Abnormal Dog Behaviors – Phoenix Scottsdale AZ Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
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There is a difference between an abnormal behavior and an idiopathic behavior. An abnormal behavior is one that is not typical for a particular dog, breed, or situation. An idiopathic behavior is a behavior that indicates some form of disease (oftentimes undiagnosed). It is important to be able to distinguish between these two categories of behavioral disturbances in order to make a recommendation for the dog owners. Many dog trainers and veterinarians are often not experienced or educated enough to distinguish whether a dog’s behavior is normal (but rarely seen unless the dog is put in certain situations), abnormal or idiopathic. In these cases, it is important to work with a good dog behaviorist to determine the cause, and a suggested course of action, to deal with a behavioral malfunction. And if it isn’t a malfunction, to come up with ways of managing that behavior in the future.
Let me give you an example. A typical dog trainer would be one you’d find running a typical group class. Many of these folks are great at following a set program for getting a number of dogs doing exercises and learning a number of the basics. But, when a dog is not fitting into the program, they can’t tell you why the dog is having issues nor give the owner a solution. So, they will refer the student to a dog behaviorist to get at the root of what is going on.
One reason a dog might be doing unexpected behaviors is that the owner is unaware of the propensities of their dog’s breed. Many breeds have traits that are obvious, and some traits that are not so obvious unless the dog is put in certain situations. Some traits were very useful for the original role the dog had to play, but we find odd or “bad” when we see it happening in our homes or in public, and we are expecting the dog to act in ways that aren’t normal for that breed in that circumstance. For example, the breed standard for the Kerry Blue Terrier states: “Intelligent and game, the Kerry Blue Terrier is truly an all-purpose dog. Originally bred to hunt and retrieve, Kerries can be found today in the show, obedience, agility, herding and earthdog rings.” Breed standards say a lot more than you might realize. Every word is carefully chosen and has a specific meaning. Thus, the word “game” isn’t describing a dog that likes to play games. It means a dog that is capable, eager and aggressive enough to engage in combat.
So, why would a dog be created to get into combat? One of the main jobs of a terrier is to kill vermin such as badgers, fox, otter, and rats. Every one of those animals is a ferocious fighter when cornered, so you needed a dog that could fight and kill those animals when alone. And you’d need a dog that “knew” what these animals were without training. They would have an interest in killing these small mammals.
Now, how might that play out in your city? Well, if your dog isn’t well trained, and gets loose from you, it might go and chase rabbits, squirrels or other small mammals. If your dog is challenged by a strange dog, your dog will thrash the other dog in a fight. Remember… foxes are a wild canine. So, a dog that was created to fight wild canines to the death will be more likely to fight domestic canines, dogs, if there is a challenge, especially if the dog comes uninvited into the yard. Such a dog might also escape the property if it senses small animals prowling about. There’s probably not a neighborhood in the world that doesn’t have rats, so this dog is going to detect them, and become very agitated if they are intruding enough into the dog’s territory to the point that the dog notices them and becomes aggravated by them.
Now, is any of this behavior abnormal? No, not at all. It is a game bred terrier.
What would be considered abnormal? Let’s say you have a Kerry Blue Terrier that goes over to a corner to hide, and starts nervously shaking all over, every time the doorbell rang. And the dog would stay there for over an hour like that and not move. That would be abnormal. Maybe one time in the past, a piece of furniture was knocked down onto the dog at the same time the doorbell rang. Some kind of psychological trauma. When it happened, the dog ran away because it was hurting, and the dog associated the sound of the doorbell with a falling piece of furniture. Now, it has also become a habit. This would be an example of an abnormal behavior. It isn’t what you’d expect any other dog to do when the doorbell rang. And you’d need to implement a plan to see if you can get the dog over it’s fears. Or, let’s say you get the Labrador Retriever that happens to be just as protective as a German Shepherd Dog. I’ve met some dogs of one breed that acted like a completely different breed. The dog was healthy, just acting more as if it was a different kind of breed. In those instances, you have to change how you view and manage that dog. There really isn’t anything wrong with the dog, but the dog has a temperament that isn’t typical for the breed.
What would be considered idiopathic? Let’s say you have a Kerry Blue Terrier that has had a history of seizures, and the dog is becoming more and more aggressive or lethargic. Or let’s say your normally friendly Kerry Blue Terrier attacks you randomly. I saw a dog like that recently, only it was a Miniature Schnauzer. This dog had an adverse reaction to vaccinations as a puppy. As the dog got older, it would sometimes furiously bite the owners when it was being petted. You never knew when it was going to happen. A few years later, the dog’s behavior got even stranger. One day you notice the dog is hiding under furniture. That it follows you around the home, and whines and cries. And the aggression starts to intensify. Something is medically wrong with this dog, and is possibly dying. No behavioral treatment works. The veterinarian is saying the dog isn’t right in the head, yet they can’t find a specific trigger for the behavior. Most likely, you are dealing with an idiopathic behavior. In this case, the owners eventually decided to euthanize the dog. It was a very hard decision, because everyone involved, including the veterinarian, feels like they’ve failed, including myself, because nothing is making the dog better, and in fact the dog was getting worse. On the good side, these people got a new Miniature Schnauzer a couple of weeks later. They were good people, and they had tried everything, and the dog only got worse.
So, if your dog is displaying weird behaviors, then it is time to hire some professionals to figure out what is going on. You’ll most likely need to spend money on a dog behaviorist and some specialized veterinary evaluations and tests.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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