Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When Your Dog Runs Away

A dog that runs away from home has somewhere to go. It is quite amazing that in most cases the owners cannot tell where their dog goes. The usual answer is, "Just out in the neighborhood to see the other dogs or something." These dogs have a definite objective in mind and usually cover the same route during each journey. Why is that route or objectives more appealing than his home environment? It must be that his environment is lacking in some respect. The root of the problem usually lies with the owner. The dog is often either over- dependent or is not in a subordinate position in relation to the owner. All corrective procedures must start with the relationship between dog and owner, except when minor external environmental adjustments are needed, such as gaining a misguided neighbor's cooperation to stop feeding the dog when he comes around.

The relationship between dog and his owner must always be considered first when solving a runaway problem. When the dog is over-dependent or too independent, he must be taught, without physical manipulation, to Come, Sit and Stay on command. The owner must make a general environmental adjustment and avoid all fondling or other stimulus-response situations that subordinate the owner to the dog's whims. For example, a dog that nudges for petting, food tidbits, or to be let outside must be given some simple command, and then told "Good dog" and petted briefly when he obeys. The pet should then be ignored while the owner continues whatever activity was interrupted by the dog's solicitation. This helps reorient the dog to his owner's control and reverses the leadership position. Combined with daily training sessions and other corrective measures, this procedure produces results within one and three weeks.

Owners who allow their dogs to roam free in the neighborhood are contributing to the runaway problem, and should be made aware of the dangers related to this practice. The pet's safety and health are at risk because of poisoning, road accidents, fighting, and diseases contracted from other animals. The animal may become lost, picked up by animal control officers or stolen. What is seldom considered also is that the owner may be subjected to civil suit or criminal charges if the wandering pet causes destruction of property, including fights with other dogs, or human injury.

If an owner cannot appreciate the folly of allowing a pet to roam, any attempt at teaching the animal to behave at home is wasted. When the dog has been taught to accept the confines of his own property, the problem of running away is solved, and such associated problems as dashing in or out of doors, jumping fences, and other escape behavior can be dealt with effectively.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Psychotic Dog

A psychosis is defined as a mental disturbance of such degree that there is personality disintegration and loss of contact with reality. The line between neurotic and psychotic behavior is not well defined, even by psychiatrists and psychologists. Two prevailing criteria can be added to the definition of a neurotic dog to describe, for this purpose, a psychotic behavior. These involve circumstances in which the dog's behavior is dangerous to himself or to the safety of others, and in which the dog appears to be unaware of the behavior during and/or very shortly thereafter his actions.

If only the first criterion were to be applied to biting or self-mutilating dogs, then they would incorrectly be considered psychotic. In fact, many people believe that any biting dog should be labeled as a "psycho" and destroyed immediately, regardless of the circumstances. On the other hand, if the second element applies, and the dog is unaware of his behavior, it would seem reasonable to apply the psychotic label. The dog that appears to have withdrawn from reality or suffers episodes of withdrawal could be either psychotic or physically ill. If the behavior fits the basic neurotic model and is also in some way harmful to life or well-being, then the animal may be psychotic, if otherwise healthy.

Dogs that are defined as psychotic have included the following symptoms: Dogs that suffer "avalanches" of rage for no clinical reasons and do not respond to external stimuli; manic-depressive animals that vacillate between depression and wild activity; and depressed dogs that fail to respond even to powerful stimuli, such as hunger, as when dogs starve to death in the presence of food. These cases have been seen in pet dogs as well as laboratory animals. The rage and manic-depressive states occur mainly in excitable types, whereas depression usually occurs in those with inhibitive tendencies. Some notable factors in the medical histories of apparently psychotic dogs are listed below.

* Early distemper (before 3 months of age).
* Serious parasitic infection (before 6 months of age).
* Severe beatings.
* Accidental injury, especially to the spine and/or head.
* Accidental drug overdose.
* Prolonged corticosteroid or other drug therapy.
* Diabetes
* Extreme psychic trauma.

The underlying physical problems are rarely, if ever, investigated with the same dedication applied to humans with similar conditions. As a result, the dogs are generally destroyed, which solves the owner's immediate problem, but offers no progress toward understanding of the problem's causes.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Neurotic Dog

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A neurosis may be defined as a functional nervous disorder with no sign of disease of the central nervous system. Psychoneurosis is described as an "emotional maladaptation´┐Ż due to unresolved unconscious conflicts, and may also be used to describe the condition of many so-called neurotic dogs. This means, to recognize a neurotic dog, we must identify some defective nervous behavioral functions, while ruling out physical injury or disease, such as hydrocephalus, brain tumors, etc.

This can be done in some cases through neurological examinations. Urine and blood analysis can often indicate internal chemical imbalances which are of an organic cause. On the other hand, they may also indicate the presence of severe environmental stressors. Combined with behavioral information, physiologic examinations might indicate a neuroses or the basis for a psychosis. For practical purposes, a dog may be considered neurotic if he shows signs of a functional nervous disorder combined with behavior that is both abnormal and maladaptive for dogs in general.

But how is a functional nervous disorder described in behavioral terms? The following descriptions are helpful:

* The dog that fails to inhibit the orienting (alerting) response to stimuli that occurs repeatedly and are known to the animal to be neither harmful nor rewarding. These dogs are almost always in a state of anxiety.

* The dog that responds to novel objects, sounds, touches, movements and even odors with exaggerated active or passive defensive responses. These dogs often lack adequate early social experience.

* The dog that fails to retain (in some cases, even to develop) voluntary or involuntary conditioned reflexes. This cannot be applied to the dog's total behavior, but usually is pertinent to a failure to form and/or retain learned associations involving defense and social behaviorisms.

* The dog that displays hyperkinesis. Signs include excessive salivation, elevated pulse and respiration, abnormally low urine output, and increased energy metabolism revealed through excessive, sometimes stereotyped activity, especially in close confinement.

* Displays fixations on objects, exhibiting ritualized behavior, usually repetitive and with no apparent objective. "Obsessive-compulsive" is the current diagnostic label of choice. While it is often treated with drugs, careful diagnosis shows that these dogs are suffering from frustration due to a lack of function in their lives. They are "making work," and receiving internal neurochemical rewards.

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