Behaviour modification treatments

Behaviour modification treatment varies in approach, depending on the behavioural problem being treated. It can be provided by a specialist veterinarian, by a certified behavioural expert or by the dog owner. The goal of treatment is to improve the dog’s behaviour so that the owner or family can live happily and safely with the dog. The treatment should minimize both the risk of injury to people the dog encounters and the risk of injury to the dog itself.

Typical treatment might involve the following steps:

  • Avoidance of all circumstances known to provoke the affected dog. Thus, for example, if the dog reacts when hugged, do not hug the dog; if the dog reacts when sleeping on the bed, do not allow the dog to sleep on the bed.
  • Passive behaviour modification to encourage dogs to defer to their owners. Passive behaviour modification also ensures that undesirable behaviours are not rewarded (e.g. if the dog stares at you, walk away; if the dog won’t let you put on its leash or collar, and instead rolls over and tucks in its neck and jaw, walk away). The key here is to prevent a struggle over control and reduce the dog’s tendency to react in the situation. Passive behaviour modification also involves spontaneously praising or rewarding a dog whenever it exhibits a desirable behaviour.
  • Active behaviour modification in the form of desensitisation and counter-conditioning to teach the dog a new, less aggressive way to react in the provocative situations.
An aggressive dog in behaviour treatment.
Photo: Dog Breed Information Centre