Puppy Behaviour in the Veterinary Clinic1
One hundred two puppies (46 males, 56 females), ranging in age from 8 to 16 weeks and adopted at least 1 week prior to the evaluation, were included in this study. Eighteen were mixed-breed and 84 were purebred puppies. All puppies were intact at the time of the examination.
Interested owners recruited from 5 different clinics in the Quebec City area were asked to book an appointment with the principal investigator (veterinarian) at Loretteville Veterinary Hospital (hospital assigned for the evaluation). Owners were informed that the technician would take the dog to the veterinarian immediately on their arrival. This step was done to standardize as much as possible the sequence of events prior to each evaluation. Concerns included stimulation of the puppy by other dogs or people present at the veterinary clinic as well as owner interactions with the puppy. The principal investigator performed each assessment in the absence of the owner and always in the same examination room of Loretteville Veterinary Hospital. The assessment was divided into 3 different parts (3 different contexts):
1. Free-floor evaluation (FF)
The puppy was initially set free on the floor for approximately 2 minutes while the veterinarian sat in a corner of the room filming but not interacting with the dog. No special objects were available or presented to the dog during this evaluation. The room contained the examination table, one chair, and a rubber doorstop on the floor. It was impossible to control noise made by people and other animals elsewhere in the clinic, but such occurrences were assumed to be random with respect to the independent variables.
2. Physical examination on the table (PET)
Next, the veterinarian examined the dog on a stainless steel table (105 cm by 50 cm). This step was standardized and included eye, mouth, and ear examination, palpation of the lymph nodes, the chest, and the abdomen. A brief examination of the locomotor system was also performed, including manipulation of each paw and toes. Finally, heart rate and body temperature were recorded. Duration of this examination varied depending on the animal's compliance.
3. Manipulations of the puppy on the floor (MF)
Following the physical examination, the dog was again released on the floor. The veterinarian asked the puppy to come and sit. If the puppy did not come voluntarily; it was gently approached and taken by the veterinarian. Manipulations included gentle examination of the puppy's ears, head, limbs, and toes. Next, the investigator restrained the dog by holding the shoulders for 5 seconds and by holding the hips for another 5-second session. Finally, the dog was put on a leash and received a treat for its compliance. Manipulations were standardized, but duration of this segment also varied depending on the animal's compliance. All procedures were videotaped either directly by the veterinarian (FF) or with the camera placed on the counter (PET) or the floor (MF).
Most puppies (free on the floor) behaved in a similar fashion. They were very active and oriented to the environment, silent and not panting. They also interacted little with the veterinarian. However about 10% of outliers "extreme puppies" did not explore, were panting, vocal, and seeking active interaction with the veterinarian.
For the physical examination on the table, there was a wide range of values for the 3 categories: not panting, keeping their ears in a normal position, and passive interaction with the veterinarian during handling - but again, many outliers were observed.
Presence of outliers was also noted for lip licking and yawning, both during the physical examination on the table and the manipulations on the floor.
Several behaviours expressed by the outliers are compatible with signs of stress or anxiety. Panting, excessive motor activity, active avoidance, increased vocalisation, decreased exploration, flattened ear position, lip licking and yawning.
Follow-Up Studies by Dr. Martin Godbout (Unpublished)
Persistence Over Time of Behaviours and Signs of Anxiety Observed in Puppies
Forty-two puppies (various breeds) were filmed during an appointment in a veterinary clinic at two to four months of age and again 12 months later. The study included observation of the puppy or adult, free on the floor (FF) as well as various manipulations on the floor (MF) by the veterinarian. During FF, the behavioural categories recorded were: activity, exploration, facial expression, puppy solicitation of interaction with the veterinarian, vocalisation and other behaviours. During MF, the type of interaction with the veterinarian, facial expression and ear position were recorded.
Most puppy behaviours observed in the veterinary clinic environment tended to persist in adulthood. Signs of anxiety showed the highest correlation between the two data collection sessions. Lip licking, panting and ears back apparently have a similar underlying motivation in puppies and adults.
