Behavior Consultation Services
Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services focuses on the unique needs of your pet and family.
What To Expect During a Behavior Consultation
If you are making an appointment for evaluation and treatment of a behavior problem, a behavior history form will be provided for you to complete before the appointment. History forms can returned by e-mail or US mail. We will also request a copy of your pet's veterinary records.
A typical behavior consultation lasts 2-3 hours and starts with a discussion of your pet's schedule, background and behavioral history. A physical examination will be done when possible (in some cases it may be suggested that you return to your primary care veterinarian for an exam or laboratory tests). Dr. Reisner will then discuss the behavioral diagnosis and prognosis, and give you a systematic list of recommendations for managing the problem. Management generally includes safety recommendations, environmental and social changes, training and, if needed, medication.
Appointments include 2 months of email or phone followup.
Following the visit you will receive a written summary of diagnosis and recommendations and relevant handouts. A referral letter will be sent to your primary care veterinarian. Although most recommendations will be discussed at the initial consultation, recheck visits are available as needed for individual cases.
Is It a Medical Problem or a Behavior Problem?
If your dog or cat exhibits any unusual, new or intermittent behavior, it is important to consider medical or organic problems as well as (primary) behavior problems. Examples of such behavior include aggression, irritability, depression or other personality changes, apparent fear, inappropriate urination or defecation, excessive biting or scratching and self-mutilation, or any unusual, repetitive behavior.
For example, there are many possible causes of urination on the floor, including fear or anxiety, confusion, incomplete housetraining (or, for cats, litter box issues), or simply a very full bladder. But urination can also result from the pain of a urinary tract infection or an overproduction of urine caused by kidney disease and other conditions. To make things more complicated, the behavior itself - urinating on the floor - might continue even after a disease is identified and treated, because it has become "learned."
At Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services, your pet's behavior will always be considered from the perspective of behavioral medicine. Medical and behavior problems are not mutually exclusive; pain or disease can affect behavior, and behavior can be a sign of pain or disease. We will help to identify the cause and, regardless of what it is, will help you manage the problem behavior. When appropriate, drug therapy may also be recommended as part of the treatment plan. The ability to assess physical health and prescribe medication (when needed) are two factors that distinguish veterinary behaviorists like Dr. Reisner from dog trainers or others who work with behavior problems.
Examples of Common Behavior Problems
- Aggression towards people The term "aggression" refers to a wide range of behaviors whose purpose is to drive away anyone or anything threatening to the dog. Aggression can be expressed by stiffening, growling, baring the teeth, snapping or biting. This is the most common problem reported by dog owners, and is worrisome both because of the risk of serious injury to people, and the risk you take of being liable for those injuries. In many cases, aggressive behavior can be managed and minimized so that you can continue to live safely and happily with your dog.
- Aggression towards other dogs Some dogs are reactive and upset when they encounter unfamiliar dogs during a walk, while others might be fine with unfamiliar dogs but get involved in fights with other dogs in the household. It is never a good idea to let dogs "fight it out" because such aggression can lead to severe injury. Management of such aggression, just like aggression directed to people, requires an understanding of its reasons, so that the behavior can safely be changed or controlled.
- Fearfulness and anxiety Fearful dogs can manifest their fearfulness in many ways, including biting (see above), avoidance of scary things, panic and attempts to escape, urination or defecation, restlessness and trembling. In many cases it is possible to change the dog's perception of scary things so that they become more "neutral" or even positive. Even when this is not possible, an understanding of the source of the dog's fear can help with its management.
- Destructiveness Chewing, digging and otherwise destroying objects is a symptom rather than a specific diagnosis. Dogs might do these things for a number of reasons, including play, fear, anxiety, or attempts to escape from a frightening situation. By examining the contexts and timing with which chewing or digging occur, a reason for the behavior can be deduced so that the behavior can be understood and more effectively changed.
- Excessive barking Barking is a normal behavior in dogs, but it can wreak havoc when it is excessive, with neighbors or when the dog's family is simply trying to relax. As with destructiveness, prolonged or excessive barking may be a symptom of other underlying problems. When barking has serious repercussions, a behavior appointment can help.
- House-soiling Housetraining problems, fears and anxieties or simply learned behavior (as in, "this feels good, so I'm going to keep doing it as long as I don't get caught!") can result in repeated urination and defecation in the house. It is also important to consider the role of infection or other disease - either now or in the past - in this behavior. An appropriate history can reveal the reasons for this behavior so that it can be changed.
- Inappropriate attention-seeking and "out of control" behavior Some dogs are simply difficult to control, whether with words or with physical restraint. In some cases it is an issue of manners, while in others it can be a more complicated matter neediness or anxiety. A consultation can help you and your dog "learn how to learn" so that you have more reliable control of your dog's behavior at home and outdoors.
- Aggression towards people The term "aggression" refers to a wide range of behaviors whose purpose is to drive away anyone or anything threatening to the cat. Aggression in cats can be expressed by vocalizing (growling or yowling), swatting with claws, or biting. Aggression is a potentially serious problem because of the risk of injury to people, and the risk you take of being liable for those injuries. In many cases, aggressive behavior can be managed and minimized so that you can continue to live safely and happily with your cat.
- Aggression towards other cats Cats can be reactive and quite aggressive at times to other cats they encounter or simply see through the window, and to other cats in the household, even after getting along for years. Management of such conflicts between cats, just like management of aggression directed to people, requires an understanding of its reasons so that the behavior can safely be changed or controlled.
- House-soiling Urination or defecation outside the litter box is the most common behavior problem in cats. In some cases, urine or stool can be deposited as a sign of "marking" behavior - this is most obvious when a cat sprays urine onto walls or furniture. In others, it is a matter of preference or learned behavior. It is important to consider the role of urinary tract (or GI tract) disease - either now or in the past - in this behavior. An appropriate history can reveal the reasons for this behavior so that it can be changed.
- Fearfulness and anxiety Some cats are more timid than others, and may show their fearfulness by hiding, hissing and biting, or urinating or defecating outside the litter box. In some cases, fear can actually stimulate aggressive behavior towards the fearful cat by other cats in the family. An understanding of the source of the cat's fear can help with its management. However, even when it is not possible to identify or remove the cause of the fear, it can be managed through behavior modification.
Non-profit rescue organizations, foster homes and shelters are eligible for a 20% discount (tax ID # required).