Behavior Bytes | June 2011
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
01:00 AM, Saturday, June 04
Dear Dr. Schwartz,

Is it true that Siamese cats are more vocal than other breeds? Thanks.

Just Wondering

Dear Just Wondering,

There is no evidence to support the popular assumption that Siamese are more “talkative.” There has not been a study, to my knowledge, comparing the vocal patterns of Siamese cats with those of other breeds. In one study that I did years ago on separation anxiety syndrome in cats, I found that male Siamese cats were more likely to vocalize as a separation response compared with female Siamese. But other cats in this study were also vocal.

I think that the Siamese “meow” is definitely characteristic (just like you can tell when it’s a beagle or a basset baying), but that doesn’t make them more vocal. It does mean we pay more attention to Siamese cats when they meow, because the sound is more plaintive. Personally, I think it sounds like a baby crying, and that alerts our human brains to pay more attention to the call of the Siamese cat.

Dear Dr. Schwartz,

My dog is an 8-month-old Labra-doodle named Sherman (like the tank). He is a very big boy and very enthusiastic about everything he does. He likes to dig holes in the yard, jump on me and visitors and lick everyone’s face. He knows his obedience commands but seems too busy to pay attention for long. I walk him twice a day for 15 minutes, but he is never tired. My dog trainer says that he has ADHD and should be put on Prozac. What do you think?

Sherman’s Dad

Dear Sherman’s Dad,

Dog trainers are not required to have any particular credentials or certification. Many have good dog sense and stick to teaching canine obedience. This is the foundation for communicating with our dogs and serves a hugely important function in creating pets we can live with. However, not everyone with certification is necessarily gifted at what they do (and some without it are). Some dog trainers are delightful, and some are downright dangerous. One thing is for sure: Making a medical diagnosis and recommending drug therapy is way, way out of your trainer’s job definition. This constitutes practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is a criminal offense that should be reported.

I’m not sure why dog parents go to trainers to resolve behavior problems. It might be that the trainers are better at marketing themselves than are veterinary specialists in pet behavior (like me). Most dog trainers cost 5 to 10 times more, take many more sessions to accomplish what they promise (if they do) and can cause more harm than good along the way, using outdated or misdirected techniques; some are even abusive. Meanwhile, the dog’s parents are increasingly disappointed and frustrated and have broken the bank trying to prevent things from getting worse.

When they’ve given up on the dog trainer, they may not have the funds or the patience to go to see a specialist, which probably should have been the first stop to begin with. Everyone loses, especially the dog, who might become one of the tragic statistics of dogs who are destroyed or abandoned every day because of behavior problems.

Dog trainers should be using reward-based training to teach basic obedience. Beyond that, they simply do not have the skills to diagnose and treat behavior issues that might also involve an underlying medical disorder or genetic problem. And if psychoactive medication is appropriate, only a veterinarian is permitted by law to make that assessment. An accurate diagnosis comes first.

So what do I think about Sherman? I think Sherman is a normal, big Goober puppy who needs way more exercise than he is getting. Just 15 minutes is barely a warm-up in an aerobics class. If Sherman is not tired after his walk, then you have a big clue staring at you in the face, with his tongue hanging out waiting for you to figure out that he needs more. Your job is not done until Sherman, not you, is tired. So start your day off with an hour (or more) walk, playtime with you or other friendly dogs (if that’s possible) and some obedience training in the yard to focus his remaining energy and settle him down. Then you’ll see that Sherman doesn’t have ADHD and doesn’t need Prozac and that neither of you needs a self-proclaimed expert trainer who needs to feel important by misinforming and misleading you.

Dr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad, CA. She also sees patients at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (760) 431-2273 and visit and

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June 28, 2011
Professionally, wouldn't it at least be a good idea to meet "Sherman" before making a conclusive diagnosis and remedy?

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