Look to the real ex­perts for ad­vice

The Witness - Wheels - - FEATURES PLANET - with Steve van Staden

THREE ver­ba­tim ex­tracts from a few e- mails ap­pear be­low. • “I have a seven- week- old Jack Rus­sell and would like to send him for obe­di­ence train­ing to you. I have tried the on­line train­ing guides for dogs but it doesn’t seem to be work­ing. My Jack Rus­sell is start­ing to be­come ag­gres­sive and is bit­ing ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one at home. I love my dog to bits but if his be­hav­iour con­tin­ues I would have to sadly give him away.” • “I have a ridgeback cross that will be three years old this year. She has changed dramatically within the past few months. She used to love new peo­ple and other dogs but now she cow­ers and pees her­self when new peo­ple come around her. I have spo­ken to a few peo­ple who have had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences and they can’t help me in any way. Most peo­ple say that some­thing has hap­pened to her as she is scared of both hu­mans and other dogs. I per­son­ally think that some­one has abused her but we can’t seem to find the cause of this.” • “I res­cued a cocker spaniel about 1,5 years ago. He has al­ways been fear­ful of peo­ple and when I first adopted him ( at one year old), he was scared of ev­ery­thing as if he had never been so­cialised at all. He’s much bet­ter now but the fear of peo­ple is still there. I trained him and worked with him and his be­hav­iour got bet­ter, even al­low­ing peo­ple to stroke him, but re­cently he has started to try to bite any­one who tries to stroke him. He is ap­prox­i­mately two years old and I have tried to be pack leader and take con­trol but I am ob­vi­ously not do­ing some­thing right as he is still so fear­ful.”

Ex­am­ple num­ber one: The Jack Rus­sell pup is caus­ing dis­com­fort through bit­ing be­hav­iour due to the in­ter­rup­tion of pack- hi­er­ar­chy prin­ci­ples be­ing taught by its ca­nine mother. One of th­ese is learn­ing about in­ap­pro­pri­ate bit­ing. The sec­ond con­cern is that it would have been prefer­able to speak to a rep­utable be­hav­iour spe­cial­ist prior to start­ing the process. To talk about re­hom­ing at this stage is non­sense.

Ex­am­ple num­ber two: There is a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the be­hav­iour at two years plus. Ad­e­quate im­print­ing on hu­mans and dogs has taken place. How­ever, the like­li­hood of a very stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence at about 18 months of age is pos­si­ble and un­for­tu­nately the owner’s at­tempts to find so­lu­tions by speak­ing to lay peo­ple have proven fruit­less.

Ex­am­ple num­ber three: The prob­lem is a per­cep­tion that the spaniel was de­sen­si­tised. The ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour has prob­a­bly com­menced at the change of puppy to adult. One can­not try to be the pack leader. The pack leader ei­ther ex­ists to­tally or not at all.

The own­ers in­volved in the above re­la­tion­ships ob­vi­ously have their pets’ best in­ter­ests at heart and have at­tempted some form of be­hav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion with­out suc­cess. The big­gest prob­lem with ad­vice from in­ap­pro­pri­ate sources is the lack of un­der­stand­ing or knowl­edge about breed- spe­cific be­hav­iour, tem­per­a­ment and the dif­fer­ent de­vel­op­men­tal phases of the ca­nine mind up un­til about 18 months of age. Peo­ple need to ap­pre­ci­ate that obe­di­ence is not the most ad­e­quate word to use, but rather “sub­mis­sion with­out fear”, when in­ter­act­ing with a trusted and com­pe­tent pack leader.

• Steve van Staden is a ca­nine be­hav­iour spe­cial­ist and can be con­tacted via his web­site at www.dog­torsteve.co.za Ad­vice is only dis­pensed in face- to- face meet­ings with own­ers and their pets.

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