Canine Behaviour

 

Anxiety 

Separation anxiety can manifest in many dog behaviours including excessive barking, crying, urinating, chewing on objects, digging and even self starving. Being left alone can be distressing when a dog isn't used to it and they should not be left in this traumatic state. It can eventually lead to full blown phobias and repetitive, frustrated behaviours.

 

Dog’s are social animals and want our company. The most common behavioural problems are caused by a lack of exercise, if a dog isn't getting exercise or any stimulation for most of the day it will become bored and lonely just as we would. Boredom can lead to habitual and incessant behaviours as well as destructive behaviours whilst alone and then neediness and attention seeking when the owner is at home. It can also make the dog become anxious when the owner is leaving and lead to depressive and stress related behaviours too. This can be remedied by the owner or a dog walker visiting them during the day and taking them for a walk, having another dog as company, leaving them with stimulating toys or chews to keep them occupied and making a safe, calm personal space for them in a corner of a relaxing room.

Making sure the dog has had enough exercise before leaving them alone will help the most with anxiety as they will be calmer and more likely to sleep which may mean they cant determine how long you have been gone leading to a better association with being alone, safe and happy in the house.

Changing the length of time the dog is left alone can help with anxiety, getting the dog used to being left for short periods and gradually increasing to longer, changing the departure time and routines that are triggers for alerting the dog of your departure. This alleviates the anticipation and anxiety build up. If the dog wasn’t expecting you to leave yet they may become less upset and if the length varies they may not think you have been gone long. A change in the dogs routine will also help such as going for a walk just before leaving them alone.

Whilst your dog is alone it could be comforting to them to hear your voice. By leaving something playing or a getting a dog cam to speak through you can check your dogs behaviour and the sound of your voice will be soothing and familiar to them when they are lonely.

Exercise

Walking a dog fulfils his emotional and physical wellbeing, it is much needed exercise of the muscles and stimulation of the mind releasing happy hormones even in small breeds and is necessary for learning new experiences and reinforcing old ones. All dogs need a purpose to fulfil as we do and living with us reduces their daily tasks, luckily we know what most of those inherant behaviours might be based on specific breed mentality although, all personalities are different. Not being walked enough will make a dog go stir crazy with excess energy and he will become anxious and frustrated which leads to problem behaviours like destruction, separation anxiety and over-defending his territory. Some dogs will just sleep 

Barking 

Dogs may bark incessantly due to being territorial because of strangers approaching, from loneliness or through fear.  

With a threat the barking is more powerful and quicker in succession and the mid range implies the dog is worried, if the frequency increases it indicates urgency and the pitch lowering signifies that the threat is close.  Attention seeking barks are less frequent but are regular, prolonged and are recurring frequently as if barking from boredom or waiting for a response. 

'Dominance'

Dominance is an overbearing behaviour determining submission in an inferior  opposition where the dominant dog would be the one that fended off its competition for a resource, ranking over the submissive one just like wolves would do. We believed that dogs were just as dominant in packs as wolves are but in recent research we have discovered that dogs don’t form packs and ranking systems and so are less dominant. Dominance is not a personality trait but is dependent on the situation and learned behaviour. The previous misconception has led people to believe that dominance over your pet is the best way to deal with disobedient behaviour.  Behaviours that appear to have control over another to get what they want such as physical force (like laying on you, jumping on you or pulling on the lead) can be misconstrued because owners think a lot of it is dominant misbehaviour so the owner then uses dominance themselves instead of addressing the issue correctly. Passing on this method means that any behaviour can wrongly assessed as dominant and leads to scaring the dog into submission and dominating already insecure dogs which can create psychological problems such as anxiety and aggression in dogs.

The domesticated dog builds social relationships with new people and animals, as they are no longer a family pack that would be sharing hunting and breeding there isn’t ‘Alpha’ ranking in the pack. A dog will only dominate in a conflict situation and the other dog will submit out of fear, this determines ranking. This behaviour is fuelled by anxiety and learned behaviours and the dominant aggression is only in disagreement over food or possession and only as a last resort over fear of losing out.

Being dominant towards a dog shows a lack of understanding of dogs behaviour and is encouraging others to follow suit with more dominance effecting the social relationship between man and dog and encouraging the dog to become more fearful. Using this reasoning is harmful to dog training and this method is cruel and sadistic. Its also detrimental to the dogs behaviour without addressing the problem behaviour properly.

