Does your dog take you for a walk?

2012-09-13 00:00

HOW often does one see a nine-year-old child walking along the road, or into a vet’s practice, holding a leash with a fully grown Great Dane on the end? We don’t, because if adults battle to control small-breed pets, what chance does a child have with a giant breed, especially if there are other unruly dogs nearby?

One of the most severe cases brought to me was Tiny, a 14-month-old male Great Dane “puppy”, which was with its fourth set of owners. Due to his wild behaviour, initially I kept him outside the consulting room, but after applying the applicable behaviour-altering techniques, he calmed down quickly and in a few days became a well adjusted member of the family.

Tragically, a few months later the father contracted Guilliam Barre syndrome, a condition that turns a human adult into a full blown quadriplegic in a matter of days. He took 10 months to achieve mobility without the aid of crutches or a wheel chair. I have video footage showing how this man, who just manages to walk, takes his gentle giant out on a leash without any pulling or lunging. This was all thanks to the family’s maturity and utilising methods which did not cause further stress, meaning that the Dane’s mental requirements were finally satisfied. No leashes or forceful methods were used during the behaviour modification phase.

Many people have shared how they used to enjoy walking their pets regularly, but stopped eventually after such excursions changed into continuous tugs of war. I also hear regularly how pets are isolated when visitors arrive, or especially when children have friends over. Or what a battle it is to control pets during a visit to the vet. If anybody can testify to having been at the receiving end of a dangerous dog, it is the vets themselves and their staff.

Sadly, in many of these situations the dogs had been exposed to some sort of training, or even worse, taken to someone in a failed attempt to rectify the unwanted behaviour.

When normally behaved puppies are introduced to stable, large or small breed adult dogs, they will display exactly the same submissive behaviour irrespective of size. Therefore it means that pups are driven instinctively to recognise seniority based on mental design and not body mass or strength. That is why an older adult Jack Russell, or Dachshund, can produce submission from a younger, fully grown Rottweiler or St. Bernard.

All domesticated dogs are tamed wolves and I still have to see older wolves teaching life skills to the cubs using leashes in conjunction with force. The cubs learn their skills from the body language and behaviour of older wolves. As humans, we cannot wag tails or expose fangs, but we do have enough at our disposal to produce the perception of higher ranking “dogs”.

Virtually everybody asks, prior to engaging my services, whether leashes, chains or collars will be required, and the answer is always “no”, except if walking is an issue. Even then, the emphasis is on body language. Quite simply, without physical restraints, behaviour is changeable in hours and can be achieved by six-year-old or older children, irrespective of the pet’s size.

If ever a pet was going to be a candidate for euthanasia it was Tiny, the Great Dane. Thankfully this was not the case but unfortunately, many dogs do end up on death row because their mental developmental needs were never catered for adequately.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website at www.dogtorsteve.co.za

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