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Clare Bonifant, DVMThe dogs and cats that live in our homes enrich our lives in so many ways. Human caretakers provide housing, food and water, and veterinary care for their animal companions. These items make up only a small part of our experience with our pets. The rest of the experience falls into the realm of animal behavior – how we enjoy our interactions with our dogs and cats through play, tricks, exercise, cuddling, and interaction with other animals in the neighborhood or at the park.

When dogs and cats are well behaved, we can enjoy them to the fullest extent possible. If a behavior problem arises, it creates stress in the home for both the animal and the human caretakers. An overwhelming behavior problem can lead people to surrender their animals to shelters, rescue groups, or other homes willing to take on the challenge of addressing the problem. A 2010 study reports that over 2 million dogs are surrendered to shelters annually in the United States. A regional study by the Indiana Humane Society found that half the dogs surrendered to shelters were young adults (1-3 years), and they were given up for having "too much energy" (45%), barking (41%), chewing (24%), housetraining accidents (21%), or aggression-related issues (less than 9%). These complaints (with the exception of aggression) are all part of normal canine behavior! 

Likewise, well over 2 million cats are surrendered to shelters annually. Leading reasons for surrender of cats include: too much work to maintain a litterbox, elimination outside the litterbox, and bothersome clawing, pouncing and biting behaviors. Again, elimination activity and clawing/pouncing/biting are parts of normal feline behavior! Any experienced cat owner knows that cats require training for litterbox use, and for proper and safe play behavior.

The veterinarians and staff of Armadale Animal Hospital are dedicated to helping families enjoy well-behaved cats and dogs through proper pet selection, training activities, and addressing behavior problems as soon as they emerge.  The same study mentioned above reports that people who work with their veterinarians and through training programs to teach their dogs and cats important behavior patterns have the greatest chance to keep their pets for their entire life spans. 

Armadale advocates pre-adoption or pre-purchase consultation with a doctor to discuss expectations, goals, and other behavior and healthcare considerations for a potential pet. At the very least, prospective pet owners should research the breed and species-related health and behavior characteristics on reputable internet sites (start with the ASPCA website), through books, and especially by speaking with knowledgeable breeders and animal caretakers. In our experience, people reliably enjoy their new pets when they have knowledge of the amount of care and training needed for their specific breed, age, or type of animal. Pet owners who are continually surprised by the types of behavior or health issues they encounter when caring for an animal usually tire of the responsibility, and eventually may give up on the relationship.

At the first veterinary check-ups for a puppy, kitten, or when an older animal is brought into the home, we will review relevant behavior topics, training, and provide handouts as needed to inform and support training activities.  We hope you will discuss behavior with the staff and doctors at every visit, because it is such an important part of the animal's overall well-being.

Dr. Clare Bonifant is an associate veterinarian at Armadale Animal Hospital. A native of Massachusetts, Dr. Bonifant earned a BA degree from Harvard University, an MBA degree from Dartmouth College, and a DVM degree from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Schedule an appointment for your pet's behavior consult today! Prior to your appointment, please fill out and bring with you the appropriate questionnaire:

Canine Behavior Questionnaire

Feline Behavior Questionnaire