This week’s Newstalk vet podcast discusses dog behaviour: to listen, click on the play button at the foot of this page.
The most common cause of death in young adult male dogs is euthanasia because of “bad behaviour”, whether that means aggression, destructive or excessive noisiness. For this reason, it’s critically important that owners do their best to ensure that their pets grow up with “good behaviour” rather than “bad behaviour”
There are two aspects to this
Choose a dog that has calm, obedient parents, and it’s more likely that they will end up as calm obedient dogs
It can be difficult to meet both parents (especially if you choose a rescue dog), but at the very least, choose your new pet with care: a gentler, calmer dog rather than an “out there”, bouncy, live wire.
There are two aspects to nurture when it comes to forming a dog’s adult personality
a) Early socialisation and habituation
Puppies have a “golden period” between 2 weeks and 14 weeks when they are very adaptable to new animals/people/situations. If they are kept too isolated during this period, they often grow up to be more fearful/ aggressive/nervous – this is a real problem with many puppy farm dogs, and it is the reason why new owners should always ask to see the environment where a pup was reared, and ideally they should see the pup with the mum in situ.
Pups that have a good, varied, rich exposure to a wide range of daily experiences are more likely to grow up to be calm relaxed adult dogs
Examples include: socialisation with other dogs, cats, men, women, children, men with beards, women with hats,
and habituation to cars, home noises (vacuum cleaners, microwave beeps, doorbells, alarms, television, etc), fireworks, thunderstorms,
So it is really important that all puppies get these experiences early in life. This is one of the main reasons why if you are buying a puppy, you should get one from a family home rather than a puppy farmer. Puppy farmed dogs cannot have the same range of experiences as a pup growing up in a normal home
b) Formal training
Many people do take their dogs to training classes, but these are not all the same. So what should we be teaching dogs?
I have split this down into six tips in two areas
First, six tips about myths that are WRONG
Second, six basic tips on training puppies
A well known “pet mindfulness coach” (i.e. dog trainer) Caroline Menteith recently said that “dogs should be taught life skills rather than simply how to sit, stay and hand over their paws”. i.e. dog owners should review the idea of traditional obedience exercises and instead think about the natural skills the pet has instinctively, and adapt those to modern daily lives. Instead of dog training relied on a formal technique based on military training, attitudes towards animals have softened as pets are increasingly seen as members of the family. So just as the way that children are reared has changed, so should the way that dogs are trained.
So the idea is that owners should build relationships with their pets rather than focusing on teaching them commands.
In particular, it’s time to scotch the old myths about dog behaviours
- There is no evidence of dominance hierarchies in the dog world – so there is no benefit to dominating your dog
- Dogs do not have a desire to control you or to be a higher rank than you
- Aggression is often the result of dogs being fearful. They growl to warn us to stay away. We continue to move forward, so they bite.
- So preventing aggression is more about understanding dogs than about trying to dominate them
- Wagging a tail does not mean a dog is happy: it means the dog is uncertain
- It’s important to learn about dog body language, and react appropriately e.g. flattened ears, tense body, whites of eyes showing, licking lips are all signs of anxiety.
New dogs should be taken to local training courses, to learn traditional commands and meet other dogs. During this process, the new dog owners will learn about the optimal way of interacting with dogs, which will include general life skills
- Training your puppy early, to avoid him developing bad habits.
- Teach him what is acceptable and rewarding this
- Make clear and simple commands and show him what you want him to do.
- Lessons should be short and at regular intervals e.g. five minutes, three times a day
- Remember – always reward good behaviour, and ignore ‘bad’ behaviour.”
- Regular daily exercise is important (e.g. half an hour twice daily) so that dogs don’t get bored and frustrated, which can lead to bad behaviour
To listen to the podcast, click on the play button below