November 24, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Dogs Part 4


Man-dog problems

By Dr Clive Dalton

Dogs want to be dogs!
There are no such things as “dog problems” –humans are giving the dogs grief, not letting them behave as dogs! This then disrupts the human’s life – which they see as a dog problem.

So dogs see life differently to humans and these “dog property laws” (From Pet NZ, Issue 21, Dec-Feb 2002-2003) are a great way to start thinking about this.

Laws for smart dogs:
  • If I like it, it's mine.
  • If it's in my mouth- it's mine.
  • If I can't take it from you, it's still mine.
  • If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
  • If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
  • If I'm chewing something up - all the pieces are mine.
  • If it looks like mine, it's mine.
  • If I saw it first, it's mine.
  • If you are playing with something and put it down, it automatically becomes mine.
  • If it's broken - it's yours.
1. Separation anxiety
  • As pack animals, dogs need company and they need a clear hierarchy with strict rules. In this they feel safe and contented.
  • Separation anxiety is a massive problem as more people have dogs for a multitude of reasons including security, and then have to leave them and go out to work.
  • One third of all households have a dog, and 1 in 4 marriages end in divorce. There are probably as many splits in de-facto relationships so dogs becomes traumatised by all this human behaviour.
  • Death of partners, separation and divorce are now major threats to a happy man/dog relationship.
  • Humans make it worse by feeling guilty and showing this to the dog by making a fuss on leaving and when arriving home.
  • The dog becomes totally neurotic, and totally bored so starts to wreck the place.
  • The trick is to get the dog to realise you will return, and to just go away and relax till that happens - that's the theory! It's not always easy to achieve.
What anxious dogs do
  • Dig in pot plants.
  • Dig in the garden and bury toys.
  • Chew furniture.
  • Chew the car interior
  • Barking, barking and more barking
Possible cures/prevention
  • Ignore the dog when leaving.
  • Start by standing up dressed for work, rattling keys etc.
  • Then go out the door and come back in again without fussing the dog.
  • Repeat this at a longer interval - coming back in without fussing the dog.
  • Never make a big fuss of your dog when coming home.
  • Get everyone else to stick to these rules.
  • Get the dog used to being in a room on its own.
  • Employ a dog walker to take the dog out for you.
  • Get another dog as company - but this may double the problem!
  • Try an electric collar or spray.
  • Never use surgical debarking!

2. Phobias
  • Dogs can easily develop a wide range of phobias or fears.
  • Examples of causes are thunder (very common), gunshots, people, other dogs, other species like cats, polished floors, hot air balloons, fireworks.
  • Phobias are generally a "conditioned emotional response" and the challenge is to re-programme it.
  • Phobias can be hard to get rid of and may take a lot of work to re-build the bond with owner.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Go back to basics and re-socialise the dog.
  • Try "habituation" - expose dog to the phobia so often (with reassurance) that it gets used to it.
  • Try to "desensitise" the dog from the fear by repeated exposure and then "counter-condition" it as something new.
  • Try "flooding" - giving the dog so much of the stimulus that it gives up exhausted and realises it has survived and is OK.
  • Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs to reduce anxiety.

3. Aggression towards people

  • Sadly this is an increasing problem these days with crime increasing.
  • It has legal consequences as you are responsible for your dog's actions under the Dog Control Act.
Under the NZ Dog Control Act a dog is only considered dangerous if:
  • There is evidence of an attack
  • There is sworn evidence of aggressive behaviour
  • The dog owner admits their dog poses a threat
  • The DCA says that dangerous dogs must be:
  • Securely fenced
  • Muzzled in public
  • Desexed and the owner has to pay a higher fee.
  • BUT at present there no specific legislation to control them.
  • Aggressive training may have been deliberate for guard dogs.
  • Aggression is a very nasty problem as it is often unpredictable.
  • Poor socialisation of pups is the most likely cause of aggression.
  • Most often aggression to humans is territorial:
  • Within the property
  • Outside the property - dog confused about its boundary.
  • Dogs can often start biting after successfully attending puppy training, where food rewards and lavish praise are used. They expect (demand) this all the time which leads to aggression towards the owner.
  • Dogs may clearly discriminate who they bite in the family - caused by varying rules by different members.
  • Aggression to humans is often hard to fix. You will need to re-socialise the dog which may not be possible.
  • Police dogs may start to enjoy aggression and get out of control. The need to be re-schooled for the handler to regain dominance.
  • An aggressive dog will always be a risk and should be muzzled in public.
  • Euthanasia an option but this depends on owner who is usually the cause of the problem!

