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Risk Analysis of Behavior Problems: Owner Factors (4)

Owner factors play a role in owner decisions about a pet with problem behaviors.

M. Bain

Dr. Bain and her dog, Thumper

Source: M. Bain

By: Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, DACAW, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Animal Behavior Service, Davis, CA.

Many things affect an owner’s decision regarding the risk that they will take when making a decision about a pet with a problem behavior. In this blog post we will address the factors related to the owner.

Previous experiences

We can never truly understand how previous experiences affect a person’s view on things, and have to understand that, at least to a point, that perception is reality. One owner may have been bitten severely as a child, thus, not able to take risks, while another grew up in a house with rescue dogs and NO pet should ever be euthanized for behavior problems.

Owners are also exposed to a lot of incorrect information, perhaps more so in behavior. Celebrity trainers and television personalities color what an owner thinks about pets, especially when television shows an animal ‘magically’ improved over the course of a 30 minute episode, not considering that it is heavily edited.

Ability to take risks

This is an individual decision. No one can live in another person’s home, and cannot determine what they can or cannot risk. Some owners are unable to take ANY risk, such as ‘my dog can never, ever growl at my son, ever.’ Some others take risks that no one else would, such as ‘even though my dog killed my other dog, I will do everything to keep him alive.’ If an owner is taking an unwarranted risk, such as not supervising interactions between a dangerous dog and a child, we should remain obligated to protect those who cannot be protected. This can range from having a serious (and documented) conversation with a pet owner, to reporting the situation to authorities.


Owners have time constraints on what they are able to accomplish regarding behavior modification for their pet. For some owners it is a major concern, and sometimes this barrier can be overcome with behavior modification appointments with a professional. Owners may seek out ‘board and train’, but should be counseled that trainers who offer this often use punishment-based training methods.


Pet owners usually do not have the expertise that other animal care professionals have. Timing in the delivery of a reward is difficult to impart to owners. The ability to identify body language and vocal cues is also something that takes time to learn, even for the most seasoned of animal care workers. Videos, websites, and printed material can help owners identify the earliest warning sign that an animal is uncomfortable, which will allow them to avoid having the animal needing to go to more extreme measures.

It is important to seek help for pets with problem behaviors from a professional such as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. They can be helpful in diagnosing the problem and giving you a prognosis for the outcome.

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