Socialisation

With plenty of social interaction with humans and other animals in lots of situations dogs are generally well-rounded and confident without the need for conflict so dominant aggression clearly is an insecurity and should be addressed with positive training. Our unnecessary and mean counter-dominance is a terrible misinterpretation, creating more problems in the long run to the dog-human relationship and their wellbeing.

A dog that hasn’t been well socialised hasn’t had the opportunity to develop positive associations with new objects and new dogs, they may not be able to read another dogs through lack of socialisation with others through play or may not been exposed to situations reguarly that he could feel confident in. He can develop a fear of the unknown which will emerge itself as a flight fight response to any object or person, as it needs to get away from it or destroy it unless habitualised regularly in different situations.

Dogs need to be regularly socialised to maintain confidence and to continue to get new experiences, old memories can be forgotten and new fears can develop fear later on without regular positive associations with new stimuli. 

Puppy socialisation stages-Neonatal period at 0-2 weeks, transitional period at 2-4 weeks, dog Socialisation period at 4-6 weeks, human socialisation at 4-16 weeks.

Direct mild stressing contact from the mother at an early age and such as grooming, feeding and later discipline improves the emotional response from a puppy, stimulates their growth and helps them mature faster as well as helping them become a well balanced dog that copes better with stressful situations later in life. It may also increase resistance to diseases and problem solving skills.

Puppies in the transitional stage are disciplined by their mothers when they’re too rough and begin to learn the consequences of their actions and to compromise and respect after being told off. If they don’t go through this learning process they can be unruly and hard work to train as they don’t have any boundaries for their behaviour. 

Pups taken from their mothers at five weeks old are missing out on a vital socialisation period with other puppies, where they will learn play, coordination, fitness  and learn the rules for socialising needed to read other dogs behaviour, create social bonds and it creates confidence around other dogs was well as teaching problem solving abilities.

Puppies that have not been touched enough by mum or have had an aggressive mum can grow up to have phycological problems as the sense of touch is so powerful in dogs and the sensory stimulation is so rewarding and calming, it develops a sense of trust during the socialisation period for a well rounded dog. It lowers a dogs heart rate and drops his skin temperature so is essential for a developing puppy and attachment to mum and the avoidance of later withdrawal or depression. 

The wild ancestors of the dog would have had to adapt and learn to survive by avoiding threats, these vital survival instincts have been passed down the generations and are genetically built in to todays dogs and as for all mammals fear of the unknown is a necessity for self preservation and these can easily become fears even in pups without a previous negative association with an object.

Smell

When it comes to eating Smell is the most important factor for dogs, before determining that the Texture feels nice, then the Taste is last, as they have less taste buds than humans. 

When a dog marks he is leaving a scent that gives away his sex, age and pack size. 

Puppies are born with smell, taste and touch all working.

Sniffing allows dogs to assess a new dog and get information from their Pheromones about sex, age, ranking, self confidence, and health as well as if a female is in season, the outcome has a direct effect on the dogs behavioural response.  

 

Learning

Learned behaviour is the response to an experience that was either positive or negative.

Learning helps teach them of threats and is advantageous for aiding them in future experiences in all situations such as to what animals can be approached, what can be eaten, things and places to be avoided. This is necessary to their safety and survival. Learning what not to be scared of is also important.

 

The learning process has huge advantages, helping form memories of bad experiences and good ones. Learning starts from a young puppy through observing others and instinctive mimicking. Puppies learn what is right and wrong from older dogs too and they will seek direction from us as they would their parents. For instance if puppies become too boisterous around their mother or older dogs, they will be barked at to keep them in line, soon the puppy learns not to make that action. Dogs that are not exposed to enough different situations will have not had much experience or developed a confidence to new things to trust them or the ability to solve the problem, they show fear to new stimuli or develop phobias later on to anything that they cannot identify with or understand leading to the flight, fight or avoid or accept response which will make them constantly anxious.

The advantages to learning is that the dog will seek direction and learn to listen out for cues from their owner. They will be ready and willing for your command in the same situation and happy and confident to perform for the reward as he has a positive association with it from memory. He feels safe and trusts the situation from experience and this will keep him relaxed.

The disadvantages are that it can take a lot of repetition for a memory to form if the dog doesn’t find it rewarding enough or its not done often enough. If the stimulation, command or reward are altered at all instead of being consistent then this can lead to confusion and a slow learning process.  

Learning through new experiences shapes a dog from their natural instincts to learning from it to building confidence and they get lots of new stimulating experiences every time they are learning something knew.  

It keeps their mind occupied,  learning through positive and negative experiences helps dogs achieve their desired goal most efficiently. 

