The Gift of Positive Training with a Veterinary Behaviorist


There was a little dog. And he had a little curl right in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was very, very good. And when he was bad, he was horrid.

Mr. N is very, very good most of the time. It’s that one percent that trips him up. His main “bad” fault is that he is leash reactive to other dogs and will bark and pull and lunge out of excitement. He’s improved a lot over the years and we can go to trials and classes and shows and pet expos with some careful management.

Walks in close proximity and the dogs in our complex are still a challenge. We manage encounters as best as we can but occasionally corners or other things will trip us up. But it’s mostly just embarrassing. Because people look at him like he’s a yappy little untrained dog. And me as an irresponsible owner. And you want to proclaim that you have put hours and hours of training into that dog and he has titles and ribbons even if he has trouble walking past another dog calmly.

The other issue is separation anxiety. That is definitely rooted in fear. He spent the first few years of his life locked up in a crate almost non-stop so I don’t blame him. And I wish there was a way to tell him that I will come back to him. That I will always come back. But fear of abandonment always lurks in his little doggy brain.

He’s progressed from barking almost non-stop while I’m gone to intermittent barking in between watching the window and napping. I don’t think anything will make him happy about me leaving. But it would be nice if he was at least tolerant of the prospect.

So for this Christmas (and possibly the next three Christmases considering the cost), he’s getting a very intangible present. I’m going to take him to a veterinary behaviorist in the new year. Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians who specialize in treating behavior. They have to do additional training (through a residency or mentorship), write case reports, pass an exam and author a research project. In addition to behavioral modification, they also have the ability to prescribe medication. Kind of like dog psychiatrists (they do treat other animals like cats, birds, horses etc).

I’ve been debating doing it for quite a while. I would have done it sooner but it is not a cheap commitment. Also Mr. N’s behavioral issues are not severe. He’s not living in his life in utter terror and fear or biting anyone or destroying the roof over his head. In which case, we would have found a way to take him in sooner.

But in the end, I do think it will improve his quality of life and hopefully speed up the rate at which he’s improving. Helping him become more comfortable staying home alone would be a boon. And I’m hopeful that one day, we’ll be able to walk past the neighbors’ dogs without him throwing a fit. I don’t think he’s going to be excited about his gift but I hope it will be worth it.

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Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is my the gift of positive training but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. Our next hop will begin January 2nd and continues for a week. 




63 Responses

  1. SusanG.

    December 9, 2016 2:59 pm

    i adopted a dog at age 4. He came from a home with multiple dogs and had been a show dog. I was shocked to discover he was so reactive to dogs and people whenever we were outside of the house. Many months of positive training and training classes have significantly improved his issues. We can now go for walks without having to fear he will see another dog.

  2. rachel monn

    December 9, 2016 4:14 pm

    positive reinforcment is definitely an important tool that i have used to train her. i always bring little treats on our walks to keep her from barking at kids and another dogs.

  3. Beth

    December 9, 2016 5:21 pm

    That's a great Christmas present! It's always easier to help your pets with help from other people in my opinion. I don't know what we'd have done without our trainers–Bar still can't walk in close proximity to strange dogs (she's fine with her long-time agility classmates as long as we manage well and they don't get the opportunity to sniff her), but she's so good as long as we have a little space. I didn't think we'd ever get to that point. I can't wait to hear how the veterinary behaviorist visits go!

  4. Chris and Mike

    December 9, 2016 8:54 pm

    What a great Christmas present! We found that a behavioral veterinarian consult on Habi was invaluable. Yes, it was expensive, but it was money well spent. We hope that Mr. N (and you) find your visit(s) as enlightening. Keep us posted!

  5. Janet Keefe

    December 9, 2016 11:04 pm

    I hope you'll keep us posted on how this goes. It's something I think about for Luke all the time, but I just haven't found anyone in our area yet.
    Friends of ours (who live in another state) worked with one, but they have still had issues since. But I'm not sure how long they actually worked with them, and I'm not sure that it was a veterinary behaviorist either.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  6. Ruth Epstein

    December 9, 2016 11:28 pm

    I rescued Layla when she was about 5, she was petrified of men and would see one and try run, with a lot of work, going to dog parks it took about 5 months to get her over the fear, walk in the park without a leash and today she is a lapdog, whoever is sitting in the park she sits with them.

  7. smoki2

    December 10, 2016 1:10 am

    That is a cool gift. Mom never heard of a veterinary behaviorist. We have a friend with a German Shepherd who has been to tons of training and is still naughty (trying to bite people). He might need one of these guys.

    Love and licks,

  8. allison hoffman

    December 10, 2016 1:15 am

    my old dog used to have horrible separation anxiety and i worked with a certified trainer along with giving him anti-anxiety meds. It helped getting professional help! I'm so glad the dog I have now doesnt have anxiety issues because that was very hard for me to deal with!

  9. The Daily Pip

    December 10, 2016 1:22 pm

    Ruby is also occasionally leash reactive. We are also working on it. You will have to let me know how it goes with the behaviorist. I have thought about trying that, too.

  10. Lauren Miller

    December 11, 2016 12:49 am

    I think it's awesome that you are taking Mr. N to a vet behaviorist. Are you going to see Dr. Pachel? I work with someone who used to work for him and she highly recommends him and says he's excellent.

    Also if you are interested, we are offering reactive classes where I work. The trainer is excellent. Let me know if you would want to do it. It's invitation only so all the dogs in the class are thoroughly vetted first. The class is not listed on their website but I would be happy to give your more info and put you in touch with the trainer.

