Problem Behaviour

As veterinarians, we overly focus on physical symptoms when considering managing small animal disease.

Where is behaviour in this dog? We can assume it originates in the brain or mind but it is not a surgical problem and nor should it be considered a medical problem and yet it is one of the most prevalent problems in small animal practice next to skin disease.


Behaviour is an invisible aspect of the animal that cannot be examined with a stethoscope, microscope or otoscope. We must use different skills to identify and treat problem behaviour. It is the only area well recognised by most vets as being a non physical problem and is, in itself, a perfect segue into understanding animal health from a holistic or integrative perspective

In fact, behaviour is quite likely to be the first thing that visibly changes in all cases of illness. It is an increasing reason for presentation to veterinary clinics and still the number one reason for euthanasia of dogs in Australia.


Companion animal behaviour, for all of the years of domestication, may still also be one of the least understood aspects of small animal health since it is not given the credit due to instinct or nature. Unlike birds, farm animals and wild animals, most of our dogs and cats are desexed, sleep in beds and are fed from bowls in the house. We have come to misrepresent their dogness or catness as they become more like members of a human family and expected to conform to our lifestyles.

As with all disease it helps to understand what normal looks like. In domestic animals normal is somewhat deranged to begin with and some of what owners consider problematic is actually normal for the animal. Regurgitation, urine spraying, vocalizing, hunting, barking, digging are amongst a list of normal animal behaviours considered to be problems in home environments if they are not understood or managed.


Helping clients to manage or understand their animal’s problem behaviour therefore requires us to know how the environment impacts upon the normal instincts or motivations of the animals and how we can help them to adapt to changes and different expectations. Holistic vets are more likely to properly recognize the importance of emotional or mental issues that may be surfacing in these animals and to have non pharmaceutical treatments for these factors.


Since studying integrative medicine I have an increased awareness of the needs of dogs and cats in human households and also how these animals may see themselves and their role in the family.

Fortunately over the past two decades in particular animal behaviour interest groups, amongst others, have been producing and distributing valuable reminders and insights into many of the activities that cats and dogs need to engage in, in order to remain satisfied and behave well in human households.

Much of this information has filtered through to animal owners via vet blogs and websites and much of the understanding of dog and cat behaviour is being better disseminated and discussed.


One of the most overlooked and undervalued aspects of animal behaviour is their attempt to communicate with us. It is possible for animals to clearly let us know what they need if we are experienced listeners. Much of the problem behaviour is part of a more demonstrative attempt to communicate.


I believe that all vets are seeing more and more cases of problem behaviour in dogs and cats simply as a result of their failure to adapt to our stressful human lifestyles. We all use the term ‘stress’ and know that in some magical way it causes disease but very few vets have skills and tools to fully appreciate the enormity of benefit this element alone can contribute to cure when it is properly understood.


One of the simple and most profound ‘tricks’ I can share briefly with you here is the recognition and manipulation of the two arms of the nervous system.

Other holistic vets talk about this too and we all have little techniques to tweak it to advantage.

The sympathetic nervous system is primarily a ‘fight and flight’ system whereas the parasympathetic nervous system is more of a ‘rest and digest’ system.

In my experience, the vast majority of animals presenting to me for problem behaviour are in sympathetic overdrive for one reason or another and find it very difficult to regulate themselves. This is part of the ‘stress’ we all speak about. If we can augment the parasympathetic arm in them they will immediately feel and behave better and then we need to be able to help them maintain this balance. We do this initially with a range of physical therapy techniques that many of us have discovered, perfected and taught.


Personally, I maintain this benefit primarily with homeopathic medicines and species appropriate diets. I also find the benefits from my physical therapies can be remembered at a cellular level and built upon over time to keep animals calmer. I employ Bowen and Orthobionomy as well as meditation and Homeopathy.

I have some lovely examples of bringing animals along to comfort from places of fear and over reactivity. Training is of paramount importance in dogs and very often not properly taught. There are also major compounding issues in animals with the rise in anxiety in humans and animals alike and I attribute this largely to a failure to address the importance of gut health in acknowledgement of the gut brain axis. This is a whole other topic.


It is possible that the mind is becoming more developed in our domesticated dogs and cats given that anxiety is a function largely of the mind. As humans we have an awareness of a higher purpose that animals have not yet developed.


Perhaps the evolution of the mind in these species is causing them to be anxious since they have no understanding of how to manage their mind other than when engaged in work, which is also largely instinctual for the working breeds.


My mind
Always lives
In the world
Of worries and anxieties.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, part 40, Agni Press, 2004


It is more likely however that the anxiety in animals is caused by sensitivity to vibration and disturbances in the atmosphere as we experience major disruptions to the balance of nature as a function of modern living. They will also be anxious on our behalf since their whole reason for being is to please and protect us and they mirror us as well. They are far more sensitive to these vibrations than humans as we have mostly learned to ignore them or moreover rise above them. It seems that we can do little about this ‘progress’ other than to continue to keep our nervous systems well nourished and adaptable through optimum nutrition and in our case also by practicing regular meditation.


Sri Chinmoy provides explanations for these things from a spiritual perspective.

Question: In what manner must we fight the animal qualities we have inside us?

Sri Chinmoy: You have mentioned that we are still half animal. People who are not praying or meditating are half animal. We feel that we are not in the animal kingdom, that we do not destroy anything. But all the time we are destroying. In the animal kingdom, perhaps two, or ten or twelve animals will fight together. But when humans fight, at that time thousands are there. When there is a world war, countless human beings are killed.

So, human beings still have animal qualities in abundant measure. What should we do? When we pray and meditate, these animal qualities are illumined. When they are illumined, then they are totally transformed. It is like physical strength. With this hand I can strike somebody. And again with this hand I can work; I can do something constructive. Before, with animal strength, I used to strike somebody. Now I am using strength to do something good for the earth.

Sri Chinmoy, Ego and self-complacency, Agni Press, 1977




If we do not care for others,
In spite of their objectionable behaviour,
We will not be able to reach
Our Destination.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, part 25, Agni Press, 2002

Question: Once I saw a dog biting a young boy. Is there any particular reason for that to happen?

Sri Chinmoy: It could be either that the dog was by nature undivine and hostile, or that, on the spur of the moment, a destructive, evil spirit entered into the dog. Again, it may have been for another reason altogether. From the highest spiritual point of view, although it was just a little boy, the soul may have lost some faith in the mind, in the heart or in the body of that particular boy. In general, when you lose faith in your spiritual life or lose faith in your Master or lose faith in God, then a dog may bite you. A dog’s very nature is faithfulness and devotedness. The dog wants to show you that you have lost faith in your spiritual life, in your Master or in God. In the case of spiritual people, this can happen and it does happen. The soul identifies itself with the body, vital, mind and heart to give more faith to the entire being, but if the body, vital, mind and heart lose faith, a dog may bite.

Again, it is also possible that, by nature, the dog was bad, or that some destructive, hostile forces attacked the dog and it became a victim to these forces. Sometimes when a dog gets a very, very unfamiliar feeling, it may try to attack. We cannot say specifically which reason is applicable unless we see the dog and concentrate on it. Otherwise, there may be ten possible reasons why the poor innocent boy was bitten.

Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy answers, part 17, Agni Press, 1999


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