PROMOTING FORCE-FREE POSITIVE TRAINING & HANDLING
Our pets are part of our families. Words can’t even describe how much joy and comfort a pet can bring to your family. Your dog pet is your best friend that will always show you unconditional love, boundless enthusiasm, and trust all the time. As a loving pet owner, you will always do everything possible to provide your dog with high-quality food, abundant exercise, and of course, a warm shelter.
However, did you know that taking care of your dog’s gut health may be the most important thing that you need to do? Just like human beings, your dog’s gut is the foundation of their health and by far, the largest immune organ in their bodies. The gut plays a critical role in your dog’s life such as preventing toxins and other undesirable bacteria from finding their way into the dog’s bloodstream.
It also ensures that your dog digests and absorbs all the valuable nutrients from the food and other supplements that it feeds on. Therefore, it is crucial to think about what you are feeding your dog on since it could be causing a wide range of dog behavior problems.
Dog Food, the Gut, and Behavior Problems
Just like humans, dogs tend to have larger stomachs and shorter digestive tracts. The dog’s mouth also lacks the essential glans that can initiate the process of starch digestion in the mouth. The anatomy of dogs is perfect for digesting high-quality protein within a short period. Various studies have also proved that some dog breeds have developed the unique ability to produce some enzymes that aid in the starch breakdown.
This means that some dog breeds have developed starch tolerance to crease their odds of surviving alongside human beings. This is the primary reason why most pet owners believe that dogs can eat exactly as we do but the big question remains; what kind of nutrients do they get from their diet?
The food that you fed your dog and its impact on the gut may be one of the most overlooked things in the modern world since most of us tend to be more concerned by other aspects such as brand, taste, ingredients, shelf life and the list goes on.
You might be surprised to learn that a recent study conducted at the University of California established that microbes link to specific areas of the brain which usually affect mood and behavior including response to fear and anxiety. This means that the food your dog eats can lead to various behavior problems. High quantities of trans fats and high-sugar diets may also lead to anxiety and depression.
The Connection between a Dog’s Gut Health and Behavior Problems
Typically, high-sugar, processed dog foods lead to increased release of bacterial toxins referred to as lipopolysaccharides that hang out safely in the dog’s gut. However, when these bacterial toxins enter the dog’s bloodstream, they become highly toxic.
But, how does this affect your dog’s behavior? Well, the lipopolysaccharides tend to destroy the brain cells that secrete the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine which are the primary happiness hormones. Scientific research has proven that the lack of these essential hormones will have a significant impact on your pet's behavior.
Dog Food and the Behavioral Brain Waves
Improving your dog’s gut health will play a critical role in ensuring that there is sufficient production of the neurotransmitters needed to improve its behavior. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that your dog's behavior largely depends on the food it feeds on. Just like human beings, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) of your dog links to the emotional aspects of its central nervous system.
In simple terms, every time your dog eats, the ENS transmits messages to its brain which affects its emotional state. Certain types of foods will help your pet remain calm while others will make it more anxious. If you love your dog, then you should understand that feeding it on food additives and other grain-based foods can cause a leaky gut that will negatively affect your dog’s behaviors.
Most of the dog problems that you may experience stem from your dog not receiving a well-balanced natural diet free from food preservatives and other chemicals. Some of the common dog problems caused due to lack of a balanced natural diet include but limited by: aggression, stress-stacking, self-mutilation, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, house training problems and hyperactivity. The most effective way that you can deal with these problems is by taking a holistic approach to your dog’s health and wellbeing.
Ways to Support Your Dog’s Gut Health
Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do to help improve your dog’s gut health and lessen the negative impact it might have on your dog’s behavior. Look carefully at the labels on dog food containers. Be mindful of the amount of chemicals that you are feeding your dog and always ensure that your dog is eating the right nutrients. Here are some of the simple ways that you can support your dog’s gut health:
Provide your dog with fresh water instead of chlorinated water
Avoid dog foods that contain “by-products”, corn or chemical additives.