Excessive Mouthing in Puppies as a Predictor of Aggressiveness in Adult Dogs
Sixty-one puppies aged between 8 and 16 weeks were selected and assigned based on presence or absence of mouthing behaviour in specific contexts to a target group (38 "mouthing" puppies) and a control group (23 "non-mouthing" puppies). Twenty dogs (13 "mouthy puppies" and 7 "non-mouthy puppies") were assessed at three years of age.
Reasons for loss to follow-up included loss of contact with 13 owners; nine owners no longer returned phone messages (three messages left prior to giving up); nine puppies re-homed (4 puppies from the target group and 5 from the control group); seven euthanized, one for severe hip dysplasia (control group), five for aggressive behaviour (all in the target group) and one (also a "mouthy puppy") for an unspecified reason.
Puppy Behaviour Home Alone2
Thirty-two puppies, 16 males and 16 females, ranging in age from 50 to 118 days (mean 82.1 days) were included. The puppies were adopted by their owners between 50 and 85 days of age. Five dogs were of mixed breed and 27 were purebreds. Owners were asked to complete a brief questionnaire, including information on the puppy's characteristics and history as well as on the physical and social environment of the dog. Videotaping sessions were carried out under routine conditions with regard to owner absence: 15 puppies were kept in a cage, 3 were allowed to run freely in the apartment, and 14 were locked up in one room.
The dogs were filmed home alone for 60 minutes. The videotaping was repeated after 1 and 2 months, yielding a total of 3 films (films 1, 2, 3) per puppy.
Analysis of puppy behaviour for the 3 subsequent observations showed that they spent most of their time when home alone resting or sleeping (PA = 40.38 ± 18.31 minutes) as opposed to being vigilant (OE = 4.5 ± 5.06 minutes). Puppies were thus mainly inactive.
Puppies exhibited play (PL= 6.1 ± 9.53 minutes) behaviour while separated from the owners. Vocalisation was present (VO = 2.7 ± 6.25 minutes). Locomotion (LO= 0.51 ± 1.25 min), exploration (EX = 0.41 ± 1.10 minutes), oral behaviour (defined as any vigorous behaviour directed toward the environment or cage using the mouth including chewing, biting, shaking, pulling with the mouth, and licking; OB = 0.25 ± 1.53 minutes), and grooming (GR = 0.21 ± 1.21 minutes) were observed for shorter periods. Only 5 puppies eliminated during the 60 minutes of separation. Fifty percent of puppies did not show yawning (YA) and lip licking (LL), and 25% of puppies showed these behaviours more than twice.
Vocalisation, lip licking, and oral behaviour, all compatible with stress-related behaviours, tended to cluster together; whereas play, oriented to the environment and exploration, were seen together. Three puppies out of 32 (10%) were more "stressed" than the others. These puppies were aged less than 85 days and were adopted between 50 and 70 days of age. All three belonged to hunting breeds and spent between 2 to 4 h alone daily. Two of them were male and 1 was female. These dogs were not followed beyond the scope of the study. However, one of these dogs belonged to an animal health technician working for one of the authors. This dog was subsequently diagnosed with separation anxiety.
The observed behaviours did not change significantly over time. No significant influence of age and age of adoption were found on behaviours shown by puppies during the 3 video recordings. The analysis of the temporal distribution of puppy behaviour did not show any statistical relevance, but passive behaviour (sleeping or resting) decreased slightly over time, whereas oriented to the environment (vigilance) and locomotion increased during the three video recordings. Play and exploration were exhibited similarly during the three observations.
Twenty-one of 32 puppies vocalised during the first film, whereas 17 of 32 vocalised during the third one. The duration of vocalisation shown by puppies tended to be higher during the first video recording. Vocalisation and oral behaviour tended to decrease, although not significantly, over time. One puppy vocalised for almost half the time (27.36 minutes) and was oriented to the environment (vigilant) for a quarter (14.06 minutes) of the entire duration of the first video recording. For this puppy, these behaviours changed slightly over time, showing similar patterns of duration, in the second and third video recordings (VO: 17.48 minutes; OE: 15.33 minutes).