Possible cures/prevention (Dominance aggression)

  • Determine the cause of the aggression - and fix it.
  • Vets say 30% of cases have a medical cause.
  • Punishment will only make things worse.
  • Get the cooperation of everyone involved with the dog.
  • Re-establish yourself as the absolute pack leader.
  • You may have to walk away - avoid the confrontation and find another way.
  • Check the dog is not being teased. Some people think they are training and in fact they are teasing the dog.
  • Keep doing this at every opportunity - feeding, play etc.
  • Ignore the dog when it seeks attention - YOU decide this.
  • Use frequent grooming to add dominance.
  • Prepare the dog's food but don't let it eat.
  • Let it eat in sight of you eating, but make it wait.
  • Make it last to leave a room behind you.
Possible cures/prevention (Fear aggression)
  • You‘ll see it in a dog which is very timid and scared of strangers.
  • May be fear of men or a different race of people.
  • The dog may have been beaten so watch rapid arm movements to avoid attack.
  • You will need to start and re-socialise the dog to others - could be a long slow process.
  • You may need help from a stranger. Get them to walk past, then feed the dog but with no eye contact.
  • Work on this till dog can face a full frontal eye meeting with the stranger without being aggressive.

4. Aggression towards other dogs
  • This is often seen in very dominant dogs when they are on their home territory or away from it and they'll defend their territory or property.
  • It's not just large dogs - small dogs can be equally aggressive.
  • Usually found with male-male or female-female combinations, but some dogs will be aggressive against any dog.
  • Usually found with male-male or female-female combinations, but some dogs will be aggressive against any dog.
  • Caused by poor socialisation of pups and these days it may have been done deliberately.
  • It's dangerous as it's often unpredictable and may take the dog's owner by surprise.
  • Keeping dog on short lead and choking it can make it worse, as it interprets discomfort or pain as being the other dog's fault.
  • Humans can get injured sorting things out and large vet bills and legal costs can result.
  • You'll need to try to re-socialise the dog to other dogs and this may need specialist help and considerable time.
  • If all else fails, euthanasia may be the only solution for very aggressive dogs.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Get back to basics to re-socialise the dog to other dogs.
  • Get your dog under better control on the "come" and "stay" command.
  • Try to deflect the dog's attention when potential trouble approaches.
  • Always keep your dog on a lead, but don't choke it on a short lead.
  • Don't hit it when facing up to another dog - it will blame the dog
  • Recognise dogs that will never agree to get on so avoid contact between them.
  • Recognise breed differences and the importance of genetics and environment.
  • Neuter aggressive males.
  • Discuss drug therapy with a veterinarian.
  • Get the dog used to wearing a muzzle - this will take time.
  • Euthanasia may be the only solution for very aggressive dogs if you realise your legal responsibilities to victim.

5. Fear of other dogs

  • It's mainly a problem of poor early socialisation.
  • Pup may have been kept isolated with little handling until completing their vaccinations usually at 16 weeks of age. This is too late.
  • Dog may have been mauled when growing up.
  • Caused by owners preventing their dogs having social contact with another dog. For example owners of small dogs lift them up when they meet large dogs suspecting danger.
  • It may be a breed or strain problem.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Proper socialisation of the pup.
  • Take to dog obedience training to meet other dogs.
  • Use a friendly dog to meet and build confidence during a walk.
  • Keep them walking and active.
  • Feed dogs together from separate bowls at end of walk.
  • As you progress, bring bowls closer together at end of walks.
  • Include more dogs in the next walk.

