Behaviour cases (written with owners permission).

Case number 1 - Bertie the nervous Cockerpoo

Bertie is an adorable young dog. He went to live with Sue and her partner at 18 months of age from a rehoming centre. However Bertie had become very nervous of unfamiliar people. Welcoming people into the home would cause him to rush off behind the sofa or bolt upstairs. On walks, Bertie was frightened of people and other dogs and he would either cower behind Sue or run off from them. On one occasion, he ran off home when another dog tried to play with him. At this point Sue took him for a veterinary check, and with no underlying medical problems he was referred for behavioural investigation.

Bertie was clearly stressed and frightened in the presence of strangers and unfamiliar dogs. Running off is a perfectly normal response to a frightening situation. It wasn't clear from Bertie's history whether there were any frightening encounters in his past that caused him to behave that way, however given his young age it is likely he didn't have adequate socialisation as a puppy to other people or dogs, that would prepare him for adult life. Bertie's behaviour did suggest he hadn't learned to behave appropriately in these situations, or to respond confidently to other people or dogs.

The aim of treatment was to improve Berties confidence using techniques known as Counter Conditioning and Systematic Desensitisation. These force free, ethical and safe techniques are applied by identifying the things that Bertie is most frightened of, and then working at his pace to teach him that these things bring reward instead. Rewards to Bertie included playing ball games and receiving food rewards when he encountered these frightening situations, but at a distance he could relax and cope with. In time Bertie learned that dogs and people were no longer threatening.

During our follow up session, Sue reported that Bertie would now greet people in the home, he had stopped cowering behind her on walks and is much more confident.

Case number 2 - Tibby the urine spraying cat

Tibby is an affectionate, domestic short haired cat. He lives in a large household with 4 other cats with access to a large back garden. However recently he had started to urine spray around doors, windows and cupboards inside the home. Urine spraying is where cats back up against exposed, vertical surfaces, paddle their back legs and quiver their tail while spraying urine.

Spraying is normal behaviour for cats. It serves as a chemical signal to other cats, by way of how degraded the scent is, as to whether another cat is in the area. This communication enables cats to avoid conflict with each other, because unlike social animals (like dogs), they have not evolved the ability to communicate their emotions well through body language. Males, females, neutered and/or entire cats will urine spray, but it tends to only happen outside their core territory (our home); unless this area and/or their resources are under threat from other cats.

As cats are naturally independent and territorial animals, the first thing to address was how Tibby's resources could be under threat; either by neighbourhood cats or by the ones Tibby lives with. Key questions were: were there any changes to his environment or were there any conflicts within the home? What resources did they all have and were they provided to each cat or did they have to share? Were other cats getting into the house, or using areas in the garden to sit and stare at him? It was important to address what was worrying him and to not punish him for spraying, as this would make his anxiety worse.

The aim of modifying his behaviour was to create a more secure territory/home, from Tibby's point of view, and to discourage neighbourhood cats from using areas of the garden as high viewing points (the conservatory roof), which Tibby found intimidating. It was also important to stop neighbourhood cats gaining access to the home, through installing a more secure cat flap (activated by collar or micro chip) and providing areas to hide near these access points.

It was also important to discourage further spraying by neutralising the spray sites and to encourage more appropriate scent marking, such as facial and flank rubbing and also scratching. By creating a safer more secure environment from neighbourhood cats, and by addressing conflicts within the group of cats, Tibby no longer felt the need to urine spray in the home.

Case number 3 - Monty the horse. Coming soon......

Please note - Behaviour treatment plans are based on the motivations driving the animal to behave the way they are. This may be fear or anxiety for example, or it may well be normal behaviour that needs training and shaping to be more appropriate. When the animals motivation is diagnosed, the right techniques and training methods are then applied to treat them. Veterinary referral is necessary to rule out any medical causes. Behaviour treatment plans work best where owners comply with them and are consistent with them.