Let’s Talk About Aggression

By Jennie K. Willis, PHD What is the function of aggressive behavior in dogs? It scares us and galvanizes us into action, often without a lot of thought. Most of the time we react by yelling at them to stop, pulling hard on the leash or swatting at them. Sometimes it includes removing them from the situation. I want to help you understand what the “goal” of an aggressive response is for your dog when it happens. Aggressive behavior is a response to something happening in the environment. The function of aggressive behavior is to get the threat to stop or get farther away. Aggression is motivated by fear not… Read More

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Why Labels Get In the Way of Behavior Change

When we label any individual’s behavior, person or pet, we get in the way of solving it. Why is that? Why is labeling so easy and yet so unhelpful? Well, let’s reframe. If we tell a child they are stupid and slow, the child understands us. The label becomes a part of the child’s self worth. It also becomes part of our perception of them. But somehow we expect by name calling and labeling a person we will shame them into better behavior. Even the research on people that shows it doesn’t work! But yet we do it all the time. But our pets are different right? So what? They… Read More

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Are they really getting along?

Are they really getting along?  by Jennie Willis, PHD   “It came out of nowhere,”  owners will often say when their pets get into a fight.    It may seem this way, but often there were daily warning signs that went unnoticed.    Relationships are complex and fights often erupt when their environmental stress has gotten too great.   Communication needs to go two ways between pets and when it doesn’t, the more subtle communications become aggression. Signs to watch for in cats Most aggression in cats stays at the level of staring.  When one cat is staring at the other, they are signaling intent.  If the other cat moves out of the… Read More

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Can any behavior problem improve?

Yes! When you take a comprehensive approach and think about the whole animal, medical, behavioral and motivational needs, we can move the needle on any behavior problem.  Almost always, we can get them to improve to a point where their quality of life, as well as their families’ lives are safe, comfortable and behaviorally healthy. All of these types of problems respond well to behavior consultation. Aggression: Growling, Barking, and Biting behavior directed at people (family members, strangers or your veterinarian) or other animals Fear: Avoidance, panic and phobias (most commonly noises or thunder) Anxiety: Separation from owners or other pets leading to elimination issues, barking or destruction Inappropriate elimination… Read More

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What pets can be helped through behavior consultation?

All animals can change their behavior.  Reptiles, cats, horses, dogs and birds can all learn.   You can help them improve by gaining the right tools and techniques and practicing with your pet.   Behavior problems tend to fall into two categories: those with an emotional component (anxiety, fear, aggression or panic) and those that are learned bad behaviors.  In both cases, improvement and resolution are very possible with safe, scientific and humane techniques.  Usually improvement is noticed right away, but resolution may take weeks or months depending on the type of problem. I work with all of these issues, but I think my favorite to help with is aggression.  Pet… Read More

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What do I need to be ready for our appointment?

1)Plan for your pet to have a lighter meal before our appointment since we will be using treats. 2) Have some of your pet’s favorite food or treats available.  I will bring treats too. 3) If your pet is nervous about strangers, please let me know and we will discuss the best way for me to meet your pet. 4) Have any medications your pet is taking available or write down the name and dosage ahead of time.

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What is your success rate?

All behavior problems are not the same.  Most of my cases tend to be veterinarian referrals of fairly serious refractory cases.  Even though that is true, more than 90% of my pets show improvement to the degree satisfactory to their owners.  With a comprehensive approach, we can achieve a positive outcome for owner and pet alike.

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Is my pet too old to benefit from behavior consultation?

No! Any pet of any age can always improve.  The longer the behavior has been occurring, the longer it typically takes to resolve since there is not only the underlying motivation to address but also the habit and rehearsal of the behavior.  That being said, as long as your pet is medically ok, behavior can change even in older pets.  With a few weeks or months, you can see some pretty dramatic differences!

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