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Behavior Medicine

Behavior Medicine, Penn VetThe Behavior Clinic at Penn Vet's Ryan Hospital is dedicated to helping pets and their owners live together comfortably and safely.

Our clinical team members are well qualified and experienced in addressing behavior problems with an approach that combines skills from the fields of behavioral medicine and other branches of veterinary medicine. We use a rigorous scientific approach to understand the regulating mechanisms behind animal behavior and its pathologies. This approach allows us to deliver an effective and welfare-friendly behavior treatment. 

We see cats and dogs of all ages for behavior problems ranging from house-training and litter box problems and destructive or self-injurious activity, to aggression towards people or towards other animals.


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Visits to the Behavior Clinic

Penn Vet, BehaviorVisits to the Behavior Clinic are by appointment. Pet owners may be referred to us by their primary care veterinarians, or may contact us directly, without a referral.

  • An initial visit to the Behavior Clinic usually lasts two to three hours.
  • Pet owners are asked to complete an online history form before the appointment which details the pet’s home environment and the behavior problem.
  • In order to address all possible contributing factors, we also request the pet’s medical record from the referring veterinarian.

During the appointment the pet, client and behavior team meet to discuss the medical and behavioral history and ways to manage and improve the animal’s behavior. The environment is non-threatening and primarily intended to help the veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian board-certified in animal behavior) or behavior resident to identify and understand the problem.

Defining a Treatment Plan

Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan is discussed. Management of behavior problems may include:

  • Safety counseling
  • Behavior modification
  • Management techniques such as modification of the home environment
  • Medication (if needed)

Safety of our patients and of everyone who interacts with them is emphasized.

In the second half of the appointment the client will work with a behavior technician on the behavior modification techniques recommended by the veterinarian. During this time the veterinarian and the clinical students will prepare a detailed written summary of the visit with all of the veterinarian’s recommendations and instructions for continuing behavior modification at home.

What Comes After the Appointment

After the visit there is a three-month follow-up period during which clients may call or e-mail as needed for assistance with management and behavior modification. Follow-up appointments are available as needed.

Because our veterinarians are well-versed in behavior patterns and how physiology impacts these, we provide a more comprehensive approach to treating our patients.

Faculty/Clinician
  Name
Title
 Carlo Siracusa, Penn Vet, behavior Carlo Siracusa, DVM, MSc, PhD, DECAWBM, DACVB
  • Director, Animal Behavior Service 
 Jacqueline Wilhelmy, VMD, Penn Vet, behavior Jacqueline Wilhelmy, VMD
  •  Resident
  Alison Seward
  •  Veterinary Technician

Penn Vet's Training Tips for Dogs

Have a Plan That Is Practical and Pleasant

You may choose to train your dog yourself, go to classes or hire a trainer to come to your home. Trainers should use positive, non-forceful methods. Classes should be small, well-organized and held in an area without distractions. Training should be enjoyable for you and your dog.

Teach Life Skills

Behavior Medicine, Penn VetBasic training should focus on practical skills that make your dog a manageable and pleasant companion. “Sit” is useful to control jumping, “come” will bring your dog back to you, “stay” or “wait” will keep him from rushing into situations that could be hazardous and “look” will get his attention when you need it.

Reinforce Learning

Food treats are used to reinforce a behavior you want. They give you a way to get and keep his attention and make him an eager participant in training. Treats are given for each correct response while training a behavior, and less frequently once the behavior is well learned. Treats can be ordinary or exciting, depending on the difficulty of what you are teaching.

Train in Short Sessions

Training sessions are most effective when they are short—five minutes or less. Repeated short sessions working on a skill are most effective. Always try to end on a positive note, asking your dog to do something he already knows well.

Be Persistent and Enthusiastic

Persistence is the key to success—don’t give up after a short time. Continue to work on the things you want your dog to learn with enthusiasm and food treats. Over time you’ll accomplish your training goals.

Teach One Stage at a Time

Begin training a behavior in a setting with no distractions. When your dog is very reliable in that setting, move to settings with more distractions—for example, from a living room to a deck to a yard to a park or neighborhood. Each move will require review—starting slowly and clearly with very desirable food treats in the new setting.

Know Your Dog's Limits

Don’t try to use any training cue such as “sit” or “come” in a real-life situation until the dog is nearly perfect with it in practice sessions. If you ask for a behavior a dog is unlikely to be able to perform, you risk making the cue word meaningless or confusing. This takes patience, but it’s important.

Use Your Best Tool—Your Voice

It isn't necessary to touch a dog to train a dog. Good trainers and good books and DVDs can show you how to train “hands free."

Assess Your Progress

If your dog seems stubborn or is a slow learner, review both your training methods and the setting in which you are working. You may need a quieter area with no other people or animals present, better treats or help with your own skills.

Know When to Call the Experts!

Dogs don’t know when they have done something wrong. They do know when you are upset or angry, though, and will get upset themselves. This will make training difficult and unpleasant for both of you. The Behavior Service at Ryan Veterinary Hospital can help if you encounter serious problems in training your dog. Please leave us a message at 215-898-3347 or e-mail behaviorclinic@vet.upenn.edu.

Behavioral Research

Penn Vet, BehaviorBehavioral medicine is a broad clinical subject with many potential areas of research interest. Our clinical staff conducts, publishes and reports findings of research in a variety of areas, including canine aggression and the relationship between physical health and behavior. For more information about behavioral research conducted by our team, please see the individual faculty members’ web pages.