6. Fear of humans
The cause of this is poor socialisation when a puppy.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Use food to make contact with the dog when it's hungry.
  • Put the dog on a light lead.
  • Get stranger to walk ahead of dog holding out food but not to face the dog.
  • Let the dog get closer to the stranger who keeps walking.
  • Then get stranger to offer food face on with your assurance.
  • Build up positive bond with stranger and dog.
  • Test dog with other strangers - don't trust the dog.
  • Chewing furniture and fittings.
  • These dogs chew house furniture and car interiors and it can be very expensive.
  • The cause is generally boredom and separation anxiety.
  • It may also be caused by severe stress and an attempt to escape - e.g. a dog locked in a hot car.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Don't give a pup or dog old clothes or shoes to play with. Teach it to play only with its own toys you have given it.
  • Dogs can't discriminate between new and old.
  • Provide company or challenging toys for the dog in the owner's absence.
  • Teach the dog to accept that special toys belong to the owner - take them off the dog and show that it's in a bag or box.
  • Don't make a fuss of the dog when you leave it on its own, or when you return.
  • If you have two dogs, don't let them have a tug-o-war over items - they may start this when you are out.

7. Wandering (roaming)

  • This is usually seen in males looking for sex.
  • It's also seen in dogs looking for company.
  • It may be a dog looking for food such as an underfed lactating bitch that is hungry.
  • The dog may be wandering off to worry stock.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Find the cause and work out a strategy. Think like dog!
  • Castrate males leaving home regularly to look for sex.
  • Keep dogs in secure areas so they cannot wander off, dig their way out or jump the fence.
  • Use an electric fence or electric collar for a while where they are escaping.

8. Stock worrying

Some valuable research was done by Dr Garth Jennens from Murdoch University in Perth, WA. Here are the key findings:
  • Any dog is capable of killing sheep, and the fact that it's back home in the morning is no proof of innocence.
  • Attacks can happen anytime but 80% are between 5am and 7am. You cannot breed this killing instinct out of the species. If you did they wouldn't be dogs!
  • The image of killer dogs going around in packs is a myth. Ninety percent of dogs that kill sheep are pets, working on their own or with another dog and they come in all sizes and breeds.
  • You can't predict which dogs will turn out to be killers. They can be pets for years or your top working dogs, and then all of a sudden something triggers off a desire to be a dog and go out and hunt to kill.
  • One common factor to all sheep killers though is that they are wanderers. So if you have wandering dogs near stock, you can very easily have a killing problem. Wandering dogs are the key.
  • Most dogs that kill sheep don't have a mark on them. This is because after their bit of fun, they regularly go and have a swim and cool off. Check the collar (if they have one - most don't), as blood stains can be seen in the leather.
  • Killer dogs have a set pattern. They enter and leave properties by a set route, and have usually been around the area they kill in for a few visits before they get to work.
  • These dogs are predictable and stick to their pattern. They like to travel near water or up valleys where scent is funneled down to them.
  • The cold of winter and the heat of summer are the off season for sheep killing. It's more comfortable at home! But the cool of the Autumn or the freshness of Spring get them going. They like the damp spell after rain and the full moon for their sport.
  • You can predict the breed and size of dog from the kill pattern such as where the sheep is attacked. Experienced dogs will actually kill a few sheep and not maim many.
  • Learners will maim a great number but not be able to kill any. Dogs have got to learn to kill sheep - and they do some awful damage while they are learning. If it's a food kill, only one sheep will be killed. Generally it's all a big game of chase and catch for the dog or dogs.
  • A dangerous combination is a large and small dog. The big dog heads and catches and the little fella goes in for the kill. Heading dogs and terrier combinations are lethal. They can be very cunning too and quick. Many of them can disappear and kill a sheep or two in no time and nobody notices them disappear.
  • The real long-term answer is to start and educate children about how dogs behave and their responsibilities as owners of animals. It's no good trying to educate those with closed minds.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Know exactly where your dog is at all times.
  • If you live in a rural area - be particularly vigilant.
  • "Stock proof" your dog when a pup - i.e. train it to leave stock alone.
  • Use an electric collar or electric fence to stop wandering.
  • Castrate male dogs.
  • Once dogs have killed stock - they are never safe. Euthanase them.