Provide your dog with probiotics, such as yogurt to supplement their diet regularly
Feed it with various supplements
Consult with a holistic veterinarian to help you make good dietary choices
DOGGIE LAWN, November 30, 2018 4:04:21 PM America/Los Angeles, CA
Because HEART’s theme for December is fear-free, our blog this month talks about Nutraceuticals For Fear, Anxiety, And Stress? What to Consider?
Linda Lomaardi, Ph.D. and the author of Dogs Behaving Badly offers a primer on some practical strategies you and your clients can use with their dogs.
Here is the link: https://fearfreepets.com/nutraceuticals/
A two-year-old dog is adopted from a rescue. The dog has not had any socialization. He does not seem to know how to play with other dogs, and annoys the adopter’s resident dog with his lack of manners. He also has an unfortunate habit of jumping up and playfully grabbing sleeves with his teeth, which may be fun to him but can be painful to the owner of the arm. The owner declares the dog aggressive, and surrenders him to the city shelter, telling them that the dog bites.
Another dog, a breed known for territorial behavior, goes to his new home. He bonds with the owners, and all goes well. Then one day, a person who is a stranger to the dog wanders into the house unannounced. The dog bites him. A trainer tells the family that the dog needs to be put down.
What do these two scenarios have in common? Are these dogs actually aggressive? In the first case, it’s understandable that a dog who is new to being around other dogs wouldn’t know how to act around them. An adult female dog who could teach him manners would be a great help. As for grabbing body parts with his teeth, the dog has not been taught otherwise. He’s barely out of adolescence, and it is easy enough to teach the dog that the obnoxious behavior is unacceptable. Is the dog aggressive? Based on this information alone, I think not.
Is the dog who bit the person entering the home aggressive? Assuming the dog has not threatened anyone else, a guardian breed that is bonded with his family defending his people and territory from what he perceives as in intruder is understandable. Does the dog need to be euthanized? Of course not, although management and training should absolutely be implemented.
I hear stories like these all the time. Of course, there are dogs out there who are truly aggressive. There are many more who appear to be aggressive when in reality the behavior is coming from a place of fear (this is fear-based reactivity, not aggression), but there are those who actually want to hurt other dogs or people. Do aggressive dogs belong in homes? No. But it is far easier to simply deem a dog’s behaviors “aggression” than to do the work required, with the help of a trainer if necessary, to work on the issues.
When we first brought Bodhi home, he was a mess. Truly. He had major insecurity and fear issues paired with excess energy, and zero socialization. I could not take three steps across the floor without him jumping up on me and putting his teeth all over my arms and legs. I’m not exaggerating. My book Hit by a Flying Wolf describes the whole ordeal, along with how we solved his issues. Had I not been a canine behavior specialist, it would have been easy to see his behavior as aggressive. As it was, I understood that Bodhi simply did not know what to do with all of that fear and nervous energy, and he was “acting out;” all that energy had to go somewhere, after all. That wasn’t his only issue, either. He was reactive with other dogs, destructive…I could go on and on. I won’t lie; it took months before I felt he was a dog I could enjoy living with. And it took longer than that to fully change his behaviors. It’s now 8 years later, and he’s lying here patiently, watching me type this blog and wondering when I’m going to stop working and feed him.
I don’t expect the average person to understand dog behavior to the point that they can determine without a doubt whether a particular dog’s issues are resolvable, or, barring a serious incident, if the dog is truly aggressive. If there are children involved, or someone in the home is being hurt (including another dog), giving a dog up would be understandable. But barring that, sometimes having a dog is work. Sometimes we have to admit that there is a serious problem, and if needed, hire a trainer to help resolve it. Simply dismissing a dog as aggressive if it’s not warranted can be a tragedy, and end as a death sentence for a dog who does not deserve to die.
For those who appreciate science based and peer reviewed studies of dog training related subjects, the following article may be of interest to you.
The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training.
This is an Open Access article offered by PLUS One, published in September 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 9
You can reach this article by clicking on the following link:
Your Aggression, Dog’s Aggression, By Trainer & Author Suzanne Clothier
From the University of Pennsylvania comes an interesting new study that actually looks at how an owner's aggressive behavior affects a dog's aggressive behavior.
