I have just finished watching an interview on THIS MORNING about responsible dog ownership, dogs and small children/babies and dog bites. The interview conducted in quite an amateur fashion by some bloke from JLS and his wife from another pop group did not really touch on much of the important issues around this serious subject. They were interviewing a mother of a small child who was bitten on the face by a friends Patterdale Terrier and the CEO of Dogs Trust.
The one thing I was happy to see in this interview is that they had steered clear of choosing the easy target and heavily victimised breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, to talk about and instead opted for a breed which most people would not associate with bad press. I own 2 Staffies and a Staffy/Shepherd cross and they are fantastic, especially around my kids and nieces & nephews because of the way they have been brought up within the family, a point I will return to later, but it riles me to see this beautiful breed attacked almost daily by the press thanks to poor education and idiot owners. Again, I will return to this point later.
One of the most common and immediately obvious factors in stories we see and hear in the press is children being left alone with dogs. Another less obvious and much less reported factor in all “dog attack” stories is a lack of knowledge on the dog owners part in relation to dogs, canine and pack behaviour and the specific breed they have chosen to bring into the family.
I am by no means an expert in canine behaviour. I am sure there will be those who read this and will disagree with what I say from here on in. I have studied wolves, dogs, canine behaviour and pack behaviour for almost 4-5 years now in my own private time. I own my small pack of 3 dogs aged between 2 to 13 and have studied how the pack formation adapts and changes over the years within my home. I work quite extensively with dogs as a canine photographer, many of which are rescue dogs at rescue centres with a mixture of different personality and behavioural issues caused by abuse and ill treatment. There are also a few of my followers on Twitter whom I have helped with a variety of canine behavioural issues. I can not emphasise enough the importance of understanding as best as possible the animal you are bringing into the family unit BEFORE you decide to buy or adopt a dog. The MOST important thing to remember is that IT IS A DOG!
As humans we are very much guilty of humanising animals we encounter, especially those we bring into our homes. We take an animal which by nature is a pack animal. He is used to living, even if only for a very short time, with other dogs. He is used to his siblings being rough and having to “fight” not only for attention, warmth and food, but also in order to establish pack order. They communicate with each other and their mother & father by yelps, cries, barks, grunts and even teeth. They don’t talk, they cant push with their paws (not hands) they can’t say “WILL YOU GET OUT OF MY WAY PLEASE, YOU ARE ANNOYING ME”. If a dog of any age wants to communicate his annoyance with a fellow dog it will usually consist of growls as a warning and then often, but not always, a nip with teeth. Dogs use their mouths like humans use their hands. They explore with them, hold things, manipulate things (chew them), nip instead of push, bite instead of hit. We bring this animal with it’s natural instinctive doggy behaviour into our homes and we give him a name. This is normal HUMAN behaviour. We name each other to give us identity so it is only normal to do so with our pets. However, dogs do not understand that they have a name. Yes they may respond when it is called but it is not the word the dog is responding too, it is the sound and intonation of your voice. Quite often we bring them home and do not give any consideration to introducing the dog to the house, family, garden or any other part of it’s new territory properly. Humans are often guilty of ignorance when it comes to dogs. They expect a dog to understand the human way of living and adapt to our lifestyle as quickly as possible. In actual fact it is the human who must understand the dog’s way of living, adapt our lifestyle and behaviour and help educate the dog whilst respecting each other’s boundaries. I am a firm believer in responsible dog ownership and believe people should have to apply for a license to own a dog and pass a theory test to show they have a basic knowledge of canine behaviour and the responsibility of owning a dog. This is a topic i wont get into here but may write about later.
In a canine pack you will have an Alpha, the leader of the pack. This will be the most dominant male and/or female within the pack. The Alpha is responsible for the safety, welfare and future of his or her pack and will ensure that the others remain disciplined and behave themselves. When a new litter of dogs is born the struggle for pack hierarchy begins. The Alpha will always receive the best of the food in the wild and so it is common for the Alpha pup to feed from it’s mothers milk first. The Alpha will be more dominant and seemingly aggressive as he or she seeks to put the rest of the pack in its pecking order. Most canidea (dogs, wolves, foxes etc) rely heavily on a strict, structured, secure and stable pack and once the order of the pack is sorted it rarely changes (in the wild) unless another member of the pack challenges the Alpha and wins. In domestic dog packs the order is barely given chance to form before the pups are split up and sold on to their new human pack.