9. Catching stray dogs

Having to catch a stray dog is not easy, but it's a very basic part of an Animal Control Officer's job. Here are some points from a New Zealand Dog Control officer's experience:
  • Dogs you see running around the streets are generally of two kinds.
  • They are dogs that are just having a quiet wander out of boredom.
  • They are dogs that are running away.
  • It's important to realise that they need to be treated differently.
  • The quiet wanderers are not stressed - they're having fun. They see the street as their extended territory, especially if they have scent marked all along it on previous visits.
  • Their dog territory ends at their last scent mark - not at the human territory of the garden gate!
  • Dogs running away are usually more stressed as they realise they're off their territory and could run into threats such as other dogs or humans.
  • Being chased can be seen by friendly dogs as a game - so use it to catch them. Run after them and then turn round and run in the opposite direction.
  • For dogs that appear to be under threat, reduce the threat to the dog.
Try this to get them to come up to you without fear:
  • Crouch down to their eye level.
  • Get down even lower - even lie on the ground if not responding to your crouching.
  • Talk to the dog in "happy" tones.
  • Regular wanderers are very "street wise" and they recognise a uniform and a truck, as the last time they saw and smelled one, they had an experience they didn't like.
  • Smell. Dogs have long memories, particularly of smells and their associations.
  • The person trying to make friends may not smell to their liking, and will be different to their owner's smell. The human's breath and crutch smell will certainly be different - and the dog will pick up strong messages from both areas.
  • So don't wear strong deodorant.
  • Dogs that are a big threat are generally too cunning to be approached so have to be cornered and caught with a pole which requires considerable experience.
  • Totally feral dogs or town dogs that are hard to find need to be caught in traps.
  • Dogs worrying stock can be shot, but study the details in the Dog Control Act.

10. Scent marking

  • This is usually a problem with male dogs on leads that want to stop at every upright structure.
  • They urinate as high as possible to leave a "large" dog impression.
  • Scent marking is often associated with turning round and scratching backwards.
  • Urinating is a means of defining territory which is a strong male innate trait.
  • Scent marking is seen regularly when a dog is anxious or threatened - before a fight or with strangers in the house.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Increase dog's activity and extend its territory. This may include visitors so the dog does not see them as novel or different.
  • Reassure the dog inside the house to remove anxiety and perceived threats.
  • Try to remove threats from territory outside the house.
  • Try immediate reprimands when seen - but they must be immediate.
  • Use an electric dog collar.
  • Use an electric fence to protect areas used by visiting dogs.

11. Defaecating

  • Dogs don't naturally foul their den area and pups learn this early in life.
  • In the first stages the bitch encourages the pups to eliminate by licking their genital area and ingesting any faeces and urine.
  • Then the pups wander outside the den and eliminate there. The have this reinforced by their mother and they use smell to direct them to the toilet area.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Take the pup outside frequently to a designated area with plenty of toilet smells, especially after meals and sleeps.
  • Restrict the pup's area so it has a clearly defined "den" area and a "toilet" area. Even in high-rise apartments, the principles are the same - teach the dog to find the designated toilet area.
  • With an adult dog, keep reinforcing the toilet spot by restricting the other areas of the garden - the dog is either in its extended "den" or the "toilet" area until it re-learns the rules.
  • The problem of dogs fouling the neighbour's garden is simply a natural tendency - the garden is just a nice distance from its own territory. Plastic water bottles don't work but an electric fence does!

