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The Art of Balancing Behavior Issues, Part 1

Show Notes

We spend a lot of time talking about the grief we experience as pet guardians whose companion animals have grown old or become terminally ill.

There are other types of loss and grief, though, that pet guardians can experience.

Many carry with them elevated levels of trauma — sudden death, runaways, theft, loss of custody due to the end of a relationship — and I would love to interview someone on those very subjects.

Today, though, we’re talking about behavioral issues in our companion animals, especially dogs, and the way we manage and treat reactivity or aggression.

Dr. Kyle Bohland of the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center joins me to talk about his work in behavioral studies and the intricacies around behavioral euthanasia.

Dr. Bohland was born and raised in Fremont, Ohio, and completed his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Akron. After graduation, he earned his master’s in science in agricultural, environmental and development economics from Ohio State University.

Along the way, he realized veterinary medicine was his true calling, a career he’d dreamed of since childhood. He graduated from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018 and worked in general practice doing preventive medicine, general medicine, urgent care, surgery and dentistry.

All the while, he was working on his residency program in behavioral medicine at OSU and then joined the faculty full time.

His topics of interest lie in end of life care, pain management and the behavior of shelter-housed animals. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, 6-year-old child, four senior dogs, one cat and a few fish.

What to listen for

2:42 Early socialization and its impact on dog behavior
8:29 The positive and negative impacts COVID-19 has had on dog behavior
13:27 Trauma and reactivity in shelter dogs
21:55 How the unregulated dog training industry affects dog behavior

Where to find Dr. Bohland

Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center
OSU Facebook
OSU YouTube


Angela 0:43
Hey there listeners, we spend a lot of time talking about the grief we experience as pet guardians whose companion animals have grown old or become terminally ill. There are other types of loss and grief though that pet guardians can experience. Many carry with them elevated levels of trauma, sudden death, runaways, theft, loss of custody due to the end of a relationship. And I would love to interview someone on those very subjects. Today though, we’re talking about behavioral issues in our companion animals, especially dogs, and the way we manage and treat reactivity or aggression. Dr. Kyle Boland of The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, joins me to talk about his work in behavioral studies and the intricacies around behavioral euthanasia. Dr. Boland was born and raised in Fremont, Ohio, and completed his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Akron. After graduation, he earned his master’s in science in Agricultural, Environmental and developmental economics from Ohio State University. Along the way, he realized veterinary medicine was his true calling, a career he’d dreamed of since childhood. He graduated from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018, and worked in general practice doing preventive medicine, general medicine, urgent care, surgery and dentistry. All the while, he was working on his residency program in Behavioral Medicine at OSU and then joined the faculty full time. His topics of interest lie in end of life care, pain management, and the behavior of shelter housed animals. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife, his six year old child, for senior dogs, one cat and a few fish. Come listen in as Dr. Boland shares the science of reactivity in our companion animals and the state of managing care today. Morning, Dr. Kyle Boland, how is life in Ohio these days?

Kyle 2:54
Things are well, things are well.

Angela 2:57
Let’s get started by talking about reactivity in dogs in general. Are we seeing an uptick in the prevalence of reactive dogs? Or are we just learning to see it, acknowledge it and treat it better?

Kyle 3:09
I think I think it’s both. But I definitely think we’re seeing an uptick. And I think it largely resolves. Or I think it comes from how we manage dogs today. They’re they’re just managed differently than they were even 20 years ago. 30, certainly 4050 years ago. It’s more urban, it’s more tight knit. There’s less off leash opportunities, there’s less Dog Dog socialization opportunities. So I think overall, we are seeing an uptick in the prevalence of reactivity. And I do think we’re better at recognizing it and treating it. There’s been an evolution in dog training over the last many decades. And we’re getting there and we’re getting better. veterinarians are getting more educated on behavior, that some of the when we go to the Midwest vet conference here in Ohio, which is one of the largest regional vet conferences, oftentimes the behavior talks are standing room only. And so I think veterinarians are getting more knowledgeable about treating and talking about preventing behavioral disorders, which is great, and I think so we’re probably better at recognizing it as well, but it’s probably a mix of both.

