There are pet trainers, pet behaviorists and a cadre of other professionals available to help you deal with pets when their behavior is less than acceptable and driving you up a wall.
But when your beloved Bouvier turns into a crazed Cujo, pet owners across northern Ohio turn to Dr. Elizabeth Feltes, one of only two veterinary behaviorists in Ohio who uses medication and behavior training to stop misbehavior.
Feltes’ Olmsted Falls office, where she and Amanda Eick-Miller, the only vet tech behavior specialist in Ohio and one of only 12 nationwide, can be the last stop for animals that have lost favor with their humans with their bad behavior.
“We change how an animal feels about a situation and how they respond to it,” Feltes said.
It’s the same goal most trainers try in their attempt to correct an unacceptable behavior in an animal whether it be a dog, cat, horse or rabbit, Feltes said.
In Ohio, anyone can hang a shingle and give animal training lessons because state certification is not required.
Feltes, an Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate, will first rule out medical problems that may lead to an animal’s behavior issues. Once she gives the animal a clean bill of health, she and Eick-Miller devise a strategy to replace the problem behavior with a more positive one.
Feltes said 90 percent of her cases involve aggression — the worst of which she has seen was from a French bulldog that attacked doors each time they moved. The dog had been picked up off the streets and was taken to a Cuyahoga County shelter.
“One of the conditions of his adoption was that he had to come here,” Feltes said.
His new Ashtabula owner drove him to the Animal Behavior Clinic before she took him home.
“He had resource aggression issues with people and other dogs (guarding his food bowl) but I couldn’t elicit any aggression here,” said Feltes.
However, it didn’t take long for the bulldog to “show his true colors,” she said, when he began biting, scratching and attempting to tear down doors or anything or anyone that stood between him and his food bag if he heard the paper rustle.
“Heaven forbid if you were anywhere near him,” Feltes said.
Anti-anxiety medication helped calm the bulldog, whose name was Mozy, until Feltes and Eick-Miller could replace his reactionary behavior with an appropriate response.
Behavior classes are held at the clinic, but for severe cases, both Feltes and Eick-Miller will travel to clients’ homes for training.
There is no way of knowing what causes an animal to develop an unacceptable behavior, Feltes said.
“You don’t have to know the history to improve the behavior,” she said.
Feltes, who has three dogs, a barn cat, 30 chickens, a thoroughbred horse and fish as well as children ages 2 and 5, said she knew by the time she was 5 that she would be a veterinarian.
It wasn’t until she earned her bachelor of science degree that she adopted a Rottweiler-Labrador retriever mix that was “psychotic.”
“Lexi had separation anxiety and fear aggression to people, dogs and vets. She guarded her resources from me and she had fear of thunder,” Feltes said.
After Lexi was put on the antidepressant Prozac, she was ready to learn how to deal with the triggers that caused her unacceptable reactions.
Feltes sought help from Traci Shreyer, an animal behaviorist at Ohio State University who helped Lexi deal with her fears.
“She was able to help me and got me interested in this field. Why not have all the doors open to help an animal as best you can?” she asked.
The Behavior Clinic is at 9680 Columbia Road, Olmsted Falls. Call 440-334-8534 or visit www.TheBehaviorClinic.com for more information or to schedule an appointment.
Other pets in the news:
Spay-Ghetti Date Night; A Celebration of Love — One of a Kind Pet Rescue is sponsoring a dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 16 at St. Thomas Banquet Hall, 555 Cleveland-Massillon Road, Fairlawn. The event will feature dinner, music and an auction. Tickets are $40 per person (wine tickets extra). Call Dalal Iskander at 330-620-8102 for reservations or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wanted: Teen volunteers — The Akron Zoo is looking for teen volunteers ages 14-18, in the ninth-12th grades and interested in animals and conservation for the Junior Interpreter program for the 2013 season. The program runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Interested teens must fill out an application and submit two forms of recommendation and be interviewed. There is a $100 participation fee. For more information, visit www.akronzoo.org or call Deb Brady at 330-375-2550, ext. 7213.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to email@example.com.