Not too surprisingly, lead researcher Megan E. Herron notes:
"Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them with physical manipulation does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses."
Just recently, a fellow trainer was asking on a list about best ways to help a toy breed dog who had been biting. The history presented highlighted that this little dog was physical hurting (had health issues that were painful), did not know a great deal (so had limited options for interacting and responding in good ways), and was being "corrected" for defensive snaps with more serious aggression from the owner.
Despite this trainer's attempts to help this dog, despite the dog improving in the hands of someone who took the time to teach the dog and stop acting aggressively themselves, this little dog was put to sleep a few days ago by the original owner for "unprovoked aggression." A heartbreaking outcome of owner aggression and confrontational "training" techniques. (So sorry, CK ---)
The U of P study has some interesting highlights:
· Number one reason owners take their dogs to veterinary behaviorists: aggressive behavior
· 43% of the 140 owners involved in the study had "hit or kicked the dog for undesirable behavior
· 31% had used an "alpha roll"
· 30% had used a "stare down"
· 29% had used a "dominance down"
· 25% of the dogs on which the above were used responded with their own aggression (I'm surprised it's not more; speaks to dogs tolerating a lot from humans)
The study was published in Applied Animal Behavior science. Check it out.
Since common sense and empathy for fellow beings are sometimes insufficient to demonstrate the folly of using confrontational techniques (especially with aggression!), perhaps simply proving the point with this study and many others will eventually open people's eyes.
Sad but true that while we'd resent being trained in a confrontational and abusive way, it remains not only accepted but popularized.
Ask me why I cancelled my National Geographic subscription . . .
In sad memory of a pair of bright eyes that asked for understanding and education, that warned she would not tolerate being attacked in the name of "teaching her" --- and for that light now gone out. May her life's lessons do their work. Rest in peace, little one. You deserved better.
To Muzzle or Not to Muzzle: That Is the Question
Weighing the pros and cons of wearing basket muzzles for dogs who may bite. A Facebook post from Psychology Today, Posted Sep 06, 2017. Written by Emily Levine. DACVB
I hear it every day in my practice. Dog owners are hesitant to train their dogs to wear basket muzzles. I get it. I really do. And in a perfect world, with perfect people and perfect dogs, we wouldn't even need to broach this topic. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world. So let’s talk about of the pros and cons of having our feisty Fidos wear basket muzzles.
People don't want other people to think they have a mean dog. People who have dogs who bite really wish others could see the wonderful side of their dogs that they get to see everyday. They want people to see the friendly, playful, cuddly side of their dogs and well, a muzzle isn't exactly a hallmark card sending those sentiments. People do not want others to see their dog in a muzzle and think that their dog is mean, dangerous, or untrained. The reality however, is that many dogs do not cope well being around strangers and are not going to show their “best” selves to them and trust me, no one is having fond thoughts about a lunging, barking, growling dog simply because they are not wearing a muzzle. No one thinks aggressive behavior is cute and endearing and will have warmer thoughts about your dog because the dog is not wearing a muzzle.
Another concern people have about their dog wearing a muzzle is that of it being cruel for the dog. Can it be cruel to have a dog wear a muzzle? Yes it can. It can be cruel if the wrong muzzle is used (it does not allow the dog to pant for example), it does not fit properly, the dog isn't acclimated to wearing the muzzle, or, in some cases, if only a muzzle is used without addressing the underlying issues that require its use in the first place. Muzzles do nothing to change or modify or treat the underlying behavior issue. They are simply a safety tool that prevents bites and, in many cases, facilitates a behavior modification program. Yep, you read that correctly. Muzzles can, in certain situations, actually help dogs to learn what we want them to learn. We will come back to this idea later.
