Patient Stories / Case Studies


Approximately two years ago, I noticed my puppy was exhibiting fearful reactions to strangers.  Juno is a pit bull that I rescued along with two of her litter mates from a back yard breeder in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. I had goals to raise Juno, get her AKC PAL and then compete with her. We intended to be an example of what a rescued pit bull can do.

I socialized the socks off of this pup, and she never had a bad experience that we witnessed. This is just who Juno is. My hope to help give Juno the tools she needed to live successfully motivated me to seek help from the Behavior Service at UC Davis.

We learned a lot from Dr. Stepita and her assistant. We continued to work and train. Juno is who she is. That hasn't changed, but we were able to help build her confidence and give her ways to deal if she felt uncomfortable.

A few months ago, I felt confident about enter Juno in an AKC Novice Obedience Match. The Sit for Exam takes a lot of confidence. The judge hobbled over to Juno with her cane and “wack, wack, wack” patted her on the head. Juno maintained eye contact with and held her stay. She finished with what would have been a qualifying score. I cried.

Juno’s accomplishments include:

  • Earned her CGC last month
  • Two legs in UKC Rally Novice
  • Two legs in AKC Rally Novice
  • Winner of the BEST KISSER contest at Woofstock two years in a row. (This landed us on “Good Day Sacramento” – that and her purple tutu.)
  • Winner of the Diva contest this year at the Great Pyrenees Fun Show

Juno and I will continue to compete in Rally and Obedience. She is even considering some lure coursing. She is still Juno – a wonderful, smart, silly dog who has gained the confidence she needs to be an ambassador for her breed.

Thank you for helping us,

~Rosalie and Juno

Wolfgang - Feline Inappropriate Elimination

Wolfgang is a 6-year-old male castrated Persian cat that originally presented for urinating outside his litterbox. He was diagnosed with urine marking, as he was spraying small amounts of urine in socially significant areas around the house, as well litterbox and litter aversion causing inappropriate toileting behavior. His urine marking partly stemmed from some of his fighting with one of the other household cats, Belle, a female spayed Persian. He was successfully treated with environmental management (moving and adding litterboxes), behavior modification (getting him more comfortable with Belle via gradual desensitization and counterconditioning and a "House of Plenty"), and medication. We prescribed fluoxetine (generic of Prozac), an SSRI, to help decrease his stress and anxiety, therefore decreasing his desire to spray. With diligence on his owner’s part, Wolfgang’s behavior drastically improved.


Penny is an 8-year-old female spayed Labrador mix who began to display fearful behaviors in response to various stimuli. In the past year, she had moved into a new home with her owner and was exposed to an environment with very active and loud children. Penny would tremble and hide in response to the children running up and down the stairs, playing ball or yelling. The children will often have a large group of friends over to play. During these times, Penny would be found hiding in a closet trembling. She would stay there until the house was calm again. The owner was concerned for Penny, and nothing she had tried thus so far had helped. She brought Penny in to see Dr. Malamed at the UC Davis Behavior Service to see if there was anything else that could be done before considering the use of anti-anxiety medications. The motivation for the behavior was identified and a behavior modification plan was instituted to try to build Penny’s confidence and change her negative emotional response into positive one. After working extensively with Penny at home, the owner reports that Penny is much more tolerant of the children, and, for the first time, she will simply fall asleep rather than running to the closet to hide when they are running around noisily. The owner is now in the process of desensitizing Penny to other previously fearful stimuli such as ice cubes and fly swatters.


Within weeks of purchasing my yearling, he injured himself badly enough to be confined to a box stall. As the days and weeks went by in confinement, he became tense, bored and increasingly aggressive. Treating his injury, hand-walking him, and cleaning his stall meant enduring his bold attempts to charge me, bite, strike and bolt. Because he was so dangerous, the UC Davis Field Service had to come out two to three times a week to heavily sedate him just to change his leg wrap.

After two long months, I thought my horse was a lost cause. I wanted to treat the injury and get rid of him, thinking he would always have these behavior traits. I consulted several trainers who only encouraged me to increase the punishment using stud chains and whips, which in turn increased our level of confrontation, making my daily battle even worse.

Although I had been riding and competing on young horses for 20 years, I felt totally unequipped and helpless to work with this horse and change his behavior. I did not think it was possible. That was when I was referred to Dr. Jeannine Berger because of her extensive training and expertise as a veterinarian and equine behaviorist.

Dr. Berger was able to accurately assess and diagnose the behavior and offer me specific tools and techniques to change the behavior, focusing on positive reinforcement, repetition and reward. The first day I tried the behavioral plan I saw results. Each day I worked on the behavior plan Dr. Berger gave me, and each day it got better.

Today, my horse Loki and I have a bond that I once thought was unattainable— mutual respect, trust and a willing attitude. I feel safe and confident, able to groom, hand walk, bathe, treat injuries, stand for the farrier, longe, ground drive, and now I am weeks away from starting him under saddle. I am so thankful to the UC Davis Behavior Service for giving us the tools for success that no one else did. I could not have achieved this without Dr. Berger.

~ Sarah Dow

Extreme Fear in a Dachshund

A 21-month-old male neutered Dachshund was presented for extreme fearful behavior towards the male owner and freeze or flight response when confronted with unfamiliar people or novel objects. Fear of people and neophobia were diagnosed and were considered to be the results of socialization or exposure deficits during early life. The dog was successfully treated using behavior modification consisting of initial avoidance of fear-eliciting stimuli, desensitizing and counter-conditioning, confidence building through “command-response-reward” training, and medication. A one-year follow-up period was available, and the dog had just successfully completed his first dog obedience class.

Foal Rejection

One of the most serious types of abnormal maternal behavior in horses is foal rejection, defined as refusal to allow suckling and aggression towards the foal. Since the ingestion of colostrum is crucial to the health of the foal during the first few hours of life, the foal is at risk of septicemia and death in cases of foal rejection. Current methods to treat this aberrant behavior, including chemical and/or physical restraint of the mare, may be ineffective or just short lasting and can furthermore lead to secondary behavioral problems.

 A 5-year-old registered Egyptian Arabian maiden mare refused to allow her foal or humans to approach her flank/udder region. Since no colostrum could be obtained from the mare for the foal, both were transported to UC Davis approximately 20 hours after birth.

The initial approach was to attempt to understand the reason for the mare’s aggressive and defensive behavior. Gradual desensitization of the flank region and counter-conditioning was used to encourage the mares to accept their foals without restraint or medication. This approach, based on the animal behavioral tendencies, involved the application of negative reinforcement, gradual desensitization of the sensitive flank/udder region and counter-conditioning. Within one hour of behavioral therapy, the handler was able to manipulate the udder without resistance and the foal was able to nurse successfully.