If you have a dog that is tail-chasing, showing signs of another canine compulsive disorder, or suspect your dog may be exhibiting symptoms of sudden onset aggression, the best thing you can do is consult with a behaviorist. While a trainer may be able to help to some extent (see ‘Other Resources’, below) a behaviorist is a better choice for dealing with these types of disorders and a veterinary behaviorist will be able to rule out other medical issues as well as prescribe medication if he or she feels it is warranted.
The Tufts Behavioral Clinic is an excellent resource to consult on Bull Terrier tail chasing, the clinic is in Massachusetts but consultation is also available through the Tufts PETFAX service. Links to the Behavioral Clinic and PETFAX sites can be found here.
Alice Moon-Fanelli now has her own consulting practice and can do remote consultations as well as in person. She has spent many years researching these conditions and working with affected dogs. Her contact information is:
Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, CAAB
Animal Behavior Consultations, LLC
Eastford CT 06242
Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital
150 Hartford Rd., Rt. 6
Brooklyn, CT 06234
Keeping a daily log of your dog’s behavior is very helpful. Note when any strange behavior occurred and anything you can think of that may have been connected to it. Over time, the log can help identify things that are acting as ‘triggers’ for the behavior and will be very useful to the behaviorist.
Have a checkup done with your regular veterinarian to make sure there are no medical issues that may be causing the problems; for instance, impacted anal sacs can cause tail chasing, and pain from an unseen injury can cause what seems to be unprovoked aggression.
If possible, contact your dog’s breeder and try to keep them informed of how things progress; they have a right to know what is going on with a pup they bred, and they need to know if there is a potential problem in the gene pool they are working with. An ethical breeder will welcome your coming to them for help– they may even have encountered the situation before and be able to offer their experience and assistance in addition to moral support.
The following links will help explain what a veterinary behaviorist is, and what they do.
What Can a Veterinary Behaviorist Do For My Dog? – Petplace.com article by Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
What is a Veterinary Behaviorist? – Petfinder.org article by Dr. Amy Marder, V.M.D., VP Behavioral Medicine & CAS
Who Should Treat Your Pet’s Behavioral Problem? – Vetcentric article by Tracy Vogel describing the differences between an animal trainer, a certified applied animal behaviorist, and a veterinary behaviorist.
Also the following is a list of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists; several of them are also veterinarians:
Directory of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
Directory of individuals that have been professionally certified by the Animal Behavior Society as Applied or Associate Applied Animal Behaviorists.
It may be also helpful to join the Bull Terrier Neurological Disorders group. The group is open to all owners, not just those with Bull Terriers. While none of us are qualified to give professional advice, we can lend our support, share information, and help in any way we can.
Our Recommended Reading page suggests a number of books that may be helpful for those dealing with various behavioral issues.
Since compulsive disorders are anxiety-based, it is important to reduce stress wherever possible for the dog, and to provide fair, consistent training in a positive manner. Here are a few links to help get started in the right direction with this.
Flying Dog Press – Suzanne Clothier’s web site. Information on her book, video, seminars as well as a great collection of articles.
Positively Bull Terriers – Yahoo! Group devoted to training Bull Terriers using positive methods.
The sad reality is that not every story has a happy ending, and not every dog can be helped. In a discussion about the decision to euthanize a few months back on the Bull Terrier Neurological Disorders group, one of our members, Shari Mann, perhaps put it best, and gave permission to quote part of her post here:
“Because of family situations and considerations of safety, and considerations of cost, and utter confusion and pain, it is sometimes necessary for people to have to euthanize their afflicted pets. Sometimes those pets are just too threatening to have around with children or elderly parents; it is a danger to them and not a good choice to make on their behalf. It also not possible for many people to spend 24 / 7 with their afflicted dogs, they must work daily, care for the family, and the thousand other things that are required of us humans in daily life. There are budgetary constraints as well; not everyone can afford experts in the field, and even if they make that effort, it does not always work. People don’t necessarily have a clue what to do, where to go for help. The average vet is just not conversant with these issues.”
Sometimes the kindest thing to do is to end an animal’s suffering, and sometimes it is the only viable option available. Another purpose of the group is to help those who have been in this situation to heal and find some piece of mind. The following articles from the Pet Loss Grief Support site may also be of some comfort:
Dealing with the Guilt - Excellent advice on how to overcome the terrible guilt so many of us feel after losing a beloved pet under difficult circumstances.
Grief and Pet Loss - A thoughtful and comprehensive article by Margaret Muns DVM