Dogs (Canis familiaris)
8 million dogs are owned in the UK, making them the second most popular pet. No other mammal experiences such a close association with humans. Dogs have been domesticated for 12,000 years and shaped sufficiently to produce the 209 pedigree breeds of dogs recognised by the UK Kennel Club. The dog family, Canidae, consists of 38 carnivore species including wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals and the domestic dog. The dogs ancestors are wolves and even in present day there are many wolf similar behaviours that dogs express. Therefore to understand the domestic dog you must appreciate their natural behaviours and links between human behaviour and inappropriate animal responses.
Dog behaviour, like any other animal or human behaviour is simple “what they do”. Any movement, noise, whatever a dog does its behaviour. And to understand dog behaviour you must ask “why is the dog doing that?”
Dogs have been shaped for their appearance and behaviour and most breeds show particular behaviours which are unique to that breed. These behaviours, when understood, provide interesting characteristics to the dog and make them adapt for specific tasks without problems. However specifically bred behaviours can become over-repeated and elaborated if the dog is not allowed to use them sufficiently.
For example a Springer spaniel is taught to retrieve game killed in a shoot therefore they are extremely good at bringing items back to their owners. Springer spaniels can be happily owned by someone that does not shoot if they are taken on long walks to a large grass area where they can retrieve a toy. However if you do not take you Springer out to retrieve something it will become bored and obsessed with picking items up around the home and bringing them to you, which becomes a problem when they are bringing personal items such as slippers and newspapers which they will chew and damage in the process.
Dog “Problem” Behaviours
Dogs have been largely ignored by science until there is a “problem”. But where do problems come from?
“The best treatment is prevention”. To prevent problem behaviours a dog must be treated as an individual animal with specific needs, physically and psychologically. Most important for a dog is exercise. I’ve met many dogs with behaviour problems that have stopped expressing those problems once they started being exercised sufficiently. Dogs remain pack animals and require social interactions to remain happy and healthy. The most important part of these social interactions is that you, the human, put yourself in the dominant position of the pack! There are so many theories and methods of this and my biggest aim of this post is that you will listen and consider my method. It is not one unique to me but simply a choice of two methods;
1. Force and aggression dominance
2. Calm and assertive dominance
I implore you to take the calm and assertive dominance path, remaining a confidence but quiet pack leader that does not use brute force to control a dog. Many dog behaviourists, such as Victoria Stilwell from Channel 4 program It’s Me Or The Dog teach this method of dominance.
These are just a few key points to keeping your dog happy and free from problems. For details of how to ensure you are the dominant pack member and basic ground rules that will ensure a happy relationship please visit my blog.
A Final Note
No two dogs are the same and any breed of dog can provide a rewarding companion that will show you ultimate loyalty. Dogs have been shown to bring people out of depression and give people the confidence to do something they would never have done before. They can be trained to assist people with any special need and disability, track down missing people and objects such as drugs and bombs. They will never judge you and only ask that you feed them, keep them warm, love them, exercise them, keep them busy and give them a place in your life. Before getting a dog you must do your research and ensure you can provide your dog and dog breed with all of its needs to keep it a happy dog, free from behaviour problems.
BSc (Hons) Animal Welfare & Behaviour student. Dog specialist. Tech and car enthusiast. Social networker. Head strong and looking to make a mark on the world.
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