Look to the real experts for advice
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.