All dogs come with the basic starter pack of genes – they instinctively know that food, company and a tickled tummy are nice. But added on to that are the things your type of dog was originally bred for. Dogs find any instinctive behaviour – the things they were bred for – fun to do. 

Labradors revel in retrieving, Greyhounds get a kick out of chasing & Collies get high on herding. That is not to say you can’t train a Greyhound to retrieve, but expect it to be more difficult than training a Labrador. Anything your dog has been bred for will be easier to train because they already like to do it. The down side is that, for the same reasons, it can be very difficult to train a dog not to do something they have been bred for.

 

Dogs can learn what situations and environments are safe and where to avoid from memory by just the sight, sound or movement of the stimulus. An example is of a dog who has learned to react to a specific stimulant (such as a vacuum) that he perceives as a threat and responds with instinctive fear which in this case is not useful but could be paramount to survival in a similar situation

Moods

Dogs pick up on our mood and behaviour visually and by sensing energy from us. They are aware of  if you are angry or scared and are influenced by your state which is guaranteed to provoke fear in themselves. They will defend you or be scared of you and it will effect how he rates and respects you as well.

Reactivity

Low reactivity in a dog means that they have a low emotional response to stimuli such as other people or dogs as well objects or situations that would trigger fear behaviour or instinctive drives. These dogs are less likely to react with barking and growling or aggressive body language. The less reactive dogs are not as anxious to new situations and new things and others peoples behaviour as they have low drives or have been previously conditioned to the stimuli and don’t perceive it to be threatening. Reactivity also includes their response to pain and frustration.

Reinforced behaviour

If a dog is barking at the owner for food, a ball or toy and the owner immediately gives them what they want that teaches the dog that barking worked and you are reinforcing the barking by rewarding them for this behaviour so they will repeat it by excessively barking again the next time. Only good behaviour should be rewarded.

Reprimands

A lot of people may resort to shouting out of frustration or as a non physical form of punishment, to a dog this can be threatening or scary and they cannot associate it with their actions nor will they want to come to you. When used in response to dogs barking it is actually reinforcing their behaviour as you're just joining in barking with them! 

Calm management of the situation with counter conditioning, distraction/elimination of the source of the barking combined with relaxing them and quiet commands. Behaviourists can assess why the dog is barking and will determine the best course for a training plan.

Verbal reprimands, shouting and negative looks and behaviour towards a dog are all forms of positive punishment in the dog training world. Forcing a dog to stop its behaviour of pulling on the lead by pulling the dog or being dominant rather than correcting it with positive counter conditioning can create negative psychological problems in dogs and trainers and behaviourists should be using modern positive reinforcement techniques only. 

Collars and harnesses 

Choke Pulling on lead may be caused by excitement to get out because of a lack of exercise when the dog isn’t being taken out enough or let off lead enough. This could be reduced with regular exercise schedules and lead training. The habit of jumping up could be exacerbated by lack of stimulation or exercise as it in itself is a bit of fun and exercise for the dog and could be reduced after having being walked and some counter conditioning. Scratching, digging, destroying furniture and biting are all habits that are likely caused by frustration and lack of exercise and are cues that the dog isn’t happy as these behaviours are less likely to happen if the dog has had sufficient exercise. Dog’s that aren’t listening to you and and lacking responsiveness in attention to you could be that they are distracted or anxious because they need exercise as they are more alert and better at learning after having been for a walk. Excessive barking because of a lot of excess energy could also be caused by a lack of exercise as well as chasing and stealing and eating faeces, some of which can be attention seeking

The use of shock collars on dogs is cruel, they can cause injury and burns. Wearing them can have a negative impact on dogs and can lead to phycological problems effecting their behaviour including aggression and fear and so they should never be used as a form of training.

SHOCK collars are also painful for dogs. Dogs are upset by wearing these and try to remove them. They can also cause injury to the neck area and are neither a humane or effective way of training without implications.    

Both positive punishments should be replaced with positive reinforcement and counter conditioning training to correct the behavioural issue’s in the dog.

Harnesses alleviate the pressure on the dog that is pulling but doesn't address the pulling behaviour, the pulling action should be addressed as it happens and the dog should be rewarded for the correct behaviour. a behaviourist can help with this behaviour modification (which should never be corrected with any force) and with long term repetition as well as with the owners this behaviour will be corrected.

