Pet Behaviour

Pet Behaviour

Here at Wilston Vet our veterinarians have a special interest in both feline and canine behaviour. We provide behavioural consultations which are booked for 60 minutes.

The Importance of Behaviour on the Overall Happiness of your Pet

Did you know that when a dog yawns they are anxious? This anxiety may be good or bad; stress around a perceived threat, excitement of a pending event or the frustration of boredom.

And did you know that cats use their whiskers to help communicate how they are feeling?

Did you know that dogs don’t ever feel guilty? Their ‘guilty’ look is a reaction to your angry or suspicious facial expression and verbal cues and they probably have no idea why you are behaving like that. They are actually trying to say ‘Please don’t talk to me like that, I don’t feel comfortable’.

And did you know that a common sign of stress in cats is blood in their urine?

Behaviour is a fascinating and complicated field of veterinary medicine but the most important for your pet’s long term health and well-being as well as your own. And here’s why…


The main reason we own a dog or a cat is for the human-animal bond. This relationship is founded on us being able to communicate between two different species – human to dog or human to cat. Understanding each other is actually quite a difficult thing to do and it takes a long time to learn the very subtle messages given out by a pet. Due to the variety of facial structures and personalities in all the different breeds each individual has their own little way of communicating. For example, pointy eared bright-eyed West Highland White Terriers communicate in a very different way to floppy-eared droopy-eyed basset hounds. Understanding each individual is very important and it’s through this that we develop the human-animal bond.


Behaviour development starts as a foetus and continues for an animal’s whole life. Genetics, maternal stress during pregnancy and environmental factors from as young as 3 weeks of age begin the development of that a dog’s neural pathways and therefore behavioural characteristics. Since we can only enter a dog or cat’s life from about 8 weeks of age, we can’t change a lot of these factors but what we can do is ensure we communicate well with them so that they understand us. The more we understand about each other, the stronger the bond is.


Owning a pet is a big responsibility and one of the most important aspects of having a happy healthy pet is behavioural management. Behavioural problems surrounding issues such as barking, fighting, aggression, escaping, separation anxiety, boredom, inappropriate urination or defacation, phobias and other anxieties are the main reasons our pounds and shelters are so full. It’s also the leading reason for euthanasia of a pet below 7 years of age. The human-animal bond is fractured by behavioural issues and very quickly, both owner and pet suffer from the breakdown in relationship.


As always, prevention is much better than cure so make sure you put the hard yards in early on and you and your pet will reap the rewards.

Prevention for cats involves providing them with the environment and lifestyle that best suits their personality. Some cats prefer to live alone, while others like to have interaction. All cats need to satisfy their urge to hunt and this can be achieved with toys and play.

Prevention for dogs is dedicated puppy socialisation and training. This is more than just turning up to puppy school  – it’s establishing household rules, lifestyle patterns, specific training techniques (crate training, clicker training, verbal cues, hand cues, food reward and play reward), car travel conditioning, lead walking, off-lead control, social education. And all of this should be done in a manner that is appropriate to your dog’s personality and reward incentive.

Social development of the brain of a dog occurs between 3 and 14 weeks of age. After this time, new social experiences are harder for them to accept. The problem is, this is when puppies are most susceptible to diseases and so getting out and about can be dangerous. This is why puppy school is so valuable – it allows social development to occur in a controlled environment prior to completing vaccinations. The puppy has fun, learns that a vet clinic is a fun place to visit if this is where it is held, and is able to experiment with interdog communication among others of its own age.  As an owner, you can learn about your pup’s personality, what works best as an incentive and get started on basic training techniques. It’s a little push-start to the very long term project of socialisation and training.

Where to find resources and help…

Visit this brilliant cat care website:

Attend Wilston Vet Puppy School:

Continue on with formal obedience and training classes

Try your hand at agility or fly-ball:

Read Dr Sophia Yin’s book ‘Perfect Puppy in 7 days’

Check out this RSPCA website:

Watch ‘Making dogs happy’ – the ABC documentary series Catalyst ran a brilliant two-part series: (find the episodes in the archive).


Treatment of behavioural problems involves two approaches – medical and behavioural management. The cause of the problem may sometimes be a medical issue which causes pain and therefore frustration – we all get grumpy if our bodies don’t let us do what we want to do. Some illnesses also have an effect on the brain such as hyperthyroidism in cats – many of these are grumpy. And of course, just like in humans, animals can suffer psychiatric illnesses secondary to previous experiences or simply due to their neural pathway configuration. Once any medical issue is established and treated accordingly, then behavioural management involves adjusting lifestyles and routines, retraining, and improving the communication lines between owner and pet. It is important to always concentrate on positive reinforcement training techniques as they are consistently proven to be far superior to punishment.

What to do if your pet has a behavioural problem…

Contact us for a behaviour consultation. This is longer than a normal consultation as establishing a diagnosis and plan takes a long time when every case is different in its own way. We also sometimes use questionnaires to be completed well in advance of the consultation so that we can plan ahead and use the consultation time more effectively. We establish both a medical and behavioural plan for you and your pet, scheduling follow-ups to check on progress.

Some problems can be managed with behavioural management only or we may see a need to combine our therapy and recommendations with a professional dog behaviourist. The advantage to this is that the behaviourist visits your house to look at how all the family members interact with and train your dog, observe the layout of the property which may influence your dog’s behaviour and help you to begin new training techniques to help manage the issues.Brooke Foy from the Positive Pet Project are highly recommended for this service

All behaviour problems take many weeks to months to manage. In some cases, referral to a veterinary behaviour specialist is necessary. Dr Cam Day is Brisbane’s local expert Being realistic is important: cure is not always possible but management of the issue to an acceptable level is what we aim for. Ultimately, we aim to improve the human-animal bond and have a much happier pet and owner.

We also work alongside The Positive Pet Project in order to offer the best combined behavioural solution for your pet.

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