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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Change in behaviour


I own four dogs, two pairs of sisters, and all rescues. My first two I adopted, Poppy & Jasmine (Beagle/Jack Russell crosses), were rescued from a puppy mill. They were six months when i got them and spayed shortly after. The first few months with them were spent getting them comfortable around humans and other dogs, and by the time they reached a year old they developed in to confident, social, happy-go-lucky dogs.

A year later I rescued another two sisters while working at an animal shelter. A litter of nine newborn puppies was brought into us after their mum got the last pup stuck while giving birth and died in transit. The nine pups were sent to a foster home and hand-raised for eight weeks, I decided to adopt two, Abbey and Kensington.

Their mum was a pit bull/mastiff mix, dad unknown (Lab or Rottweiler I suspect). They were spayed at two months and I brought them home a week later. Abbey was always a little anxious as a pup, but as with Poppy and Jasmine, the first four months was spent socialising with other dogs and people.

At six months old, both the puppies developed canine acne (within two weeks of each other) and shortly after, their personality changed. They both seemed overly anxious every time they were brought into a new environment and began showing fear towards the unknown, including humans and dogs. Kensington tends to back away when feeling unsure, however Abbey is more aggressive in her behavior and will growl, show teeth and become very unruly. She is very reactive and has a high chase drive too.

I have been working with her one on one now for almost five months and have had little success improving her behavior. The behaviour is linked more to new situations than human and dog aggression. I have been taking her to my husbands very busy construction site and after the second time she was very well behaved.

Could it be hormonal related with the behavior changing around the same time as developing acne? Results of being spayed too early maybe? Can hormonal imbalances be tested for? Or could it be other factors leading to their behavior, being hand-raised for instance or breed personality? I have spoken to my vet about this on several occasions and have been told its genetics, and to carry on working with their behaviour.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Nikki, by email


  1. It does seem a possibility that spaying at such a young age could have something to do with these problems. As you are probably aware the hormones are needed for bone growth as well. I would think that these hormones are also needed for a healthy skin, and to allow the dog to mature mentally.

    I would ask your vet about the possibility of them having some form of hormone therapy, and also I would seek the advice of a behaviourist, one who does not use punitive methods, but reward based training.

    One other thing is that diet can play a huge part in how a dog behaves, so investigation into this may be worthwhile.

  2. This sounds like one of those cases that needs a thorough look at the details - the pup's early experiences will be significant, as well as any illness or medical condition. I would absolutely ask your Vet to refer you to a behaviourist as between them they can help assess how much is nature, how much nurture, and whether the other factors play a part too.

    This is why I feel that all behaviourists should only take cases on a veterinary referral, as medical issues can have significant impact on behaviour and really, only a qualified Vet can assess this.

    Bearing these findings in mind will help enormously when your behaviourist is putting together a long term solution and management program to help you.

  3. The term "holistic" has become rather hackneyed and abused of late but it does count for something. As well as being a vet I am also an acupuncturist. In Traditional Medicine physical and psychological problems are not separate entities and it may be no coincidence that the acne and behaviour changes appeared at almost the same time. As "anonymous" says above, diet can be hugely influential in modifying bahaviour, At Burns Pet Nutrition we have had good results in dogs with mental health/behavoiur problems. This is something you could discuss with our nutrition team at info@burnspet,co,uk or
    tel. 0800 083 66 96.
    John Burns BVMS MRCVS
    Burns Pet Nutrition