When the Behavior Helpline Can’t Help

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Our Animal Behavior Helpline counselors have completed an extensive training program taught by animal behavior professionals. They are able to assist pet owners with many types of problems; however, there are some that can’t be resolved by email or phone, because it isn’t safe or accurate to diagnose certain problems without observing the animal’s postures and reactions to certain stimuli.


An animal that threatens another animal or human by growling, hissing, baring teeth, snapping or biting presents a danger to others. There are many reasons an animal may behave aggressively, including fear, food or object possessiveness, territorial or protective behavior. It is necessary to obtain a complete behavioral history through detailed information gathering and direct observation of the animal in his own environment before a diagnosis and recommendations can be made. This can’t be accomplished over the phone or via email; however, we can provide detailed handouts explaining the causes of aggression and procedures that should be avoided because they may make the problem worse.

The first step is to have a veterinarian examine your pet to evaluate him for possible medical reasons for the aggressive behavior. The next step is to seek the services of an animal behavior specialist (see below for tips on finding professional help).


Some animals, usually dogs, may develop intense, irrational fears, including fear of loud noises or fear of being left alone. Many phobias can be successfully treated using a combination of behavior modification and short-term drug therapy. We have handouts that explain these problems and the types of behavior modification procedures used to work with them. If your pet exhibits these behaviors, contact your veterinarian for information about medication and for a referral to an animal behavior specialist.

Excessive Grooming

Dogs and cats will sometimes lick themselves excessively until skin sores form, or will pull patches of hair from their bodies. Treatment often involves a combination of drug therapy and behavior modification that can only be obtained through your veterinarian and an animal behavior specialist.

Finding Professional Help

When your pet’s behavior problem is too complex for our helpline counselors, you should seek advice from a veterinarian and an animal behavior specialist. Knowing where to turn can be confusing. People who work with animal behavior problems are not regulated by any government agency and may have very different qualifications. Here are some tips that may help:

Things to Watch for and Avoid

If you’re willing to commit time, energy and resources to working with your pet and find qualified people to help you, the chances are good that you’ll successfully resolve your pet’s problem behaviors.