The Dangerous Dogs Act with its focus on breed not deed has long been seen to be unfit for purpose and it is positive to see that the government is now consulting on this. Dog behaviour is a complex but important area and the behaviour and psychological wellbeing of our dogs has a fundamental impact on their overall wellbeing as well as impacting on their owners and the community and environment in which they live.
As vets we, very understandably, often focus our attention and post graduate study on the medical and surgical interventions that will allow us to help maintain and prolong health and welfare of the pets we see. We spend much less time and are often less well equipped to deal with the behavioural problems that may present in practices. The PDSA PAW report found that only 23% of owners would go to their vet practice for behaviour advice. Behaviour is also often a reason that dogs are relinquished to rescue homes. Reward based training of dogs from an early age is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner yet it is not always easy for owners to know how to choose an appropriate dog trainer for their pup or older dog. While the dog training arena is an unregulated one the Animal Behaviour and Training Council sets, oversees and monitors standards to accredit its member organisations and BSAVA are Members of the ABTC Council. Owners should look for trainers that have been accredited by the ABTC.
Another area that can cause great distress for dog owners is when their own dog is nervous around other dogs. Sadly it may be interactions by well-meaning dog owners allowing their off the lead dog to enter the personal space of the on the lead dog. This can be stressful for dog and owner. A trip to the vets, being surrounded by other dogs in a waiting room can be exceptionally stressful for dog and owner. A dog that is being walked on a lead may be on the lead for a number of reasons, including aggression to other dogs or rehabilitation from injury etc and needs space from other dogs. This is something that we can think about in our practices: how to provide an environment for dogs that need space from other dogs and how to educate all our dog owners about respecting the space of a dog on a lead.
Correct socialisation of young puppies can have a profound effect on their long term behaviour and wellbeing. This is just one of the many factors to think about when potential owners are thinking about getting a dog. It is vital that as vets we help owners navigate the minefield that can confront them when they are thinking of getting a dog. Pre-purchase examinations at the practice are an excellent chance to educate clients about what breed or cross breed would be right for them, how to avoid unscrupulous breeders, education about the responsibilities of being a pet owner including health and welfare messages and it is the perfect starting point to bond a potential new owner to the practice. The Puppy Contract is a great tool to help clients when they are thinking of getting a new puppy