Sunday, January 26, 2014

Our relationship with our dogs...

When man first began the rigorous, yet, delicate task of domesticating wolves he had an underlying motive, he was intuitive enough to realise that these animals could serve a purpose and assist man in their daily lives. Dogs soon began to hunt with man, guard the women and children and sleep with man by the fire. His undying loyalty to serve his human hunting companions is something to be appreciated and while their loyalty to man and certain desirable traits were bred into them, their primal initiative to thrive on their own independence and to lead the pack had been increasingly bred out of them.

The Australian Kelpie has origins that can be traced back to the Dingo and has been selectively bred to herd and drive livestock for hundreds of years. 

Over the years the more man's ambitions and ideas to thrive and survive had expanded the more jobs our dogs had available to them and the more refined the breeding of dogs became. Soon there was dogs who would guard livestock, drive livestock for miles, hunt and kill quarry, retrieve wounded or shot game, pulled sleds, protect our homes and, for royalty, the Toy breeds that sat on the laps of Duchess' and Ladies.

As time went on, Industrialisation and the improvement of technology meant that those who made their living off the land as farmers or hunters became a very fickle and non-profitable way of life. Families moved from the country and into the cities meaning their dogs fell into disuse. Most were sold off, culled or in the more fortunate cases the families took them as well and they lived out their dogs as fireside companions, but this was a rare situation.

... so what happened to dogs after that?

During the Victorian era, it became fashionable to own a dog as a pet. Dogs were purposely bred by breeders, pet shop salesmen and general joe public to be sold as a companion for the white, middle class families that thrived during that time. These dogs resemble the dogs that live among us today, companions or pets.

It was indeed royalty and the middle to upper class people that made sure pet dogs thrived in our villages, towns and cities giving them a comfortable future beside man serving a purpose that was served on a more emotional wavelength rather than serving a true practical purpose. It became more about lighting up a dark and dreary home with the presence of a creature that was always in good spirits and served to keep those lonely few company. Proving to be a fantastic and loyal friend.

Over the past 30 years the Labrador Retriever has become one of the most, if not the most, popular breed to own for their happy go-lucky nature and their extreme biddable nature. This has made them popular with a lot of 'first-time' dog owners.

This is where dogs have gone from strength to strength in the past hundred or so years. While, agreeably there are those who still work their dogs to fulfil their original jobs. Pet dogs and fireside companions have become more and more in demand as time's gone by and I agree dogs bring a lot of happiness, friendship, company, inspiration and unity into our lives but have we, through our very human nature, lost sight of realistically satisfying the needs of our dogs and nurturing them to their full potential?

I would have to say yes, it is probably totally unintentional on the behalf of the vast majority, but, one must understand that dogs cannot: chain together logical utterances that we understand, they do not walk on two legs, have opposable thumbs or the ability to think rationally.

Why is that you may ask?...

My answer simply being that they are not human, they are a domesticated animal that have entirely different, albeit, basic needs and see the world in the most layman's way possible. As I have previously mentioned, the initiative to thrive off their own independence and lead a pack has been bred out of them for pure convenience on our part. They rely on us to feed them, water them, provide shelter and ultimately they want to please us and accompany us.

Most people, unfortunately through misguidance or through the lack of education out there, make the huge mistake of humanizing their dogs, otherwise known as anthropomorphism. They find great comfort in projecting their emotional needs and wants onto the dog believing he may understand and that is how he wants to be treated. It is totally OK to give a dog affection and to love him and appreciate him, but, you must remember he is an animal effectively. One prolific dog trainer would say;

"He is not a member of my family. He is my family's dog."
While I appreciate you feel you are doing your best for your dog by pushing these humanistic qualities onto him, unfortunately, he does not see or appreciate it the way you think he does. Without exercise, control and affection in that order of importance you will never be able fulfil the needs of your fireside companion.

Humanisation only causes confusion, insecurity and many of the behavioural issues that are seen in modern society such as: separation anxiety, possessive tendencies, people aggression, dog aggression, phobias and general lack of awareness for respect and boundaries. Once a dog is made aware there is a structure to follow he will begin to listen and respond more to you as an owner because he is trying to get it right.

Respect the dog for what he essentially is, not, what you essentially want him to be by ignoring his needs and wants. See the world through his eyes, he will never be able to see it through yours!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Separation Anxiety

As a trainer, I have seen a huge increase in the past 2-3 years in dogs who suffer from 'Separation Anxiety'. The term Separation Anxiety can be simply defined as:

"A condition that occurs when a dog is separated from his handler that manifests itself in stress and fear related behaviours within 30 minutes of the handlers departure."
These dogs, when left on their own, will pace, whine, bark, howl, chew or destroy, vomit/defecate/urinate and/or salivate. 

Anyone who has experienced this type of behaviour will know full well that it is not uncommon to come home to disgruntled neighbours waiting at your front door with your dog wailing and howling excessively, defecation, puddles of urine or vomit, doors open or eaten and whatever furniture was in the same room as the dog was destroyed beyond recognition. I have seen dogs scratch through plaster walls till their feet were bleeding and I have seen a dog that has destroyed a 3 piece suite right down to its wooden frame .

I have been eager in my search to find and pin-point exactly what causes dogs to begin exhibiting such distressing behaviours and have found the root cause of it all to, simply, be the fact that owners spend far too much time in the company of their dogs.

Dogs who suffer from Separation Anxiety, on average, spend 75% or more of the day with their owners and while this does build a very close relationship between the dog and his handler, it unfortunately does not do the dogs ability to be independent any favours whatsoever.

When forming a rehabilitation programme for these kinds of dogs I place a huge emphasis on regularly leaving a dog or puppy on his own for random intervals  throughout the day with you in or out of the house for long and short periods of time, always randomize the length of time you leave them for. If at all possible I highly recommend doing this using a crate 100% of the time.

One must make the crate appealing to the dog as a place of comfort and safety before leaving him in it on his own. I simply begin this process by feeding the dog his daily meals in his crate with the door shut and I will also put a blanket in their or some towels (nothing expensive so if he chews it you will not be too concerned) if you have a dog that does tend to chew and eat whatever he is left alone with then I'd recommend not giving him a bed at all and just making sure the crate is equipped with a metal tray as a base. Give him something to keep his brain occupied as well such as a frozen Kong stuffed with food and make sure there is a bowl of water in there also. I'd also leave a radio on in the same room on low volume if possible and cover his crate with a blanket. The darker a confined space is the safer they feel, covering a budgie cage to quieten him down is a classic example.

You will also feel safer leaving him at home on his own because he cannot damage anything or himself while he's inside the crate.

It is totally understandable that he will cry and wimper the first week you begin this new ritual, but, keep at it and NEVER stop leaving him for random intervals throughout the day. Its always good to keep this sort of thing fresh in his mind.

This method of resolving Separation Anxiety has been tried and tested on well over 20 dogs that I have had recently come to me for rehabilitation for this sort of issue with intensity varying greatly and feel it is one of the most practical ways to assist in resolving this behaviour.