When muzzles are fit properly, the dogs are acclimated to wearing one, and they allow the dog to pant easily, eat treats through them, and drink water through them, they are just another piece of equipment like a collar, harness, and leash. Oh..and most people that I see in my practice say their dog will never wear a muzzle because their dogs hate them. Ninety-nine percent of the time it is because they have not used the correct muzzle and/or have not acclimated the dog to wearing a muzzle correctly. Click here to see a clip of a dog wearing a muzzle after proper sizing and training.
Let’s get back to how a muzzle can actually help facilitate a behavior modification plan as opposed to simply just being a safety tool. Let’s think of those dogs who do “okay” until a person insists on approaching and interacting with your dog. Everyday, people with reactive, stressed, anxious dogs who ask people not to approach because their dog is shy, fearful, not friendly, etc...are told ”it’s okay, I’m a dog person. Dogs love me!” Then, when they get close, bam! A bite is attempted or occurs. Then, that oh so friendly “dog person,” likely having their pride hurt, is not so friendly anymore and at the end of the day, you, as the dog owner, are responsible for your dog biting someone, legally and ethically. I never really hear of people insisting on approaching a dog when a dog is wearing a muzzle. Let the muzzle speak for itself in terms of letting people know, your dog does not care to have close interactions with strangers. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Not all dogs are social beings who enjoy interacting with strangers and that is OK. This is a concept that dog owners of dogs who need muzzles should embrace! As a side note, muzzles can be such a great deterrent to people approaching dogs when we are trying to teach them to trust strangers, that I sometimes recommend it for dogs who are very fearful/shy without any aggressive tendencies if those clients live in a place where people are constantly trying to interact with their dog. It is your job as a dog guardian to keep your dog safe. Muzzles can help you with that, on several levels.
Let’s talk about the layers of safety that a muzzle can provide. The obvious is that the risk of a bite decreases significantly. With a decreased risk of biting, there is less risk of a lawsuit, less risk of losing your home owner’s insurance, and depending on the severity of bites or number of bites in your dog’s past, it can prevent a reportable incident that may result in you losing control over what happens to your dog. Also, you want to be a good citizen and make sure the people in public who are walking, jogging, cycling, etc., aren't bitten. People should be able to be in public without the risk of being bitten. Too many times in practice I have seen friends, family, and neighbors in feuds and lawsuits over bites that could have been prevented.
When you think of all the pros and cons of a properly fitted and sized muzzle and you still find it hard to get over any feeling of public shame, try to take the attitude that Suzy Arrington, CPDT-KA, offers: “Own it like you would if you were wearing a big hat!” In other words, wear it with confidence!
Next time you see someone walking a dog in a muzzle, offer them a smile. They are being responsible dog owners who are trying to help their dogs and keep everyone safe.
A great site that goes over valuable information about muzzles is www.muzzleupproject.com Emily Levine DACVB
Animal Behavior Clinic of New Jersey
Shock Collars Work: So Does Jumping Out a WIndow to Get to the Ground
Jumping out of the window is one option to get to the ground level. It seems like the most direct way. Just because something works doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be done…the side-effects can be deadly.
Shock collars are one option to accomplish behavior change. It seems like the most direct way. Just because something works doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be done…the side-effects can be deadly.
Let’s face it, punishment works. It does change behavior. Shock collars hurt. When something hurts, an animal will work to avoid that pain. But is this the smart way of accomplishing our training goals? Is this the humane way of accomplishing our training goals? Are their consequences for using this method of training?
Why are people so quick to use punishers? Is it that the use of such a tool makes a person feel powerful? Maybe they get a rush out of feeling like they are in control—the all-powerful human! Or is it that they don’t know any better? Frustration and anger with a behavior can lead many of us to extreme measures. People feel helpless. They want a fix to their problem. Shock collars seem so easy, and isn’t easy a good thing?
Is easy a good thing? It sure takes a whole lot less effort to jump off a high-rise than it does to walk down multiple flights of stairs. Easy is not always a good thing. There are severe consequences to choosing the ‘easy’ way to fix a dog’s behavior with shock collar.
This reminds me of a joke: A guy jumps out the window of a high rise. As he passes a window on the way down someone yells out, “How’s it going?” and the guy responds, “So far, so good!”
