Less Than Picture Perfect: When Our Beliefs About Health Undermine Our Pets' Behavior
- Monday, 01 May 2006
This month I want to explore two common beliefs about health that particularly complicate the resolution of behavioral-bond problems: the beliefs that animals with such problems are healthy, and, two, that these problems are like medical ones which, when treated with drugs, are cured in a relatively short time. Of all the issues that those seeking to resolve serious behavioral-bond problems must address before they can make the necessary consistent, meaningful changes, these two often create the biggest stumbling blocks.
Perceiving an animal with serious behavioral-bond problems as healthy is an illusion (delusion?) more often attributed to animal-care professionals, probably a carryover from similar views once common among human healthcare professionals. Mary Smith requests euthanasia for her dog because he has bitten several people, and the naive veterinarian replies, "I don't kill healthy animals." If these veterinarians and other animal-care professionals who ascribe to this view understood the physiology that commonly underlies negatively aggressive behavior, they would never consider those animals healthy. However because they don't, they rely strictly on what they can actually see: an animal with no visible symptoms of anything they would consider illness. According to that limited definition then, those lacking these symptoms are healthy.
For as frustrating as this restricted professional view can be to those who seek to terminate their relationship with a dangerous animal, related views also may afflict owners willing to treat serious behavioral-bond problems. For example, suppose Mary decides to treat rather than euthanize her aggressive dog, Ben. She may be willing to make the comprehensive changes necessary to relieve the stress that fuels Ben's biting, but if her family and friends see no need to do this because Ben is fine around them, she faces an uphill battle. Not only won't they properly relate to Ben because they