Selecting Patients for Pharmacological Treatment
Which patients should we medicate? Drugs in behavioural medicine are generally prescribed to decrease anxiety or reactivity, thus facilitating implementation of behaviour modification techniques and in some cases accelerating rate of progress. Antidepressants can help achieve these goals if patients are carefully selected.
Anxiety in humans is defined as the anticipation of a future danger or threat, real or imaginary. Anxiety can be normal or a sign of an illness. This definition can also be used for animals. Most dogs and cats presented to the veterinarian are fearful or anxious. Some will remain anxious as long as they are on the table but are fine when they are back on the floor or out the door from the veterinary hospital. These patients are normal. On the other hand, separation anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders are subgroups of anxiety disorders.
Behaviours and Body Language During the Appointment
During a behavioural consultation, the animal is usually free to move around the room. Physical examination is done at the end of the appointment. Dogs can express anxiety (and/or fear) by panting, puffing their cheeks, crinkling their brow, yawning repeatedly, licking their lips constantly, pulling their ears backs, trembling, tucking their tail, trying to back up or escape, hiding, whining, or even seeking owner attention excessively. Many anxious dogs will have dilated pupils, will pace, and are unable to settle down and relax. Each sign is nonspecific. Anxiety (or fear) can result in urination, defecation or excessive salivation. Finally, aggression may also be a sign of anxiety. Similarly, cats can express anxiety (and/or fear) by panting, licking their lips frequently, pulling their ears down and back, arching their back, tucking their tail, trying to escape, vocalizing, pacing, freezing or being aggressive. Each sign is nonspecific.
Some animals will have increased motor activity, whereas others will have decreased motor activity. Vigilance may be increased. Reactivity during the appointment may be exaggerated and may even increase over time. Exploratory behaviour of the consultation room may be absent and should be distinguished from increased motor activity. These behaviours (also compatible with anxiety) serve as a baseline and can be compared with behaviours expressed during follow-up visits.
Anxiety during the behavioural consultation is not sufficient to conclude that a given animal suffers from an anxiety disorder. But clients during the appointment are educated on how to recognize subtle signs of their animal's anxiety or fear. Following the appointment they will be much more attentive to the animal's body language and behaviours. They may realize that their animal is exhibiting signs of anxiety on a daily basis in the home environment in the absence of an identifiable cause. In the latter case, their animal is perhaps suffering from an anxiety-related disorder. The veterinarian should make it a point to ask if signs of anxiety (or fear) occur when the dog or cat is in its familiar environment and determine if that anxiety/fear is appropriate for the context.
Excessive reactivity can also be an indication of illness. An animal becoming more and more aggressive during the appointment in the absence of any threat may be "over-reactive." An animal becoming disobedient may in fact be "over-reactive" in that context. This animal is unable to hear ("emergency mode") any commands. Ask a person if following a near miss car accident, he/she would be able to tell what song had just played on the radio at the time of that close call. The ears may have heard the song, but the brain did not register the information, as it was not essential for survival. Dogs and cats in "emergency mode" will require medication to decrease the level of reactivity.
Objective baseline data are obtained from tapes. Videotapes of the animal at home may reveal signs compatible with anxiety and in some cases may even be indicative of generalized anxiety. Videotapes are essential to confirm diagnosis of separation anxiety as well as assess response to pharmacological treatment. Tapes are also very useful to identify occurrence of silent threats occurring between household pets (inter-cat or inter-dog aggression) that are often unrecognized or missed by clients.
Indications for Antidepressant Medication
1. Signs compatible with generalized anxiety in familiar environments in the absence of danger or threat
2. Reactivity during the appointment for behavioural evaluation increases over time without any threat to the animal
3. Excessive reactivity to benign stimuli
4. Behaviour sequence is altered (other medical conditions ruled out)
5. Behaviour is inappropriate for the context
6. Frequency, severity or duration of the behaviour is excessive for the context
7. Recovery time after an undesirable behaviour is excessive
8. Animal is in "emergency mode" during episodes of undesirable behaviour
Examples of the following criteria will be given with clinical cases and video presentations.