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Behavioral Medicine Science Retores Owner-Pet Relationship

photo of staff

From left: Ms. Sherrie Yuschak, Dr. Margaret Gruen, Dr. Barbara Sherman, Dr. Jillian Orlando.

We love our pets, of course, but what happens when they do not live up to our expectation of a perfect companion? If we come home to find the couch leg chewed or the living room carpet used  as a litter box, the pet’s misbehavior may erode our close relationship.

Sadly, according to the American Humane Association, far too many pets are brought to animal shelters because of behavior problems and most—70% nationwide—will end up euthanized, making behavior issues the leading cause of pet mortality ahead of trauma and disease.

This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Many behavior problems are caused by anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, over-abundance of energy, frustration, or various medical conditions. Since a pet’s problem behavior can be complex and involve several causes including diseases, a veterinary behaviorist is in the best position to identify the underlying reason for the problem behavior and work with the owner and pet to ensure its remedy.

Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians who are trained in all aspects of animal behavior. They not only have a broad knowledge of the physical and emotional health of animals, but also understand how to help clients implement a prescribed treatment plan.

The veterinary behavior experts at NC State University’s Behavioral Medicine Service, for example, specialize in the treatment of behavior issues in companion animals. These include anxiety disorders, elimination problems, compulsive behaviors, and numerous other concerns. They also work with clients on preventive basis, such as preparing the pet for the arrival of a baby, socializing a puppy, or adding a new pet to the household with other animals.

What you can expect as a client.  Before the initial appointment, the clinician will  review your pet’s medical record, evaluate the written behavioral history, and view any additional materials you may submit, such as a video of the behavior at home. At the consultation appointment, which is about two hours in length, the clinician will observe your pet and talk with you to evaluate the behavioral problem and discuss a management program.

This program, customized for your household and lifestyle, consists of written instructions regarding environmental management and positive behavior modification techniques, which are demonstrated. Behavioral medication may also be recommended.

dog problem

(PHOTO: Indication of separation anxiety)

A copy of the discharge instructions is sent to the primary veterinarian to help ensure your pet’s seamless care. Follow-up telephone and e-mail communications are part of the initial appointment and, depending on the situation, one or more follow-up in-person appointments could be recommended.

Why a veterinary behaviorist and not a trainer?  Board-certified veterinary behaviorists have the designation, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). In order to gain board certification in veterinary behavior, a licensed veterinarian must complete a minimum of three years of accredited advanced clinical training after graduation from veterinary school, publish in a peer-reviewed journal, complete approved case reports, and pass a comprehensive examination administered by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

As part of their training programs, certified veterinary behaviorists receive specific and extensive training in medical problems that may complicate behavior problems, behavioral diagnostic procedures, behavior modification protocols based on the science of animal learning, and behavioral pharmacology.

For more information:

Video on the Behavioral Medicine Service and web page.

Head of service Dr. Barbara Sherman (past president ACVB)

Service clinicians and team members

Client comments

AVMA podcast on canine fear aggression features Dr. Sherman

Protecting Children from Dog Bites

Decoding Your Dog

The definitive, research-proven book on why our dogs do what they do and how we can prevent or solve common canine behavior problems. 

book cover 

Dr. Barbara Sherman wrote the preface for “Decoding Your Dog,” a new book for dog owners prepared by her colleagues at the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.  Editors include Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi in collaboration with Steve Dale.  Trainer Victoria Stillwell wrote the forward.

Book review in Wall Street Journal.