunted by a ceaseless compulsion to wash our hands or paws.” Rather than condemn anthropomorphism (the act of assigning human traits to animal behavior), she recognizes it as a way to understand how animals relate to our human selves. Dr. Braitman states: “Madness is a mirror that needs normalcy to exist. This distinction can be a murky one.” Indeed.

    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder In Cats

    OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a behavioral disorder in which a cat engages in repeated, exaggerated behaviors that do not seem to have a real purpose. These include over-grooming to the point of irritation or exposure of bare skin, pacing, vocalizing, overeating, sucking or chewing on fabric or plastic, to name just a few examples. Some breeds seem to be more prone to OCD, especially Siamese or other Asian breeds.

    Behaviors usually have a reason, however, and your veterinarian will likely want to rule out physiological problems before diagnosing your cat with a mental illness. The doctor will consider parasites, fungi, bacterial infection, allergies, skin cancer, and pain as possible factors. Tests should be performed to check for lead poisoning, thyroid problems, hypertension, vitamin deficiencies, liver and kidney disorders, and thiamin deficiency. Does the cat have brain lesions or trauma? Are there neurological problems such as epilepsy or a tumor? Rupture of a spinal disc or nerve inflammation may be causing significant pain in your cat, and hearing loss may cause vocalization. Blood screens, fecal and skin tests, food elimination, and many other avenues of exploration may solve the puzzle of your cat’s behavior.

    Spaying and neutering should also be considered as a possible solution for some concerns. Regulating feeding times, eliminating inconsistencies and distressing stimuli in the household, and making play, exercise, and social time priorities can alleviate the problems. An increase in dietary roughage or a change in diet may help stop fabric sucking and chewing in particular.

    Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

    FHS in cats is a rare disorder that can surface in cats of any age, but it usually affects mature cats. This is a rare condition that causes the cat to react to physical stimuli that should not cause pain. Also called “rippling skin disorder,” the skin and muscles on the cat’s back move in a distinctive way when the pain hits. It seems to be more prevalent in Asian breeds such as Siamese. I once had a Siamese that would suddenly burst into a “cat fit,” tear around the house, and even empty his anal glands on the way when an episode began. According to Dr. Alexander de Lahunta, DVM and professor emeritus of anatomy at Cornell University, these symptoms may be the result of a seizure disorder. Dr. de Lahunta describes additional signs such as salivation, wild vocalization, and uncontrolled urination. Other signs might be similar to OCD behavior described above. Medical treatment may include amitriptyline or fluoxetine, phenobarbital, prednisolone, or Gabapentin. Scheduling feeding and play times may help, as well as avoiding scratching Kitty’s back so as not to set those muscles spasming. Sometimes affected cats will try to attack the pain, which can result in other distressing behaviors. If you remember the news story of the family that called 911 because their cat had them trapped in the bedroom, that cat was eventually diagnosed with FHS and was successfully treated.

    Dealing with Dogs That are Off-Leash (and Your Dog is On!)

    What would you do if an off-leash dog approached your dog on a walk? What is the approaching dog intension? What should you do to keep both you and your dog safe?

    Anyone who has ever walked their dog – or even gone for a walk without a dog – has had to deal with an off-leash dog. Perhaps the owner has unleashed his dog to run and play or the dog may have dashed out the gate or front door and is now running free. In any event, an off-leash dog is a potential hazard to you and your dog.

    Unfortunately, there is no one solution to how to deal with a dog running free who approaches you. Every dog is different and has its own agenda when it approaches you and your dog. Some may be genuinely friendly, others hesitant, some protecting their perceived territory, and others downright dangerous.

    What are the Approaching Dog's Intentions?

    The vast majority of dogs will show their intentions via their body language.

    • A dog who is being friendly will approach you and your dog with loose, wiggly body language. The key to these dogs is everything is soft, loose, and relaxed.
    • A dog who is protecting his territory – his house, yard, car, or even a park he frequents – will be barking, dashing back and forth, and usually moving quickly. He may have his hackles up.
    • A dog who is ready to instigate a fight is usually up and forward in his body language. He is up on his toes, leaning forward, and his tail is higher than normal. This dog is usually very still. He will also have a hard stare with infrequent blinks.

    If you would like a good resource for learning more about canine body language, pick up a copy of Brenda Aloff's book, “Canine Body Language.” It's illustrated with photos of dogs and a description of what was going on when the photo was taken. It's quite informative.

    What to Do If an Off Leash Dog Approaches

    I don't allow any unleashed dogs to approach mine. Even friendly dogs can become angry and reactive. Plus, I have no idea if that dog is healthy. I keep all unknown dogs away from mine. Plain and simple.

