Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB, DACAW
A beaming client and her two children present you with their cute new puppy for his first set of shots. They place him on the exam table and almost immediately you can tell there’s something not quite right about the way he acts and responds. His behavior makes him an outlier, a dog who doesn’t fit in the middle of the bell curve and may not respond the same way as an average puppy to handling or other novel experiences such as being at the veterinary clinic.
What is it that makes him different? How do you recognize a problem early enough that you can educate these owners on how to help the newest member of the family grow into a pet who will truly be their best friend?
An important sign that a puppy may be is that he shows an unwillingness to explore a new environment. Constant panting, yawning, excessive lip licking, and vocalization may be present. If you place a puppy on the floor and all he wants to do is hide under a chair or behind his owners’ legs, a problem exists. A normal puppy at this age should show an interest in exploring his environment.
A second sign of concern is that he does not recover quickly after being startled or frightened by something new. A certain amount of initial fear is normal when a young animal is frightened, but a normal puppy should quickly progress from acting startled or scared to expressing curiosity about what startled him. If a puppy becomes easily frightened and then actively avoids what frightened him without recovering from his fear, that’s not normal.
A third sign that the puppy is an outlier is that he has difficulty settling at home or in the veterinary office after some initial exploration. even greater concern is if the puppy is willing to growl, snap, or bite when restrained. Showing that level of aggressive behavior at such a young age is definitely not normal and concerning.
Based on published research 1, puppies showing these behavioral extremes are outliers and they do not get better on their own as they mature; they will not just grow out of it. These puppies need professional intervention immediately to decrease the chance of them developing behavior problems that might lead to relinquishment or euthanasia. Owner education is critical.
What can the general practitioner do in addition to referring the puppy to a veterinary behaviorist? One of the easiest first steps you can take is to recommend the Adaptil Junior collar. It contains dog appeasing pheromone and has been shown to lead to significantly reduce signs of fear and anxiety when worn by puppies during their socialization period. 2
Adaptil Junior can be a very effective tool in your tool box when managing these puppies, but it’s not the only one. In the next post in this series, we’ll examine additional tools and management techniques to help these outliers.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
- Puppy Behavior at the veterinary clinic: A pilot study; Godbout M., Palestrini C., Beauchamp G., Frank D. Journal of Veterinary Behavior (200&) 2, 126-135.
- Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long term socialization: Denenberg S. & Landsberg G.M. JAVMA, (2008) 233;12