Angela 4:29
Notice early socialization, and positive experiences as a puppy play a role in preventing behavioral issues in dogs. Yeah,

Kyle 4:38
well, it’s, that’s really key. So when I am sitting in an exam room and talking to a client about their dog or cat or whatever it is their behavior and sort of everybody wants to know why, why is their dog or cat like this? And there’s usually we can’t point to one cause, but I will say that, you know, we kind of go back to that whole nature versus nurture mentality. And the more we learn about that it’s not nature versus nurture. It’s really how your genes interact with your environment. And so some dogs and some people come to the table with certain risk factors for behavioral disorders, psychiatric disorders, disorders, diseases, whatever. And what happens with early socialization is when we miss that with dogs, some dogs can certainly continue to cope with that. But by and large, we’re missing out on that prime socialization period where their brains are sponges. And there, they can absorb all the new information in the world. And dogs essentially decide what’s safe or unsafe. And I actually just had this conversation with a client yesterday, they had adopted their dog at 12 weeks of age, and their dog was an adult now say, three years of age, and they were having some some issues. And when I had talked to them about that socialization, period, their mouth was open, they couldn’t believe that, oh, my gosh, I thought I was adopting a puppy, and could shape this dog into whatever I wanted, at 12 weeks. And unfortunately, that’s just not the case. We know from studies back in the 50s, and 60s That said, basically, yeah, their socialization period is about three to 12 ish weeks plus or minus a week or so. And what we know is that if you miss that, or have a kind of a lack of good experiences during that time, we have lifelong changes in the brain that we’re still trying to understand. And you can’t undo that. And so you can’t take a 12 week old dog, and you can do all the right things at 12 weeks of age. But if they missed out on some of those important things between three and 12 weeks, we can’t undo that. And so and sometimes it gets more confusing, because sometimes that doesn’t show up until nine to 12 months later. But it’s it comes from those early that early socialization period that we potentially missed out on. Back when they were they were puppies. So to answer your question directly, it’s vital. And it’s very important for our dogs.

Angela 7:19
So then it if we’re looking for a dog as a puppy, when one of the things we should look for in a responsible breeder is someone who has taken the time to socialize those puppies beyond their litter mates and their parents. Yeah. Yeah,

Kyle 7:35
exactly. Yeah, it’s all about so you can really, people shouldn’t be starting very early with touching their puppies handling them. And then yes, once they start to open eyes and ears and you know, start to move around, yes, we should absolutely be socializing them, I always hesitate to use the word exposure, because exposure, and that’s fine. It comes from human mental health, because people will talk about exposure therapy. In dogs, we tend to not talk about it as exposure. Because if we just expose a dog to things, we don’t necessarily determine how they perceive those triggers. So in other words, if I take my eight week old, brand new puppy out to PetSmart, and the puppy, you know, looks oh, maybe he’s a little wiggly, or maybe he’s approaching other dogs or people or you know, or maybe we’re holding the puppy, and maybe they’re a little bit head shy. That level of exposure can sometimes actually be more detrimental then other than a lack of exposure. So we want to make sure we’re socializing, which means we’re exposing the dogs at their own comfort level, and we’re making it always a positive, good experience.

Angela 8:51
So we talked about this a bit off camera, the COVID pandemic, really screwed a lot of things up then for dog guardians, puppies, and and dovetail that into what we’re experiencing right now with this respiratory illness, this mystery, respiratory illness, which I’m kind of calling canine COVID Because it sounds an awful lot like COVID for dogs.