Ramifications of using a Shock Collar:
It is a poor communicator.
A shock collar is horrible at telling a dog what to do. My favorite example of this is one I’ve heard many different trainers use, so I don’t know who to give credit to.
A person climbs into a taxi and says to the driver, “Don’t take me to Chicago.” The driver turns to the person with a look of confusion. The person gets angry and says, “Don’t take me to Detroit!” The driver is getting frustrated. The person starts hitting the driver and yells, “Don’t take me to Milwaukee!” The driver is confused, stressed, maybe a little fearful about this crazy person that has entered his car.
This is the feeling a dog has that is being trained using a shock collar. There are a whole lot of “don’t” statements, but where are the instructions about what we want the taxi driver to do? A dog should be instructed what TO DO, instead of punishing them for guessing wrong.
Using a shock collar might feel good to the user.
There is no doubt that some dog behaviors can create frustration and anger in their human. In that moment, inflicting a shock on their beloved dog might be a way to release that frustration and anger.
Fear inhibits learning.
The use of a shock collar permanently changes the dog’s brain. The point of the shock collar is to make a dog fearful of doing something. Fear is damaging. Anticipating pain causes stress. Fear and stress affect the amygdala and inhibit the brain from working on higher level functions, like learning. Ummm, isn’t that opposite of what we want? We want our dogs to learn. Using a shock collar places a dog in a state of being that inhibits learning.
Dogs learn by association.
Dogs learn by association. When a dog experiences something painful, he observes his surroundings and makes the association that this particular mix of stimuli results in a painful consequence. Unless we put the dog into a vacuum of stimuli, we can’t control what associations are made in a dog’s mind. Unintended associations are likely to happen.
For example, if a person shocks their dog because he is barking and lunging on leash when seeing another dog in the neighborhood, what is the dog potentially learning? It is really hard to know, but maybe: that other dog is dangerous to be around, this location on the walk is dangerous, my human can’t be trusted to keep me safe from pain, etc, etc…and maybe the dog learns that the action of barking and lunging will cause pain.
Punishment can lead to aggression.
Even if your dog has figured out that the painful shock occurs because of his behavior and reduces this particular behavior, if the behavior was based in fear (as many poor behaviors are) the problem is magnified. Suppressing behavior does not change the emotion behind the behavior in the first place. If the dog is behaving poorly due to fear, that fear is still present and surely strengthened because the presence of it causes the dog to be shocked. The dog will only suppress his behavior until he reaches a point of just not caring that there might be a shock involved and he will explode, displaying behavior that is higher on the scale of aggression. If this happens, there is a chance that dog will be euthanized for his aggression. Using a shock collar can have deadly side-effects.
There are so many more effective and efficient ways of training a dog without the horrible side effects caused by using pain in training. Educating pet owners is a job we must do! They are not the dog trainers…we are! It is our job to present information to them, so they can make an informed decision.
Shock collars work. That’s the problem! Trainers and dog owners who love dogs and have good intentions sometimes use collars that deliver an electric field or current. Those may include remote training collars, containment collars or anti-bark collars. Dogs can’t talk so they can’t tell us it hurts. We can only see their behavior. If they stop the behavior we’re trying to eliminate voila, we think we’re successful. The success is rewarding. We want to do it again to achieve the same results. And then we do it again…and again…and again. And we increase the intensity if the behavior change is slower or we perceive stubbornness in our dog. It’s seductive and we often don’t see the unintended consequences. We are so excited about the successful change in behavior that we don’t see that our dogs are also telling us through their body language that this training is unpleasant, stressful and painful. If your dog stops jumping, do you also notice the lips flicks, compressed body posture, the lowered head and flattened ears. Do you notice the difference in tail position and yawning? Are you watching to see if your dog is enjoying your ‘success’?
The problem is that for any of these collars to work, the stimulus (electric stimulus) must be unpleasant or aversive enough to change behavior. In other words, it must cause physical discomfort or pain. So your success while using this method is only attainable through your dog’s discomfort. Even if you don’t have to actually use the electronic ‘stimulus’ every time, the threat is what causes the continued change in behavior. Who wants to live with a weapon pointed at them. Not us and not our dogs.