12. Jumping up

  • This is a really annoying habit which too many owners happily accept.
  • Jumping up is an enthusiastic greeting that gets out of hand.
  • The dog enjoys you patting its head, so much it jumps up for more.
  • It also jumps up to greet your face and lick it.
  • Responding to the greeting reinforces the dog’s actions and its energy– the dog takes it as your enthusiastic approval so gets even more excited and jumps up more.
  • It can be dangerous as their claws can scratch and damage skin and clothing, and they can easily knock over children and scare them off dogs for ever.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Go back to basics and reinforce the sit and stay command.
  • When greeted, totally ignore the dog, and don't touch it anywhere – give it negative signals.
  • Turn your back on the dog when it tries to jump up and walk away.
  • Don’t acknowledge the dog.
  • Reward it for obedience by NOT stroking its head, nose, scruff, shoulders or back.
  • Leave its leash on the ground and stand on it when it jumps.
  • Keep a water pistol handy and squirt it in the face when it jumps.
  • Keep your hands and arms out of the way and stick you knee out firmly towards the dog's chest when it jumps up.
  • Put the dog on a leash before opening the door to strangers to prevent the dog's over-active greeting. Make it sit well back from the door and until the visitor is inside.

13. Sniffing people

  • This is often a part of the jumping up problem above.
  • It's seen mainly in large dogs with a nose at human crutch height.
  • Visitors are of special interest as they carry new and interesting smells.
  • Women’s smells are of special interest to male dogs.
  • Smaller dogs jump up, but they are not such a threat.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Avoid over excitement of the dog on greeting.
  • Don't pat the dog's head as it will see this as a compliment and continue with greater enthusiasm.
  • Reprimand the dog at the puppy stage as soon as you see it start.
  • Reprimands must be instant.

14. Leg mounting

  • This is a problem of male dogs that have not had companions so see their owners as substitutes.
  • It's usually most common in smaller dogs such as terriers.
  • They can be very determined and develop clasping skills so as not to fall off - even when kicked! The more you kick the harder they hang on.
  • It starts with puppy play and develops from there.
  • Visitors are often caught by surprise as they don't expect it and the dog sees them as fair game.
  • The habit seems to start with pups as part of play and they'll often mount other objects like rugs or stools.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Remove the temptation.
  • Distract the dog's attention when it starts - noise or water spray.
  • Give an instant reprimand from the first time you see it happen.
  • Put the dog on a lead and shut it away.

15. Car sickness

  • This can be very stressful for both owner and dog.
  • It's true motion sickness and the animals needs to get used to it just as in humans.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Start off when dog is a pup by making short journeys.
  • Let the dog out for fresh air and exercise often.
  • Let the dog think the car is part of its home. Give it feed and water in the vehicle.
  • Get someone to sit with it for security to discourage whining or barking.
  • Spray the upholstery to prevent stress digging.
  • Put the dog in a cage or crate inside the car or use a car box outside the vehicle.
  • Use dog seat belts, especially for large animals

16. Chasing vehicles

  • This is a very frustrating problem and can be hard to cure once established.
  • It's part of the chase and kill instinct. Border collies are the worst (or best)!
  • Dogs get very smart and you cannot bump them as a possible cure!
  • The faster you go to get away - the more the dog likes it.
  • They also try to bite tyres which is especially dangerous for cyclists.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Come down hard with discipline as soon as you see the problem starting in puppies. Pups will soon learn from an older dog.
  • Don't leave dogs loose around vehicles. Tie them up.
  • Get help to give dog a disincentive when it takes off in the chase.
  • Water pistol, toy, food, choke chain, electric collar.
  • It may be too hard and too late to cure a dog, so euthanasia may be the only option to prevent a serious accident to both dog and humans.

