Dogs that jump incessantly and exhibit exuberant energy levels may face more than just reprimands from their owners. Drastic as it may sound, small behavioral issues that go unaddressed account for millions of pets left in shelters, say experts who urge early intervention and applaud Morris Animal Foundation’s research into the field. Recognizing behavior as the number one reason people relinquish pets each year, the Foundation is working with animal behavior expert Robert K. Anderson, DVM, MPH, diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), and generous donors who are committed to finding answers to this dire situation.
“We need to find the best manner in which to help our owners and pets and to promote the most scientifically correct and humane training and behavior modification techniques,” said Melissa Bain, DVM, MS, a diplomate and president of the ACVB. “We need to get the research out to veterinarians, who in turn educate their clients.”
While the field of veterinary behavior is relatively new, an increasing number of people recognize the need to create effective tools to treat behavior problems and ultimately save lives.
One of the few—if not the only—foundations in the U.S. that funds behavioral research, Morris Animal Foundation selects studies that directly affect the welfare of pets adopted from shelters and those within homes.
Current Foundation-funded studies, many conducted by veterinary student scholars (VSSs), span the gamut of behavior topics from revising intake forms at shelters to evaluating shelter enrichment programs and identifying adoptability factors.
“It is important to give the best dogs the best chance,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a VSS mentor for three researchers at Texas A&M University, where she teaches.
Educating pet owners about behavioral issues and addressing problems early can prevent relinquishment and enhance the human–animal bond, Dr. Beaver explained. Yet many pet owners are unaware of normal pet behaviors and do not raise concerns until problems reach unwieldy proportions.
The result is an overcrowded shelter system where too many pets are euthanized because of space and because of behavior-related issues that may not persist with new owners.
In fact, most behavioral problems that are identified and addressed early can be mitigated, Dr. Beaver explained. Research indicates that the quicker behavioral interventions are made, the more likely a positive bond will develop, and fewer dogs are likely to be relinquished. Find a behavior specialist at Morris Animal Foundation.