Problems with e-collars are:
There is a way that is more effective and efficient and doesn’t purposefully inflict discomfort on our dogs.
Positive reinforcement training encourages behavior….good behavior. The bad behavior is eliminated by replacing it with a preferred behavior. Dogs love it because they’re being rewarded rather than punished. And you’ll love it because it’s effective and fun for both you and your dog. It’s based on scientific principals rather than old school training methods that are the result of frustration and annoyance. Train with your brain: Be smart about how you approach a behavior problem. And then watch your dog – he’ll thank you for it.
Many of our members have been spending some time discussing and thinking about coercive techniques in dog training. We recently presented, for example, Kathy Sdao's hour and a half long lecture on The Seductiveness of Shock to a group of our members. Since we are all still wild about Wilde and always looking for insights and ideas, here is what Nicole Wilde has to say about this subject in her most recent blog -- COOPERATION VERSUS COERCION:
I’d like you to imagine that you are a young, not-yet-verbal child who is entering a foster home. Naturally, you are a nervous about meeting your new foster parents, and wonder what life will be like. You don’t yet know what will be expected of you or how you will be treated. And since you’re not familiar with the daily household routine, you will need to be taught. On your first morning, your foster father says he’s going to take you out for a fun walk to see the neighborhood. You’re very excited! But when you run to the front door and fling it open, he scowls and pushes you away from the door. You’re surprised and a bit frightened at being handled that way. You try again, and this time the man seems very angry. He shoves you more forcefully than the first time. Now you’re truly afraid. You dare not go near the door. Instead, you wait, looking at the man, not knowing what to do. He smiles, opens the door, and gestures for you to go through. You learned a valuable lesson; don’t open the door and run out, but instead wait for the man to open it.
Now let’s imagine that instead, the man leads you to a small carpet near the front door. He gestures to you to stand there, and when you do, he smiles. He then walks to the door and begins to open it. Excited, you begin to move toward the door. He closes the door and waits. You’re momentarily surprised, but then think for a moment, and step back on the mat. The man smiles. Very quickly, you learn that waiting on the mat not only makes the man happy, but makes the door open so fun things can happen.
In both front door scenarios, you learned a lesson. However, the first method caused anxiety and trepidation, and taught you that you might need to be wary of this new stranger. In the second scenario, you learned that the man you would be living with seemed kind and patient, and behaved like someone who would show you what was expected. Of course, kids are not dogs, but the comparison of teaching with cooperation versus coercion, along with the possible fallout coercion might cause, is a legitimate one.
Among dog trainers, the concepts of cooperation and coercion are well known, and are implemented constantly. Confusingly, though, labels such as “positive trainer,” “balanced trainer” and others don’t really tell the average dog owner much about which way a trainer chooses to train, and can even be misleading. I’ve seen a self-proclaimed “positive trainer” jerk a dog so harshly that the poor dog ended up hanging off the ground by his neck. The only positive there is that owners should positively run the other way! Regardless of labels, though, any approach to training dogs is either based in cooperation or coercion. Sure, there are different forms of coercion, some much harsher than others, and many trainers only use coercion once a dog has been trained and chooses to disregard a command. But here I’m talking about when we’re first teaching dogs what we’d like them to do. A dog can be taught in a variety of ways to lie down, for example, from being lured into position with a treat to having someone stomp on his collar near the neck so his head is slammed to the ground, followed by his body. (Think that sounds awful? It’s how our group class trainer taught it when I was a kid. I was horrified.) The dog ends up lying down either way, but showing the dog what’s expected first, rather than using harsh physical force, is much more pleasant for everyone and builds trust rather than causing mistrust and fear. And what about things like leash walking where the dog isn’t given any instructions at all, but is simply jerked every time he makes a mistake? It would be like me wanting you to learn a ballroom dance, but instead of teaching you the steps, I just stomp on your foot every time you make a mistake. Wanna dance? Didn’t think so.