17. Pulling on the lead and not walking to heel

  • Here dogs won't walk to heel for more than a few seconds, and then take off and drag the owner along. It's a very common sight - dogs taking their owners for a walk!
  • Dogs like to work. They love to pull and it seems to be an innate trait and has been used throughout history for man's benefit - sledge dogs and dogs for disabled.
  • What happens is that when you pull back, the dog pulls forward, using the strongest part of its body -the neck and shoulders.
  • When the dog pulls, it changes its stance and posture, which is unhealthy for it.
  • It can be very frustrating for owners and dangerous if dog is large
Possible cures/prevention
  • Go back to basics and teach the heel, sit and stay commands.
  • Never let it go through a doorway or gate infront of you. Make it sit until you go through and then call it to sit again and wait.
  • Never let the dog go silly, jump up on you before going for a walk. Make going out a serious business of the dog obeying pack rules.
  • You need to use a positive stance all the time- giving the dog the message that YOU are the pack leader and will lead the pack.
  • You'll need to do this on the lead first, so the dog learns why you expect that behaviour.
  • If you cannot trust it, keep it on a very short choke chain and walk very slowly then at different speeds so the dog must learn to keep pace with you at all times. Hopefully it will get tired of being choked and learn to walk beside you. This may not work with a large strong dog.
  • Choke chains can be abused and you need to use them pulling forwards not backwards.
  • If you can trust the dog not to run away, make it walk at heel without a lead and use treats if necessary. But using treats can be a nuisance - it should learn without them.
  • Then put the lead on - keeping it loose.
  • Use a "halter" on the animal's head to give more leverage to hold it back. Make sure the halter fits correctly or the dog will hate its eyes being touched and will rub its head along the ground all the time.
18. Excessive barking
  • There's nothing more disrupting to good neighbour relations than dogs that bark all day - and often all night too.
  • It seems as if the owners of barking dogs never hear them! It's becoming a greater issue as people who go out to work all day seem to think that a dog, or dogs will keep their property safe in their absence.
  • An Australian study has found three main causes:
  • First. Breed:Herding and working dogs (e.g. Border Collies) are worst as they have huge amounts of frustrated energy which they express in continual energy.
  • Second: Young dogs (under one year old) are more likely to keep on barking than older dogs. The younger dogs are more attention seeking from their owners and bark to get this.
  • Third. Dogs kept with another dog are more likely to bark than a dog on its own.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Chose the right kind of dog - take veterinary advice.
  • Recognise what a major problem 'separation anxiety' is if you go out working all day.
  • Take professional advice on how to train your dogs to deal with this anxiety.
  • Check regularly with your neighbours if your dogs bark during the day and are a nuisance.
  • Teach you dogs to stop barking on command when you home.
  • It is illegal in New Zealand to have dogs surgically de-barked.

Welfare of racing dogs

  • People are not as concerned about the fact that dogs like Greyhounds genetically bred for racing would prefer not to run fast. They were bred to hunt, which is a natural trait in any dog, and using them for racing over short distances is not seen as a welfare problem.
  • The same would apply to foxhounds, deerhounds, otterhounds and beagles. The welfare of their pray is another issue that must also be considered under the law.
  • Attitudes to racing dogs is very different to that of racing horses.
  • The problem: The Greyhound racing industry's concern is what breeders do with dogs retired from racing, that still have many years of a healthy life left.
  • The ideal is to find good caring homes for them, but even if you like Greyhounds which make good companions and have a large house and area to keep them, there are always more dogs than homes.
  • So a large number of healthy dogs have to be euthanased, and this is seen as a welfare problem.
  • The same applies to hounds, and apart from carers needing large premises, the bark of a hound is not something neighbours enjoy at all hours of the day and night.
Dog training - some basic principles
  • Socialise the pup properly.
  • Teach the pup a name, and the "come" command when feeding it.
  • Play with the pup to build a strong bond.
  • But do NOT over stimulate it during this play.
  • Using "treats" may make training easier but they are not essential.
  • Teach the pup to walk on lead, and "sit".
  • Then teach "stay". Place the pup off ground for this - use a stool.
  • Then when it's ready - start your full programme.
  • Use short lessons 2-3 times a day. Don't tire the dog.
  • Give plenty of reward - touch and voice praise. Avoid food rewards if possible.
  • Do NOT go overboard with this "food reward and lavish praise technique."
  • Use "shake and growl" for discipline. Never hit the dog.
  • Lay the pup prone and reassure if you need to dominate it further.
  • If the dog gets bored then go back to the start and strengthen the bond.
  • Dogs love to learn at all ages - so keep on teaching them things.

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