Kyle 9:17
Yeah, it’s definitely a concern. So just kind of back to the first point. Yeah, we’re seeing in our clinic, definite uptick in some certain behaviors, like reactivity, like separation anxiety, and things that we call conflict related aggression, which essentially is aggression from a dog to a known family member, the definition that people use various definitions in that term, but I think that comes from being kind of locked in that home environment without a lot of outside interactions. So we’re seeing an uptick of those behaviors because number one, COVID have changed a lot of things and how people manage their life. So sometimes people are home or which, at first people like, Oh, this is the greatest thing for my dog, you know, I’m gonna be home working all the time, and my dogs gonna love it. And by and large, that’s probably true for the average dog. But there are definitely dogs that that probably was not true for so for example, a dog that maybe they had three or four kids in the house, and schools were closed, and we were doing online learning. And that’s just too much for that dog, maybe they needed that eight hour decompression period, period, away from some of the family members. So well, on some level COVID was probably good for some dogs, and the fact that yeah, they got to spend more time with their people. For some dogs, that may not be true, it also may not be true that, hey, they got to spend eight hours a day extra with their people. But then oh, COVID, you know, we things got a little better, people started going back to work and then oh, hard stop. Now we’re, you know, chewing on drywall, or ripping up carpet carpet or, you know, pacing, panting, urinating navigating in the house, because we’re anxious. So we’ve seen that too. And then COVID, just, it shut a lot of things down. So puppy classes are canceled. And people just didn’t take their dogs as many places, nor did they have people or dogs over as much. And so they had those lack of experiences, and like we just talked about with that socialization period. It’s profoundly, it can have profound negative consequences that are lifelong and permanent, for their, their brain chemistry. So with the new respiratory virus, that, you know, I’m still trying to stay updated on what the latest news is, certainly not my specialty, we have our head of our emergency and critical care unit just came out yesterday or the day before, and said he’s not aware of any known cases that we’ve seen here at Ohio State, which is good. But respiratory disease is one of those things like people, most of the time when a dog gets a cough or a cold, you know, you just kind of they just kind of get over it, you don’t always have to take them to the vet. And so we don’t always do a lot of testing on those types of things. And then, you know, once you get maybe older, or the dog has other comorbidities like heart disease, or allergies, or things like that, then they start to get a little bit more serious. And so right now, we’re still as a veterinary community still trying to figure out what’s going on, you know, maybe this is a new respiratory pathogen that has either it’s a new pathogen or it’s mutated, and it’s evading the immune system evading detection. It could also be just, hey, maybe there’s an uptick in what we’ve already got out there and respiratory illnesses. And then there’s that snowball of the news cycle. So a couple news sources pick it up, and then it becomes a noteworthy story and then it snowballs from there. And then once you have that dog that’s coughing, that you probably wouldn’t have said anything before, you probably maybe wouldn’t have even gone to the veterinarian for it. They it probably was self limiting, you know, now maybe it’s like, Oh, hey, I’m gonna call my veterinarian, I’m gonna report that. And so we might just be seeing an uptick of things. I am. I am, my wife and I both love disaster movies and apocalyptic movies. So I tend to, to, to steer into the more apocalyptic thinking of things. But I might try to use my rational veterinarian brain to not do that. But certainly as globalization has happened, as the population increases as food, demand increases with with animal, protein, all of those things certainly do make me worried about future pandemics. So part of it maybe is a rational fear of us as a veterinary community. But we do love a good disaster, maybe. But hopefully, that doesn’t mean this is going to turn into anything like that.

Angela 14:19
When we talk about reactivity, early socialization of your dog becomes is impossible when we’re adopting dogs from a shelter dogs that are probably already adults. How common is trauma, a cause of reactivity in dogs? Can trauma happen at the shelter? Oh

Kyle 14:45
my gosh, that is that’s That is such a good question. And the short answer is yes to all of that. So the way I look at this is is. So let me actually back up a little bit. So. So I’m a veterinarian, and I practice what we call behavioral medicine. So that’s essentially, you know, colloquially, I’m a psychiatrist for dogs and cats and other veterinary behaviors, they practice with horses and birds and pocket pets and lots of other things. And so we have, we are still a relatively new field, and the College of behavior was formed in the in the 90s. And we’re still evolving, and we don’t have the, the same level of specificity that they do in the human field, say, a DSM, or a diagnostic and statistical manual for diagnosing things like PTSD, like trauma, and various anxiety disorders. And so the terminology can be a little bit fluid in our field. But the way I look at things is, I look at a cat brain or a dog brain, and certainly there are profound differences, like, you know, in their, you know, you know, how they can do, you know, for thinking in terms of I’m going to think about things and three months from now, and certainly, they’re, you know, how they process smells, is, is very much more advanced than, than what we can do as humans. So there are certain differences. But at the core, a lot of our mammalian neurology is the same. And so whenever I see a pet, I never discount, what experiences they could have, that could be like a human experience. And so the way I look at trauma, I look at it personally, I look at it no different than you or me. So if we had early life trauma, that can have profound impact into how we perceive the world, our neuro chemistry, how we can even perceive pain and chronic pain issues. And all of that can change with with trauma. And we have some data and in dogs about some of these things, but we’re still learning a lot. There is a diagnosis for dogs that we use. That’s PTSD like syndrome. And so that came out of some work. From the Military Working bases and military working dogs, looking at largely Schupp, German Shepherd dogs and Malinois ZZ that have suffered profound trauma, emotional trauma, trauma, overseas, whether that was a bomb exploding, or any number of other things, and would come home with very similar manifestations of PTSD like a human patient would have. And we found that treating them they can, they can absolutely do better, but they’ll often have lifelong consequences of those traumas. And whether trauma is early or late, you can have some of those lifelong consequences. But there’s a plethora of research in children early life experiences and how trauma can relate to future behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders. And we absolutely see that in in dogs. Back to the shelter question. Yeah, I love shelters. I have four dogs from a shelter. And I’ve worked with shelters, I’ve done research in shelters. And if I, you know, future dogs, I’ll probably get from another shelter. But even with the best of intentions, and the best hearts shelters are a stressful place for dogs and cats and other animals. And so it’s something that I definitely think about a lot that when you go through the shelter system, that right there to me is a check mark, that is a that is a life trauma, that that I think about that can absolutely have behavioral impacts. Certainly the longer you’re there tends to correlate with additional trauma. Back to your question or reactivity. We do see a lot of shelter dogs with reactivity. And if we think about it makes sense. Because if we think about how shelter dogs are managed, mostly managed in a kennel environment, and then what happens is dogs and people walk past that can be one of two things for a dog that can be scary. And so you might give him a little growl, or you give them a little bark, and then what happens is that dog person moves along. So you are very much rewarded for that little vocalization that you made. And what happens is that then snowballs over time to become more and more of a prominent display and you get dogs that are highly some of my most reactive dogs have spent much time in the shelter practicing those behaviors. So the other thing that can happen as well, maybe you have good intentions, and maybe you’re just frustrated because hey, oh my gosh, there’s a person there, I want to interact with them, or there’s a dog there, and I want to play with them. But what happens? They walk past. So that’s frustrating for you. So then also that frustration can sometimes boil over into reactivity and aggression, and actually barking, lunging, snarling or, or growling. So the shelters, environment can certainly cause some reactivity in our patients. And that’s something that we try to work on. And shelters can certainly there are certainly things that shelters can do as well to start to prevent some of those things.

