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Behavior Awareness

Developmental periods do not start and end abruptly, but rather phase in and out gradually. Table 2 provides a checklist of items to discuss with each client based on life stage. Educate clients regarding their dog’s appropriate behavior and development, including normal and problem behaviors as described below.

Normal Behavior

Socialization

  • Discuss with breeders critical behavior development in the first 2–3 wk. Research shows gentle handling increases the neonate’s ability to cope with stress later in life.
  • Discuss the socialization period (2–12 wk). Demonstrate handling, nail trimming, bite inhibition, and safe exposure to novel sounds, textures, and objects. Explain appropriate exposure to other dogs, species, adults, and children. Encourage clients to attend group classes prior to 4 mo of age to promote socialization behavior.46
  • Discuss puppy anxiety issues. Puppies experience a fear period around 8–10 wk of age, which often coincides with joining a new family and the first veterinary visit. Some puppies may start to show anxiety at this time and remain fearful even in the absence of any trauma. Use positive reinforcement with treats or toys during transport, exams, vaccinations, and handling. Avoid aversive events because those may have lifelong effects on anxiety, fear, reactivity, and aggressiveness.
  • Discuss adult dog phobias (e.g., thunderstorms, fireworks) and how to prevent them.

Exercise and Environment

  • Discuss appropriate exercise, avoiding temperature extremes and damage to physeal plates. Encourage exercise routines both at home and in novel environments, including walking on a leash, and activities that also provide mental stimulation (e.g., fetch training or agility training). Such exercise helps with desensitization to stimuli and facilitates socialization, decreases arousal and reactivity, and reduces anxiety and the risk of owner-directed aggression.
  • Advise clients about puppy-proofing the home. Provide information about crate training to help with house training and to help habituate the dog for possible future crate confinement (e.g., for transportation or hospitalization).
  • Discuss interactive toys and games, food-dispensing toys, rotating the toys so they maintain novelty, and appropriate play, which all serve to enrich the environment and provide mental stimulation. Humane obedience training (e.g., lure training, clicker training) provides predictable, consistent, and stress-free interaction and an opportunity for the dog to act on the environment with predictable outcome.
  • Discuss breed-specific behaviors (e.g., predilection of terriers to dig, herding breeds to herd). Variance within breeds can be profound, and dogs may need environmental enrichment and activities specific to their natural tendencies to expend energy.

Problem Behavior

  • Encourage consultation early if behaviors emerge that concern the client. Inappropriate or nuisance behaviors can be corrected with greater ease during the puppy and junior stages than if they are allowed to persist or are dealt with inappropriately. Young dog behaviors often break the human–animal bond at this phase.
  • Recognize and address any biting or aggressive tendencies with behavioral counseling, training, and/or referral to a behaviorist. Emphasize safety of the community at large and prevention of dog bites to family members. It is the role of veterinary team to counsel the client when safety is an issue.
  • Recognize behaviors that reflect cognitive decline using a questionnaire for senior pets.47 Answers can be used to help distinguish cognitive from sensory impairment/degradation (especially hearing and vision) or disease.
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