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We get e-mails every day asking about "the farm."
What farm, you ask? The one where many imagine their unmanageable dog will be welcomed, along with countless others. A farm where dogs run leash-free, with no children to bite, no cats to kill, no home or yard to destroy, and no nearby neighbors to hear the barking, barking, barking.
"We can't handle our dog anymore," someone will write to us desperately. "We need to find him a home on a farm."
Of course, no such farms exist. The responsibility for correcting your dog's behavior problems rests solely with you. His quality of life is at considerable risk -- and likely his very life: Dogs with serious behavior problems whose owners give up on them are often euthanized after adoption efforts fail.
It doesn't have to be that way. While some behavior problems aren't fixable, most can be. To accomplish such change, though, you have to be prepared to put some time into changing the situation. Quick-fix, halfhearted efforts are doomed from the start.
The first rule of solving any behavioral problem is to make sure it's not a medical problem. Health issues that cause or contribute to behavior problems must first be accurately diagnosed and treated with the help of your veterinarian.
When your pet is healthy, your veterinarian can still be of use. While few veterinarians have the certified training or knowledge to help solve behavior problems, the number of those who do is growing -- and your vet may be one of them. Even those veterinarians who have no interest in behavior work can refer you to someone who can help. Loosely grouped under the term "behaviorist," these pet professionals can help you fix what ails the relationship you have with your pet.
Consulting a behaviorist can save you time, money and aggravation. Time, because someone with experience in animal behavior can quickly determine the root of the problem, without the emotional baggage that a pet owner may bring to the situation. Money, because a consultation or two is a great deal cheaper than replacing a chewed couch or blitzed landscaping. And aggravation? You'll understand that one if you've ever lived with a problem pet.
One of the best choices for help is a veterinarian who has received additional certification in solving pet-behavior problems. These professionals have gone through years of study in animal health and behavior and have done a residency in the field as well. One plus with this group: They can prescribe medications to help correct behavior problems as part of an overall program.
People with other academic degrees (such as psychology) and people who've picked up their knowledge in the field also make themselves available for advising on behavior. Some in the latter group can be excellent, so don't let a lack of degrees deter you from getting help from someone who has studied in the "school of hard knocks" (or would that be the "school of bites and scratches"?).
Behaviorists are not "trainers" in the sense of offering group obedience classes to sharpen a pet's manners. Instead, they work one-on-one with you to solve a specific behavior problem.
If you're in a situation where you're thinking of dumping your pet, ask your veterinarian for help, or call your closest college of veterinary medicine. And quit dreaming about that imaginary farm where all bad dogs are welcome. It exists only in those dreams.
Instead, get help to get the dog you dreamed of owning.
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