Angela 20:42
Assuming a shelter dog has experienced trauma before entering the shelter, how does not knowing that, on your part, impact your assessment, and then management of those issues?

Kyle 20:58
You know, honestly, probably not a ton, we, you know, our practice can be a little bit difficult in that regard. And I’ve often talked to human medical doctors who are pediatricians, and they’ll be like, you know, your, your job is pretty similar to ours, because we treat babies and they can’t talk to us. And so yeah, that’s kind of like, you know, being a veterinarian, because we’re, we’re investigators, we’ve we have to try to figure out what’s going on in their head or what’s going on in their body. Whether it’s, you know, lab, you know, work or imaging that we can try to do for behavioral disorder, we take a really, really in depth, deep history. But sometimes, like you said, the pet just comes to the table, and we just don’t know. So it can just make our assessments a little bit more vague and say, Okay, well, this pet comes to the table with some sort of early life trauma, potentially genetic changes, maybe mom’s dress is part of things, maybe socialization, their socialization period as part of things. But here’s the dog that we’re presented with today. So here’s the dog at one or two years of age. And here’s the behaviors that we see today. So how do we basically just move them forward from here, maybe not knowing what they had, because we’re not going to do things like you would do if you go to a psychotherapist. And you’re not going to say, well, let’s talk about your daddy, your issues with your dad and your issues with your mom, you know, in an early life, right? We can’t talk. We can’t do talk therapy with our pets. So the pets come to the table with us, to us with certain things. And so we’re going to then move forward based on the pet that we see that day.

Angela 22:39
What changes in managing reactivity? Is your research making and how do we filter that down into the very unregulated training community?

Speaker 2 22:54
Oh, boy, yeah. Question. Oh, boy, I

Unknown Speaker 22:59
just showed up that gun and fire the shot.

