The systemic approach to companion animal problem behaviour (abstract)

©Dr JoŽl Dehasse

3 avenue du Cosmonaute, 1150 Brussels, Belgium
Ref.: Dehasse J. The systemic approach to companion animal behaviour. In Mills, Heath & Harrington: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Veterinary Behavioural Medicine. UFAW, 1997: 223.

There are different models to approach the understanding and resolution of companion animal behaviour problems, for example behaviourism, clinical ethology, and systemic therapy. In the systemic model, the animal is analysed in the context of its environment as supporting a specific function or as a catalyst for an auto-organisation of the family-pack. The family asks the animal to play a role. This demand is frequently unconscious for the human members of the family. This role may be the origin of a behavioural pathology: anxiety, depression, hyperattachment, etc. This role (by a behaviourally normal or pathologic dog) may be the opportunity for a family-pack to organise or reorganise itself (sometimes at the expense of the animal behavioural and emotional health). I will give several examples of these situations.

The dynamics of a system may be stable or unstable. Hyperattachment, a process that is at the root of separation anxiety in young dogs, may be something indispensable for the owner's mental health or for the alleviation of his or her emotional or mood disorder (anxiety or depression). The recognition of these dynamics is obligatory to propose some realistic objectives in the therapy or to use some sophisticated cognitive or behavioural therapy as strategic family therapy.

A change inside the family dynamic organisation may lead the owners to change their expectancy of the role the pet animal has to play inside the group. An individual emotional or mood evolution in a member of a family may lead to stop the animal therapy or to its euthanasia.

A systemic approach may be an Ethical way to treat animals inside their family without disrupting the family dynamic organisation. Several techniques or models of approaches to understand this problematic can be extrapolated from human family therapy. These models will help manage several systemic pathologies as hierarchic instability (dominance aggression), separation anxiety, or replacement dog syndrome, etc.

Dr Joël Dehasse
Behaviorist veterinarian