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Oh, Behave! Are Owners the Problem?
By Alice Stockton-Rossini

Scores of dogs and cats throughout the tri-state area are calling animal trainers and behaviorists for help with their owners--but they let their humans think they're the ones calling.

Something's wrong. Lately you've been coming home to find Phil, your precious black lab puppy, has eaten your bra and left shredded toilet paper from the bathroom throughout the house. And Jack, your loving Jack Russell terrier, has suddenly decided to rip up your bed comforter along with your kid's favorite teddy bear and leaves smelly presents under your bed. Whatever, your pet's behavior has suddenly changed. What's a pet owner to do?

" Today we can call on a new generation of specialist--the animal behaviorist. "For the most part, animal behaviorists didn't exist 20 years ago," says Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at Texas A&M University. "Now these services are available and the number of people using them has increased."

But good luck finding a board certified animal behaviorists in New Jersey--there aren't any. Veterinarians like Tracy Kroll, who has completed two of the three steps necessary to become a board certified animal behaviorist, is working on being the first. "The number of people seeing animal behaviorists has gone up far more proportionately than the number of behaviorists out there. That is why we're all so busy," says Dr. Kroll, who works at New Jersey's Oradell Animal Hospital as well as three different veterinary hospitals throughout New York.

Why the growing demand for animal behaviorists? Dr Beaver suggests we look at the evolution of people and their relationship with animals. In short, we're making them behave more like four-legged people than four-legged animals. "Lets go back 40 years. Dogs lived in the back yard; cats roamed outside. You would put out some food; pet them once in awhile, and maybe they'd come in if it got really cold. But for the most part pets were outdoors." Then Dr. Beaver says we became more urbanized. "Dogs became house pets. We are now closer to them emotionally, but as a result we have put demands on our pets that they are not evolved to meet."

So maybe, when it comes to pets like Phil the toilet-paper shredder and Jack the teddy-bear chomper, behavior problems may be rooted more in their owner's problems and not their own. Dr. Albina Glennon, DVM in Bergenfield, New Jersey, is among a number of vets who feel humans are often to blame for an animal's discomfort. She questions the need to send a pet to an animal behaviorist or put them on mood-altering drugs (which an increasing number of owners are opting to do) unless several factors have been ruled out.

"If you notice a change in your animal's behavior, call the vet first," Dr. Glennon says. "Make sure there is nothing physically wrong with the animal. Next, get a history of when you think the problem began and what may have triggered it. Many times all your pet needs is your time."

Alice Stockton-Rossini has been a radio journalist for 1010 WINS since 1987 whose inspired, insightful reporting and exciting production techniques liven up the morning drive for commuters in the tri-state area.

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Most recent update: 10/20/07
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