The development and management of social phobias in dogs (abstract)

Article loaded in February 1997, modified the 18 March 97, 25 Dec.2001-

©Dr JoŽl Dehasse

3 avenue du Cosmonaute, 1150 Brussels, Belgium 

Social phobias are defined as phobias (pathological fear or fright reaction in presence of a known non-aggressive stimulus - resulting from a sensitisation process) in presence of a specific social interaction proposal (for example: of being looked at, of being touched,...). These phobias are originated in the ontogeny (deprivation syndrome), the prepuberty or puberty desocialisation period, from of psychic or emotional trauma, or are activated by endocrine affections (like hypothyroidism).
Social phobias accompanied by (anticipatory) defence aggression evolve in unpredictable hyperaggression in 80% of the cases.
Social intraspecific phobias may be misdiagnosed as intraspecific intermale or interfemale aggression, in which case anti-hormonal drugs may be effective in the early reactive stages.
The management of social phobias and especially unpredictable hyperaggression is particularly sensitive and of long duration. The treatment associates the use of drugs, behavioural therapy and the removal of the cause (when there is a dysendocriny). Several drugs are useful: drugs that reduce the noradrenergic (propranolol or clonidine) or dopaminergic (sulpiride, thioridazine) neurotransmission, drugs that increase the serotoninergic neurotransmission (fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, clomipramine), drugs that activate the GABA and that reduce noradrenergic neurotransmission (carbamazepine). The behavioural therapy is based on counter-conditioning. The dog is taught an activity that opposes the excitement-aggression process. I have found very effective to teach the dog the simple following training in the presence of the stimulus: just "sit" followed by an alimentary reward; this reward has to be out of the ordinary to interest the dog. This training focus the dog's attention on the trainer (the owner). It does not need any punishment and can be implemented by anybody. It does not need any advance training by a professional trainer. The only difficulty resides with the number of repetitions (several dozen times) to obtain the new conditioning.
Results are not quick. The first thing to do is to stabilise the phobia and avoid the degradation in hyperaggression or generalised aggression. Then the dog may improve on a two to six months basis.

Dr Joël Dehasse
Behaviorist veterinarian