And that, really, is at the heart of it all. Dog training shouldn’t be a battle of wills, but an ever-evolving dance of communication and cooperation. It’s the way I’ve always trained and always will, and it’s what is kindest to the dog. Either way, the dog will learn; but what else the dog is learning—kindness and trust, or mistrust and fear—is even more important.
You can find my books here, my artwork here and my Facebook page here. Please feel free to leave comments, and subscribe so you don’t miss any posts! Thanks, Nicole Wilde
There are some very good blogs about dogs out there in cyberland, so we thought we would share some of them. Nicole's recent blog about the (maybe tiresome) subject of "pack leadership" might be worth a thoughtful re-look:
This Whole Pack Leader Thing
Written & conceived by Nicole Wilde, May 22, 2018
If you hear a whistling sound, it’s the steam coming out of my ears because I’ve just heard yet another person state that someone else’s dogs wouldn’t have aggression issues if only that person were a stronger pack leader. Gah! Okay. Deep breaths. Let me backtrack. I was at the park this morning with my dogs when I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in some time. I like her and her dogs, and we stood there catching up as our dogs romped happily. When she asked what I’ve been writing lately and I responded that I’d put out a book called Keeping the Peace, which is about dogs fighting in the home, she looked perplexed. “But,” she said, “that’s just a matter of being a strong pack leader. Dogs won’t fight if they have one.” Here’s the thing: she’s partly right, in that it is important that dogs have someone who teaches them the rules and enforces them in a kind, fair way. It’s important too that when dogs are unsure of something that they can look to their person for direction, and that when they’re starting to do something they shouldn’t, their person can intervene. However. That doesn’t mean that having even the best of human leaders in the home guarantees that dogs won’t have aggression issues.
Although children and dogs are obviously two different species, family dynamics and psychology do have some things in common. A parent who lets their kids run wild with very few rules and boundaries is likely to have less control over them than one who establishes house rules and enforces behavioral expectations. In all the homes I’ve visited over the years to train dogs, there was a strong correlation between how much control the owner had over her kids and how much control she had over her dogs. But does being a responsible parent and strong leader guarantee that a kid isn’t going to fight with other kids? Does it mean the kid will like most other kids he meets? And should he be expected to like and get along with every one of them? Of course not, and we can’t expect it from our dogs, either. Sure, we should train them and yes, we absolutely should teach them our house rules and how we expect them to behave. And there should be fair, non-violent but effective consequences should they choose not to comply. Those things can go a long way in raising well-behaved dogs. But the fact is that dogs, like people, simply do not like everyone they meet. A dog might like most dogs, but absolutely loathe the other dog who lives in the home. Or, perhaps the dogs get along some of the time but then get into horrific fights in specific situations. Of course, I believe much if that is solvable (hence the book); but simply being a strong pack leader is not going to fix everything on its own. Our television culture has ensured that many owners have heard about the importance of being a strong pack leader and, to an extent, that’s useful. But on the flip side, it’s damaging in many cases to put the entire burden of blame on the owner (along with the resulting guilt if the problem isn’t solved), and to believe that canine behavior issues, which are inherently complex, can be solved with strong leadership alone.This reminds me of the man who walks his nice, sweet Lab around our local park in the mornings. Fortunately for him, his dog is friendly with other dogs and people. But he truly believes that if any dog has aggression issues with other dogs he encounters, it’s entirely the owner’s fault, period; and that a dog who snarls and lunges at passing dogs can be “rehabilitated” simply by walking him right up to other dogs (regardless of how dog-reactive those dogs are) and letting them meet, and not allowing the dog to react aggressively. Do that enough, and the problem is solved, thanks to strong pack leadership. Yeah. That goes well…until it doesn’t. Again, while being a good leader is important, it’s not the be-all and end-all to solving all canine behavior problems.
You can find more "Wilde" blogs, my books, seminar DVDs and more at www.nicolewilde.com and my artwork at www.photomagicalart.com.
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