IAABC Conference, Behavior Consultant Meeting
WARWICK, R.I. — The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants 2011 Conference April 1-3 was attended by over 300 dog, cat, parrot and horse behavior consultants.
Dodman discussed animals with compulsive behaviors, and said that new research may demonstrate that dogs who chase their tails (mostly terriers and herding breeds) might actually not be demonstrating a compulsive behavior, but instead could be autistic.
“Like people can have compulsive behaviors, such as famously washing their hands until their skin is raw, animals can have similar behaviors,” said Dodman, author of several popular books and editor of “Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy and Comfortable” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2010; $26).
“We don’t know how many pets have compulsive behaviors,” says Dodman. “Generally, behaviorists say around five percent, which makes sense and is consistent with around three percent of the human population who are identified with compulsive disorders.”
Dodman began to work with compulsively cribbing horses (the horse grips an edge, such as a fence or stable door, with its front teeth, arching its neck and swallowing air) many years ago, and discovered that psycho-pharmaceuticals could help. Later, Dodman was among the first to use Prozac to help control compulsive behaviors in dogs.
Interestingly, compulsive disorders in dogs follow what each breed was intended to do. For example, dogs who compulsively chase light or shadows tend to be bred originally for herding or chasing prey. Other compulsive behaviors in dogs include sucking on their flanks to the point of causing serious skin problems, and snapping at imaginary flies. During his lecture, Dodman wondered out loud if fly snapping might be a seizure disorder, at least in part.
Some cats, primarily Oriental breeds, such as Siamese, can compulsively suck on fabric, a behavior commonly called “wool-sucking.”
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“In this instance, I worry about safety,” adds Dodman, “Since most cats
ingest some of what they suck on, it may cause an obstruction.
the quality of life isn’t so hot when all you can think about, and all
you do, is whatever the compulsion is.”
Dodman has been looking
at flank sucking in Doberman Pinchers and has found a specific
alteration on a chromosome which appears consistent among Dobermans with
“We’re on our way to proving compulsive
behaviors may be genetic,” says Dodman. “If it’s true in dogs, there’s a
good bet it’s true in people.”
Another psychological condition
common to both people and pets may be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD), according to Dr. Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal
Sanctuary, Konab, UT.
“There’s some debate about whether or
not animals actually do suffer from the strict definition of PTSD, but
no argues that our pets have emotions and may suffer as a result of
severe psychological injury,” he notes. There are a long list of
potential causes, among them growing up in puppy mills, military
service, suffering abuse, being repeatedly re-homed and potentially even
force-based dog training.
“Dogs are sensitive,
emotional, vulnerable beings that need us to help to teach them and care for
them,” she said. “They’re not out for world domination. Your dog
doesn’t necessarily want to be top dog. Your dog just wants to understand what
is expected. It’s ridiculous to think you need to be dominant so your dog can
be submissive. If you turn a dog over and hold a dog down, and the dog gives
up; this is not a dog that is showing submission. It is a dog who didn’t have a
choice, and shut down. Dominance training methods are dangerous and rarely
teach dogs. Positive reinforcement methods allow dogs space to think and they
Dog trainer and behavior consultant
Ken McCort, of Doylestown, OH, had heads spinning and sparked lots of
conversation as he discussed cognition measurements created by philosopher
Daniel C. Dennett. How deep are animals’ thoughts? Are pets capable of telling
one another “jokes”? McCort speculated.
Among other speakers: Lisa
Clifton-Bumpass discussed how animals are trained in zoos. Her presentation
looked at how the Oakland (CA) Zoo has trained giraffes. Cat behavior
consultant and author Pam Johnson-Bennett reviewed how to introduce a new cat
into a home where there are existing cats. Legendary dog trainer Bob Bailey
explained learning theory, and Kashmir Csaky talked about how to communicate
Learn more about the International
Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, www.iaabc.org.
IAABC Awards Announced:
In her remarks at dinner, IAABC executive director Marjie
Alonso noted, “As the world of behavior consulting evolves, and as more
and more trainers find themselves dealing with cases often far outside the
normal boundaries of obedience training or simple household management, the
IAABC serves as an important beacon of help and information, community,
professional guidelines and standards of practice for those working in this
often difficult field.”
Alonso also presented several awards for special achievement
Cat Division IAABC: Beth Adelman, New York City
Dog Division IAABC: Val Pollard, Orange County, CA
Parrot Division IAABC: Liz Wilson, Saint Simmons
Horse Division IAABC: Barbara Handelman, Norwich,
Working Animals IAABC: Heddie Leger, Liberty, MO
Animals and Other Nations Award: Eric
Goebelbecker, Maywood, NJ
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services