A Treatment Plan for Dogs (Canis familiaris) That Show Impaired Social Functioning towards Their Owners
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Many domestic dogs are uncomfortable when humans perform trivial and benign actions that the animals perceive as threatening. A common technique for addressing canine emotional discomfort involves desensitization, where the intensity of a problematic stimulus is gradually increased while the dog remains relaxed. Desensitization requires a skillful owner and is complicated when actions of the owner are the stimuli to be desensitised. This paper introduces a behaviour modification programme for dogs with impaired social functioning in relation to the (inter)actions by their owners, consisting of (1) increasing owner knowledge and awareness regarding dog body language and perception of owner actions, (2) management of the daily life of the dog through general stress reduction and avoidance of stressful situations, and (3) behaviour modification through training. The latter component entails a non-threatening, predictable exercise in which the dog has control over any perceived threats, the introduction of the safety cue with subsequent desensitization, and engaging activities with the owner that the dog finds enjoyable. We also present a case series report to examine a selection of dogs with impaired social functioning, from signalment to outcome, when treated with the proposed behaviour modification and examine which adaptations were made to the plan according to individual dogs. Finally, we avenues for future research.
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