When It's Time to See a Specialist

Updated: Aug 3

I sometimes refer current or even potential clients out to specialists in certain situations. Specialists might be trainers with specific certifications, skills, or facilities, or they might be the psychiatrists of the dog world, veterinary behaviorists.

Trainers with special certifications or skills include people working with reactivity and separation anxiety or with dog sports like agility or flyball. For dog sports, check out this facility where just about every professional there is force free. Always use your own judgment about letting someone handle your dog and ask what happens if your dog gets it right and what happens if your dog gets it wrong.

Service dogs are another specialty area and you should be aware that you generally don't send a dog you already have to someone for service dog training; typically the service dogs are trained and then families meet them. Read more here.

Separation anxiety looks like a doggy panic attack. Destruction is often aimed at exits, the dog may self-injure during a panic, confinement usually makes it worse, and sometimes the dog will defecate or urinate. It's important to differentiate between separation distress and anxiety and closely-related isolation distress or anxiety. This article should clear up the distinctions. If you think your dog has separation anxiety, you should look for a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). Check out this amazing resource to find a CSAT and learn more. If you want to work via Skype with your CSAT but also have local support, contact Tiffany as we can work as a team for you.

Reactivity typically looks like lunging, barking, growling, and snarling at other dogs, particularly on leash. Many trainers say they work with reactivity but you would do well to ask how many dogs they have available for generalizing the skill. In other words, will you work with the trainer's one or two dogs or are there five or ten dogs the trainer might rotate through so your dog decides that all dogs are no big deal, not just the trainer's dogs. I also find that tightly controlled group classes are the most efficient in terms of bang for your buck. If you try to work privately with a trainer, you need a location with a privacy fence so no dogs pop out unexpectedly. In a well-run group class, you will only see the helper dog working with your dog at any given time. Locally my favorite class is Kranky K9s at The Coventry School.

There are many issues that might be best served with a visit to a veterinary behaviorist (VB). Specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine have both the medical and behavioral knowledge to evaluate cases to determine if there is a medical component and to recommend which medication(s), if any, would be most appropriate. Typically I will recommend this approach after an initial consultation for issues like anxiety and aggression. Check out this brochure to see all of the behavior issues that might be best resolved with a VB on the team. I tend to refer to a VB for specific cases like:

* a dog has bitten multiple people resulting in serious injury,

* a dog has bitten maybe only one time resulting in serious injury with no warnings,

* a dog is showing aggressive behavior to a particularly vulnerable member of the family (child or elderly person or person with health concerns or special needs,)

* a dog is showing predatory behavior toward another pet in the house,

* a dog is showing anxious or aggressive behavior and also has serious medical concerns,

* a dog is injuring himself due to separation/isolation issues or stereotypies.

Please note that aggressive behavior is not cured, it is managed for the lifetime of your dog. What that means is that we may be able to do a better job of managing the environment and changing your dog's feelings about stressors going forward, but we will not be able to change the fact that when under extreme stress from his perspective, your dog will choose to use his teeth to end the conflict. We want to be certain that you are clear that we cannot change that with any amount of training sessions. In Maryland, you face significant liability after multiple reported bites and may wish to consult an attorney as you make decisions.

Locally we are lucky to have many within about a 2-hour drive:


Dr. Jacqueline Wilhelmy, MS, VMD, DACVB, CBCC-KA and Dr. Hauser, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Meghan Ropski, DVM - vet behavior resident, boards in 2023, taking clients 9/2022

Dr. Carlo Siracusa, DVM, DACVB and Dr. Lena Provoost, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Leslie Sinn, DVM, DACVB, CPDT-KA

Dr. Ilana Reisner, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Laurie Bergman, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Marsha Reich, DVM, DACVB, 301-384-3900, does in-home visits

#fighting #reactivity #separationanxiety

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