This is where problems can start to surface. Unless you have the knowledge available to you and are fortunate enough to have been able to observe the pup with it’s pack and observe the pack order already established then you will not know where you new family member sat within the hierarchy of it’s own pack. It could be that you have the Alpha and are now expecting him or her to let you take over without any objection. For you and your family, bringing a new puppy home is a wonderful and exciting experience. For the puppy however it can be traumatic, unnerving, scary and chaotic. He is leaving his littler, his pack, his security and stability, his source of warmth, food and affection and he is entering the world of a human with an already established pack and set of rules and boundaries. This too, if not addressed correctly can cause behaviour problems brought on by stress and fear.
The formation of a human family is similar to that of a canine pack in that there is an Alpha male and female (Mum and Dad) and then often other siblings who will assert their own dominance amongst each other but always know mum and dad are boss. Mum and Dad feed, clothe and protect them. Mum and Dad provide warmth and security. There will be those who know and the rest will have to imagine what it is like to be taken from this bubble of security and stability and this is not too dissimilar to what your pup will be feeling. The difference being and I will not digress onto this topic is that dogs, unlike humans, live for today. They don’t dwell on the past. Weeks later a dog isn’t going to be sad and begin missing his litter or his mum. They move on, adapt and if the human has done it’s research, will form part of a new secure pack.
It is vital then that before bringing a puppy home you have sat with your family or whoever else you live with and have set in place a structure and boundaries for the arrival of your new pup. Your puppy needs to learn to understand your rules and boundaries just as you need to understand your new puppy and the way he thinks, learns and adapts.
You need to ensure from an early age that your pup learns and understands that you are in charge of the pack and that he understands and respects the position of other family members, including children, in relation to himself within his new pack. Their a numerous ways of doing this and I can not stress enough the importance of seeking advice from educated sources rather than listening to your mates down the pub or at work or as is most problematic amongst older generations, believing you know best cause you have had dogs all your life.
The CEO of Dogs Trust on This Morning during the interview today made a silly comment which could easily be misunderstood by most people in relation to introducing a baby to a dog. She stated you must take time to ensure the dog understands he is “still top dog of the house” in order to avoid jealousy…. This I completely disagree with. Firstly, dogs, unlike humans do not feel jealousy. They may display behaviour which humans then interoperate as jealousy but in actual fact the dog is showing dominance and possessiveness against the child towards you, the pack leader. If left unchecked this kind of behaviour can quickly lead to aggression as your dog becomes frustrated that the new litter, the new pup, is not learning the way your dog believes it, a puppy, should. This is when nips and bites could begin to occur as your dog seeks to teach what he sees as a pup, not a small human. As Alpha, it is your job to correct the dog and help him understand that his behaviour towards the new arrival is wrong and that YOU will take charge. Again, do not behave in the way your human instincts may suggest, do not shout and scream and smack as this behaviour, to a dog, is seen as weakness and a failure in leadership. Always seek advice on how best to do this from a reliable and educated source. Which leads me onto the other reason I disagree with her comment. Your dog should NEVER believe he or she is “Top Dog of the house”! If you allow your dog to believe he is pack leader then you are paving the way for endless amounts of problems, perceived aggression, damage to property, dominance and ultimately a violent and aggressive dog which could go on to injure somebody or worse.
You must have a strict set of rules and boundaries when you have a dog in the house in order to avoid any unwanted behavioural issues from jumping up and begging for food to growling and aggression. If your dog is happy, stable and comfortable within his new pack then he will be good for life. If you can provide calm and assertive leadership, regular exercise, food and warmth and of course plenty of affection then your dog will be a life long companion.
If however you do not bother to educate yourself prior to getting a dog, do not instil strict lifestyle changes, rules and boundaries within your own family, do not provide the exercise, food, leadership, security, warmth and affection your dog needs, if you play aggressive games or teach your dog to bite and if you do not ensure you remain Alpha then I am sorry to say, any behavioural issue or future aggression your dog may develop is most likely down to you.
If you are looking to point the finger and blame somebody then look in the mirror.
Don’t blame the dog.