Kyle 23:03
So the research that I’ve done in the shelter is, basically we’re still looking at what is happening, not necessarily how to change it. And so that the research that I did over the during the pandemic actually was we took a validated measurement tool called the C bark. And any your listeners can go online and search see bark, C, B, A R Q, and they can take it for their own pets. There’s a fee bark as well for felines. And so they so what we did was we took this questionnaire that’s validated dog behavior questionnaire, and we said, well, what’s the what’s what’s it like first week with your new dog from a shelter? And then what’s it like, at days 3060 And then started 3090. And then after six months, and so we were trying to figure out what actual what actually does happen after you adopt a dog from a shelter? Because there was this unwritten rule or it was written, but really not research that says, dogs, the dog behavior changes, at three days, three weeks, three months. And the three days kind of makes sense, because your cortisol spikes and then it kind of takes a few days to acclimate and get get back down. So we know that from shelter studies is if you measure a dog’s cortisol, it’ll spike when they get there, and then it basically acclimates after a few days, but otherwise, there’s not really much data that says that there was anything with that three weeks, three months, so we said, Okay, well, what does change? Well, the devils in the details, it’s not that the dog itself will change or change or settle at particular times. It’s that certain behaviors change over time, and the certain behaviors may change differently than other behaviors. So for example, we know from this research that Things like aggression. So that’s something that we really worry about. It’s a public health concern. It’s a safety concern. It’s a welfare concern. It’s the number one presenting complaint for our practice. So things like aggression, those things actually ticked up. So aggression to an unfamiliar person actually ticked up at each time point. So in other words, that tells us that if you adopt a dog and say, Hey, this is my dog at day seven, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have the same dog three months later or six months later, in terms of that behavior. There are other behaviors that actually may get better a little bit over time. So for example, we found that separation issues might actually they actually maintained for the first three months, and then between three and six months actually just ticked down just a little bit. So it’s not necessarily how the dog changes. In general, it’s how certain behaviors may change. And so what we’re hopeful is, we will take that research and be able to at least counsel shelters and council dog owners to be like, hey, there are some changes that can happen. Let’s look out for those. And then as you see things, let’s address them earlier, rather than later. And then how do you address them? Well, I don’t know about your area. But in our area, we certainly have a lot of dog trainers who are using unscientific methods. So like things like punitive mesh methods, punishment, aversive methods, so what things we would call positive punishment, which is a weird term, but it’s adding something to reduce the behavior. So like a shock, a prong collar, things like that. So we have a lot of those types of trainers in our area, I have seen an evolution for the good, I have seen more and more people come to the table, having not having used some of those methods. And recognizing early that that’s not the best tool for especially when we’re talking about pets that have things like fears and anxieties. I think how we move forward as an industry, for me, I think it’s going to have to involve regulation. And that’s something that I haven’t gotten involved with yet. But I think that’s really the only way I mean, you know, in the state of Ohio, you have to have a license to cut somebody’s hair. But you do not have to have a license to train somebody’s dog, or a dress, something like pretty profound aggression, major safety issues, separation anxiety, you don’t have to have a license, you don’t have to have any education, you can just put on your door, that you are a dog behaviorist, and you can say anything you want, pretty much. So we have had a few people that we’ve gotten for inappropriate practice of Veterinary Medicine, because they’ll actually recommend dogs come off certain medications and changes, you know, like, health changes. So that’s really one avenue that we’ve tried to use to to crack down on some of these trainers. But otherwise, I really firmly believe it’s, it’s, it’s going to have to take some regulations. And then I also hope as we continue to educate more veterinarians, that they can also help advocate for our pets to get appropriate training.

Angela 28:41
Yeah, I have the personal belief that shot color should be banned everywhere.

Kyle 28:48
I would sign that tomorrow or today this minute. Good. I’m glad it’s one of those things that you know, it’s just, it’s never appropriate for your standard owner to go to a pet store, buy a shock collar and just start use. I mean, it’s just it’s it’s really sad sometimes what happens?

Angela 29:10
Well, and aren’t you putting your dog at risk for created trauma and anxiety? Like, why not just punish your dog? Give it you know, a little bit of pain and hope for the best. It just It doesn’t? It doesn’t cognitively make sense to me. Right?

Kyle 29:29
Yeah, it’s it’s one we struggle with my previous mentor here at Ohio State, Dr. Megan here, and she is now the behavior director at a local shelter called GG shelter. And she actually did some early research on this and said and showed that also those methods are dangerous to people. And so we know that they’re going to cause dogs to be more aggressive towards their owners. And it makes sense because you have now made yourself a threat. To to your dog. So, yeah, it’s it is it is sad the things that that that are done and you know, kind of speaking towards some of our clients, people also come to the table with a lot of guilt and shame. And and so we try to, you know that we all use the old adage of, you’re going to catch a fly and more with honey than vinegar. So we try to get people on board with Well, hey, these methods work better actually. And they don’t have these potential risks that that you’ll see with these other things. So we do have a lot of clients that come in that where we have to evolve some of the thinking about things. And it I also feel like a lot of clients are taken advantage of by these trainers and don’t truly know or understand what their dog is going through and they’re sold a bill of goods. That’s not true.

Angela 31:04
Whoa, that’s a lot so far, isn’t it? Dr. Bowen and I talked for about 75 minutes, and I figured that would make for too long of one episode, so splitting it into two episodes. Next Friday, you’ll hear Dr. Boland walk me through his thoughts on behavior of euthanasia. And how a doctor, The Guardian and the animal are a team that arrives at the decision together. Until then. I’m Angela Schneider, owner of big white dog photography in Spokane, Washington, and your host at win last network. Signing off to go get some Bella Snuggles. Listen to one last network on whichever podcast platform you prefer. We’re on Spotify, Apple and Amazon. Don’t forget to hit follow or subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And if you have a friend who might be interested in our content, make sure you share us with them. Thanks for listening.

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