by Mary Aegerter | © Washington State University
So your cat has decided that it won’t use the litter box, and your dog won’t let you back in the living room if you get up and go to the kitchen for a snack.
Or maybe your dog just wags its tail too hard.
Perhaps you need the Animal Behavior Service at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“If you think you have a behavior problem with your pet, you do,” says Catherine Ulibarri, associate professor of neuroethology and director of the consultation service.
Ulibarri started the service seven years ago, when Professor Emeritus Borje Gustafsson, then dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, decided the school needed it and called her.
“I didn’t have tenure, so when the dean asked me to do something, I did it,” says Ulibarri. Clearly Gustafsson was right. The first year, the service took 50 calls. Last year, it took more than 500.
Veterinary students do most of the work, with supervision. They start by consulting with clients over the phone, whether pet owners or veterinarians. Clients fill out an extensive behavioral history and send in videos to help diagnose the problem and create an effective behavior modification plan. Some cases are seen “in clinic,” and these are Ulibarri’s favorites.
Most calls are about dogs and cats. With dogs, it’s usually aggressive behavior; with cats, inappropriate elimination. “I’m surprised at how long people will put up with inappropriate behavior,” says Ulibarri. People often don’t see a way out of these problems, she says, but there usually is.
The service has received more calls about birds each year. “Birds are social creatures, and we isolate them,” says Ulibarri. That leads to behavior problems such as feather picking and pulling, or toe biting. There also are occasional calls about horses, but solving behavior problems with horses requires different expertise, she says. And there are occasional calls about smaller pets, though these are less of a problem than dogs. “If a ferret bites, you can keep it in the cage,” she says.
Oh, and about that dog that wagged its tail too hard: it was a Labrador retriever owned by an 86-year old woman who was taking blood thinners. Whenever its substantial tail whacked her legs, it caused bruises. The service taught the dog to lie down when his owner approached and to stand in a stall when he was being brushed. Problem solved.
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