    If the dog approaching you has an owner trailing behind, ask the owner to come get his dog. Most will say, “Oh, he's friendly,” but I never trust that. I assume an owner who is allowing his dog to approach a strange leashed dog is not a responsible owner, so I'm not going to trust him.

    Never tell the owner of the loose dog that your dog is aggressive, doesn't like other dogs, or is in any way a danger. That opens you up to liability should something happen. Instead, say your dog is in training, you don't have time for socialization, or perhaps even say, “Call your dog. The veterinarian says my dog is contagious.”

    If there is no owner at hand and the dog looks friendly, toss a big handful of your dog's training treats on the ground and, while the dog is scarfing up the treats, just walk away. An overly excited dog can be startled if the handful of treats is tossed right at him. He may hesitate and then discover the treats while you make your escape.

    A training client of mine who has had a knee replacement and walks her small Poodle mix every day uses an umbrella as a walking stick. When a dog approaches her small dog, she pops the umbrella open in the dog's face and then keeps it there as the dog tries to get around it. She says this is quite effective, although she gets some strange looks on sunny days.

    I've heard that some dog owners who use the umbrella trick paint large angry eyes on the umbrella so that when it pops open, big eyes are staring at the dog. Apparently this is effective too.

    There are some spray products on the market that shoot a hard spray of compressed air (or compressed air with a strong smell) toward the dog. A trainer friend of mine recently used the compressed air to back off an aggressive off-leash Siberian Husky who wanted to interact with her Jack Russell Terrier, who was on leash. One shot of the air convinced the Husky he had business elsewhere.

    Dealing with Dogs That are Off-Leash (and Your Dog is On!)

    What would you do if an off-leash dog approached your dog on a walk? What is the approaching dog intension? What should you do to keep both you and your dog safe?

    Anyone who has ever walked their dog – or even gone for a walk without a dog – has had to deal with an off-leash dog. Perhaps the owner has unleashed his dog to run and play or the dog may have dashed out the gate or front door and is now running free. In any event, an off-leash dog is a potential hazard to you and your dog.

    Unfortunately, there is no one solution to how to deal with a dog running free who approaches you. Every dog is different and has its own agenda when it approaches you and your dog. Some may be genuinely friendly, others hesitant, some protecting their perceived territory, and others downright dangerous.

    What are the Approaching Dog's Intentions?

    The vast majority of dogs will show their intentions via their body language.

    • A dog who is being friendly will approach you and your dog with loose, wiggly body language. The key to these dogs is everything is soft, loose, and relaxed.
    • A dog who is protecting his territory – his house, yard, car, or even a park he frequents – will be barking, dashing back and forth, and usually moving quickly. He may have his hackles up.
    • A dog who is ready to instigate a fight is usually up and forward in his body language. He is up on his toes, leaning forward, and his tail is higher than normal. This dog is usually very still. He will also have a hard stare with infrequent blinks.

    If you would like a good resource for learning more about canine body language, pick up a copy of Brenda Aloff's book, “Canine Body Language.” It's illustrated with photos of dogs and a description of what was going on when the photo was taken. It's quite informative.

    What to Do If an Off Leash Dog Approaches

    I don't allow any unleashed dogs to approach mine. Even friendly dogs can become angry and reactive. Plus, I have no idea if that dog is healthy. I keep all unknown dogs away from mine. Plain and simple.

    If the dog approaching you has an owner trailing behind, ask the owner to come get his dog. Most will say, “Oh, he's friendly,” but I never trust that. I assume an owner who is allowing his dog to approach a strange leashed dog is not a responsible owner, so I'm not going to trust him.

    Never tell the owner of the loose dog that your dog is aggressive, doesn't like other dogs, or is in any way a danger. That opens you up to liability should something happen. Instead, say your dog is in training, you don't have time for socialization, or perhaps even say, “Call your dog. The veterinarian says my dog is contagious.”

    If there is no owner at hand and the dog looks friendly, toss a big handful of your dog's training treats on the ground and, while the dog is scarfing up the treats, just walk away. An overly excited dog can be startled if the handful of treats is tossed right at him. He may hesitate and then discover the treats while you make your escape.

    A training client of mine who has had a knee replacement and walks her small Poodle mix every day uses an umbrella as a walking stick. When a dog approaches her small dog, she pops the umbrella open in the dog's face and then keeps it there as the dog tries to get around it. She says this is quite effective, although she gets some strange looks on sunny days.

    I've heard that some dog owners who use the umbrella trick paint large angry eyes on the umbrella so that when it pops open, big eyes are staring at the dog. Apparently this is effective too.

    There are some spray products on the market that shoot a hard spray of compressed air (or compressed air with a strong smell) toward the dog. A trainer friend of mine recently used the compressed air to back off an aggressive off-leash Siberian Husky who wanted to interact with her Jack Russell Terrier, who was on leash. One shot of the air convinced the Husky he had business elsewhere.