Territorial/possessive dogs

Generally well socialised and well adapted dogs, disciplined well at an early age don’t need to compete, have learned to share during socialisation and will avoid conflict but they are also influenced by learned behaviour from other dogs, the dominant aggressive behaviour of the dog in competition, how highly valued the reward/resource may be especially if the dog needs it survive, in which case its built in ancestral instincts and cognition, dogs pushed to these limits will retaliate in defence even if its misplaced. I base this on observing well socialised dogs in daycare with no conflict apart from two males occasionally conflicting as apposed to a well rounded dog who is fully possessive of any car he travels in.

Aggression 

Not all behaviours in male dogs are Testosterone related, some are learned behaviours and habitual. Its best to try to ascertain what the aggressive behaviour problem is and why the dog is displaying this behaviour, whether it is hormonal or pain/fear related. Castration reduces instinctual and sex drive related behaviours such as aggressive male conflict, marking and mounting but castration won’t help if the problem is triggered by something else. 

It’s a good idea to get vet checkup to rule out that the dogs behaviour is not caused by pain or discomfort especially in sudden changes of behaviour, any discomfort can result in any number of odd behaviours as its the dog has no way of communicating it. 

A dog with its head down, body down, ears back, teeth bared and growling indicates fear aggression as well as barking, a submissive tail between the legs and raised hackles as apposed to a confident aggressive dog with his ears straight, head and chest up, baring his teeth, a stiff tail and barking with dominance. 

The protein in dog food contains amino acids that compete with the amino acid Tryptophan in a dogs diet. Tryptophan contributes to producing serotonin hormone levels in a dog which alter his mood. Too much protein means the dog gets less Tryptophan and therefore as a lack of serotonin resulting in an anxious or depressed dog and too much can lead to an aggressive, high energy dog with an increased appetite.  

Cortisol is used a medication for dogs as they reduce pain and is a naturally produced steroid hormone in times of stress so an overdose in cortisol can be the cause of aggression in dogs. 

With an aggressive dog you should avoid a bite if you immediately and calmly defuse the situation by slowly looking away from his gaze, turning  your head away and body away. Back away from him but do not run and use appeasing gestures if needed such as yawning and lip licking to show you mean no harm until you are no longer a threat. 

Diet

Feeding your dog at regular times helps create a regular routine and a bond with you, the authority figure and prevents the dog from overeating which could effect his mood and the possibly of putting on too much weight. 

 

Humping

‘Humping’ is an automatic instinctive behaviour which can be seen in young puppies playing that aren’t yet sexually matured as well as dogs. When in game play it is encouraged by excitement, leading to arousal. It can also be a byproduct of conflicted emotions, a dogs ‘go to’ behaviour because they enjoy it but can be misconstrued in social situations. It can easy become habit as it feels good and can also be brought on by stress as a coping mechanism.  

In adult dogs instinct, leaned behaviour and hormones make it a sexual behaviour.

Phantom (false) Pregnancy

A Pseudopregnancy is false pregnancy and a condition that non pregnant unspayed dogs can suffer from after they have been in heat, caused by hormones the dog will display all the behavioural and physical symptoms of pregnancy. Nesting, swollen nipples lactation, and maternal instincts such as nurturing objects or toys can start 6 weeks after a season and last up to 12 weeks after. She can also have a distended abdomen, swollen vulva, discharge, mock labour and abdominal contractions and it can cause a lack of appetite or weight gain.  Behavioural changes such as being more affectionate and needy or lethargic can be seen and she can be whiney, anxious, confused and insecure. She can become protective and aggressive with people too but phantom pregnancy symptom’s usually desist after 3 weeks.  

Castration

Castrating a dog can reduce roaming, mounting and aggressive behaviours as the hormones are encouraging the instinctive behaviours. When the dog has been castrated and the hormone levels have dropped he won’t be driven to escape or wonder to find a mate or be as competitive with other males and won’t be likely to mount.

Castration can reduce behaviours that humans find unacceptable or unsocial such as urine marking in the house, humping people, objects or other dogs. It also helps reduce the chances of losing your dog due to roaming. The biggest reason for neutering is to stop the reproduction of unwanted litters and relieve the male dogs frustration if he’s not going to mate. It can also help with reducing aggression with other male dogs and eliminates development of testicular cancer in dogs.

The only arguments against castration is that it’s not natural and reduces natural behaviours, the dog will be not be able to reproduce and that it may not improve unwanted behaviours that were mistakingly assumed to be hormonally caused. After spaying and castration the dogs metabolism changes and calorie intake should be reduced by 10% due to the link between their growth and the lack of Testosterone to avoid them gaining weight.