Canine patients and stress: the role of the veterinary team

Claire Hargrave
March 2015

The dilemmaWhen a dog displays a behaviour — no matter how inconvenient for us — it is responding to environmental triggers and basing its behavioural decision on genetic/innate influences and the environmental opportunities that it has received for learning about what works to maintain its safety (Bowen and Heath, 2005). Although there is the capacity for considerable individual variation, as many dogs have failed to receive opportunities to learn to habituate to the wide range of social and physical stimuli around them, the influence of genetics should not be underestimated (Mills et al, 2013). Domestication may have created the capacity for cooperation with other species but it hasn't altered the dog's basic drive to succeed, to thrive and survive — nor has it altered the biologically adaptive methods of ensuring this: freeze, fiddle, flight or fight (Yin, 2009). Evolution has provided these natural responses to resolve social problems and the dog will automatically initiate them. Frustration or failure of these behaviours to resolve a problem will only invigorate efforts as the dog has no alternative tools to use (Mills et al, 2013).All dogs need guidance in developing a socially acceptable behaviour repertoire (Dehasse, 2002). As veterinary professionals are the only specialists that are likely to see the family and puppy at 8 weeks when there is still time to resolve most potential problems, the veterinary profession is the main source of reliable information that the family is likely to access during the early part of developing their pet–owner relationship (Shepherd, 2009). Consequently, the emotional health of the developing dog should be as great a priority as their physical health. This is particularly the case as more dogs are euthanased annually as a result of incompatibilities between their behaviour and their families' expectations, than for any other reason and the majority of these dogs are under 3 years of age (Overall, 2013). This can lead to considerable financial loss to veterinary practices that could have expected to see that animal for routine veterinary treatments for approximately another 10 years.

Canine patients and stress: the role of the veterinary team
Canine patients and stress: the role of the veterinary team

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