living with Woody Allen on crack!” This is by far one of my favorite quotes by a client trying to describe to me what it is like living her dog. No doubt, this client’s sense of humor helped her cope living with her beloved pet 🙂
Living with a dog who has behavioral problems is HARD! Unless you have been through it or have great empathy for the situation, you can’t really imagine why a person would go to such great lengths to treat a dog ( or any pet) that has a behavioral disorder. It is hard enough in our culture to accept the validity of human mental diseases such as depression, bipolar, social anxiety etc….let alone to believe, or accept, that a pet could possibly be affected by such biological imbalances or malfunctioning neural circuits.
I think if someone told me to just “snap out of it” after I was diagnosed with post partum depression, I would have been inclined to break their leg and tell them…” Just get up and walk..its all in your head! ” No matter how much a person with a broken leg may want to walk, the underlying biological structure of the leg is compromised and thereby one can not use it to function as they previously have. They must seek the appropriate help and treat the leg in order to restore function. Just like a leg can break for many reasons, people who are afflicted with depression, anxiety disorders etc.. can be so for many reasons. Many have at risk genes that predispose or cause malfunctioning of neural circuits via different mechanisms. Being told to ” get over it” is unlikely going to qualify as treatment for that person just as telling a dog owner whose dog has genuine behavioral dysfunction that the owner just needs to “socialize the dog more” or ” show the dog who is the boss/dominant”. This concept of malfunctioning neural circuits affecting the behavior of a pet is a concept that society needs to understand. As our culture begins to become more understanding of mental disease in people, I hope we can extend that circle of compassion and understanding to our pets who suffer with similar issues. Along those lines, they say it takes a village to raise a human child and in truth, it can take a village to raise to pet. Therefore, for all of us members of society ( i.e the proverbial village) please respect the following so that those dog owners who are working hard to treat their pets can be successful:
1. If someone has a yellow ribbon tied to their leash – do not approach that dog/person ( a yellow ribbon tied to a leash indicates the dog has issues and you and or your dog need to give that dog and person space).
2. If someone tells you their dog is not friendly, please do not respond by saying..”its okay I’m a dog person” and then reach towards the dog. If a person tells you their dog is not friendly..just say thank you and keep on walking.
3. If you notice someone is trying hard to walk a reactive dog and they are clearly waiting for you and your dog to pass, don’t linger and chat on your cell phone. If possible, please get by that person as quickly as possible. We totally understand that you do not have to do this and this is a favor that is being asked of you. Please at least consider it.
4. If you notice someone is trying hard to walk a reactive dog, please don’t stand there and stare. This makes the dog much more reactive, and makes it much harder for the owner of the reactive dog to pass by. It is also interfering with that dog’s progress.
5. If someone tells you their dog is having behavior issues, please don’t offer advice such as – “watch the dog whisperer”, “you need to be the boss”. You have no training in this field and just because you may have a pet that you trained to do a few things, does not make you a behavior expert any more than you having eyes makes you an opthalmologist. Advise them to seek professional help from qualified individuals. If you do not know who qualified individuals are, advise them to speak to their veterinarian.
6. This is my personal hot button – if someone mentions to you that their dog has separation anxiety and their dog goes crazy in the crate and tries to escape – advise they need to see a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist as those dogs need medications! They are suffering! Once medications are on board, other strategies can be can implemented.
Now, we dog owners can not expect the village to help us out if we don’t step up and take responsibility to keep those in the village safe! If you are an owner of a dog who bites, for whatever reason, it is YOUR responsibility to keep the village safe. No one in the village is going to be understanding or wanting to help if YOU are putting them or their pets/family members at risk. For dog owners and village members both- we need to change how we perceive the use of muzzles. Go to www.muzzleupproject.com for good information and click on the following link https://www.facebook.com/FetchTheFacts ( first video clip on the page) to watch one of our patients and see just how happy a dog can be wearing a muzzle.
Here is looking forward to an increase in understanding and awareness for good mental health for all because no one should have to endure living with Woody Allen on crack.
Emily D. Levine DVM DACVB
Animal Emergency and Referral Associates
Fairfield, NJ 07004