  11. Emma

    December 11, 2016 12:54 am

    They are expensive, and I have also found out that so many people actually are seeing them. We tried it once for issues with Emma, but I never went back and never will. The well known one around here uses medications and I didn't like that at all and Emma didn't do well on the meds either. I found a regular trainer who was also not cheap, but she could help us do what I needed without medications, it just takes a lot more work. I have several friends who have been seeing the behaviorist (2 different ones) for at least a year and neither of them are really getting their problems resolved. Every case is different, but I was completely disappointed by our experience and don't see myself ever going to one again. I hope you find a better one.

  12. evie

    December 11, 2016 5:22 am

    i have 3 little gals, the oldest, who is in the twilight of her life, does the best tricks, and was so easy to train. the program you are speaking abt sounds very interesting. i need something like this for my 2 younger girls, sometimes they are really good abt going to potty outside, and other times, they are terrible. they ususally go when i am not home, (i have tried keeping them in the crate) or at night i dont hear them jump out of bed until it is too late. they know better b/c when i look at them with a stern look, and stay something, they hang their end or go hide. funny when we are out somewhere, they are the best well behaved girls. the younger child just wont sit, she will half way sit, but she is so rambunctious, she cant sit still for very long. i always try to use positive training, thru treats, words, clicker. etc.

  13. AliR

    December 12, 2016 1:18 am

    That's a fantastic Christmas present to give yourself and Mr. N! I have given my dogs (and really myself) similar training presents before but never specifically with a veterinary behaviorist. I'm thinking that might be the next step in overcoming Piper's fear of the car. We have made tremendous, if slow, progress but I think we may need some additional help. I look forward to hearing how it goes – what works, what doesn't and how the experience differs from a regular class or training session.

  14. Kari Neumeyer

    December 12, 2016 7:01 pm

    I look forward to reading about what you learn from the behaviorist!

    I'm constantly reminding my dogs that I'll always come back. But I think I'm the one with the separation anxiety!

  15. FidoseofReality

    December 12, 2016 8:57 pm

    I am so glad to see someone writing about positive training. You want the dog to feel good about doing the right thing. When the dog pleases you and is rewarded, everyone wins.

  16. Maggie

    December 12, 2016 11:51 pm

    I'm excited to follow your progress with the veterinary behaviorist! That's something I've been incredibly curious about pursuing with Cooper. He's SO good and SO smart, like, 85 percent of the time. The remainder? Nightmare. I think a lot of it is in his gut, tbd, and I'd love to combine the veterinary and behavioral sciences. I can't wait to see how it goes with you and Mr. N!

  17. Forest Poodles

    December 13, 2016 12:04 am

    I too look forward to hearing about your experience with the vet behaviorist. If you find a way to communicate "I'll be home again soon" let me know! I hate leaving my anxious dog for that same reason, although crating him while we're out has helped immensely.

  18. Champion of My Heart

    December 13, 2016 12:38 am

    We worked with a veterinary behaviorist with our (late) Lilly who was so horrible fearful and reactive to just about everything. The behavior modification work + life-long meds (2 different meds, 2 times a day, every day) made such a difference. If you end up doing something called the Relaxation Protocol … look on my blog for FREE downloads of audio files that make it a lot easier. Good luck!

  19. Carmen Hernandez

    December 13, 2016 3:31 pm

    I took my peekapoo to a veterinary behaviorist to help him deal with being out in public and it has really made a difference. He is still very unsure of leaving the house but we now have the tools to be able to cope during our outings.

  20. Rochelle

    December 14, 2016 2:56 pm

    I feel your pain. Henry is a really, really, really good boy — until he isn't. He has the same issues (leash reactivity and separation anxiety) and I so, so wish it was easier. I feel the same way: people look at him carrying on and barking and give us the "Jeez, lady, train your dog!" look. Little do they know that we ARE training and he IS on medication to help (and it does!), but it isn't perfect. Let me know how the veterinary behaviorist goes!

  21. Kevin

    December 14, 2016 8:34 pm

    Glad to hear that Mr. N is doing better, and it is so awesome for you to get him classes with a Veterinary Behaviorist! I know its a big commitment but I am sure will pay off greatly! Good luck!

  22. FiveSibesMom

    December 14, 2016 11:05 pm

    What a wonderful gift idea! Looking forward to your posts on how Mr. N does! I had my FiveSibes visited by a Canine Behaviorist when we first added three puppies at the same time to our pack of two to assess how we and they were doing. I also had two of my puppies attend some of her training classes…I so support positive training and behaviorists…good luck!

  23. Talent Hounds

    December 14, 2016 11:57 pm

    Oh Boy- you could be describing Kilo except he is way worse more often. He has improved so much, but reactivity is still an issue. I have debated the vet behaviourist but there is only one near and it would be $500-$1000 just for the first session and not sure it would do more than consistent training and exposure etc. We have had a huge breakthrough this week as my niece is staying with her older rescue Angus. Angus is very chill and non threatening. He lives upstairs but so far so good- Kilo has not attacked him. We introduced them in the park a few times and walking. Kilo gets riled up if he goes outside and back in but otherwise just gives him a threatening look every now an again or occasionally tries to play but doesn't really know how. Early socialization is so important as Kilo loves playing with me.

  24. Princely Paws

    December 15, 2016 5:52 am

    It is never too late to invest positive reinforcement training techniques or get profeesional help to modify unwanted behaviors in a dog. Good luck Mr N and his mom i am sure you will get there soon


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