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 Behavior Medicine Research

Why do cats jump into boxes? Why do dogs want to jump up on their humans? Penn Vet's Behavior Medicine team is engaged in numerous research projects to better understand animal behavior and how humans and their animals can interact in optimal ways.

Behavior Medicine

Current Research Study

Influence of environmental background and behavior in clinics on diagnosis and treatment outcomes in canine behavioral medicine cases

Every year, millions of dog owners in the United States relinquish their pets to shelters or have Young dog, Penn Vetthem euthanized because of behavioral problems. Aggressive behavior is probably the most commonly cited behavioral reason for euthanasia in dogs.

Although certain risk factors for behavior problems in dogs have been identified, it is not known how such factors may also influence or predict the individual dog’s responses to clinical treatment.
Awareness of such predictors will help clinicians to:

  • Formulate more accurate prognoses
  • Minimize the impact of such predictors on treatment outcomes through the provision of appropriate advice to clients

Also dogs with particular behavioral problems, especially those associated with underlying medical conditions, characteristically display telltale behavioral signs during clinical examinations that could potentially be used to improve the quality of diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately, none of these observations have been investigated empirically or validated using appropriate ethological methods, and few veterinarians receive training in how to look for or interpret such behaviors.

There is a need for ethological studies that analyze in detail the relationship between diagnosed behavioral and medical problems and a dog’s behavior during a veterinary examination.
Finally, better understanding the risk factors that contribute most or least to the etiology and recurrence of behavior problems would also help us to refine existing behavioral treatment modalities, and streamline the arduous process of collecting background information from clients.

Currently, canine behavior problem cases are evaluated by asking owners to complete lengthy and exhaustive behavioral history forms that probably contain considerable amounts of redundant and/or useless information. This is then followed by clinical consultations that may be up to three hours in length. This laborious process could be expedited considerably by more efficiently characterizing the nature and severity of the patient’s presenting problems using existing online survey methods that automatically generate summary graphics that are easy to read and interpret.

The web-based behavioral assessment tool known as the C-BARQ© represents a particularly promising opportunity in this respect.

Our study aims to accomplish two separate primary goals:

  1. To identify environmental markers or predictors of treatment outcomes in a clinical sample of dogs referred to the Penn Vet Behavior Service over a one-year period by collecting relevant background information about the owner, the household, and the temperamental characteristics of the pet.
  2. To carefully record and analyze the behavior of individual canine patients during clinical evaluations to identify specific behavior patterns associated with particular diagnosed conditions.

Secondarily, the study will provide an opportunity to test the effectiveness of an existing behavioral assessment tool (the C-BARQ©) as an aid to clinical diagnosis and follow-up in canine behavioral medicine.