Dogs have different value systems

2011-09-29 00:00

IN June this year, a five-year-old male German ­Shepherd named Dre ran out a gate as his owner, Leon Reddy, drove inside. Dre’s focus was a dog walking further down the road on a leash, accompanied by another person.

He attacked the other pet, causing Leon to jump out of the car and run frantically in hot pursuit. ­Fortunately, all that Dre managed to do was pin the other dog down and hold him by the throat. Leon grabbed Dre, pulled him away and immediately took him back to the house. He then apologised to the ­owner of the other dog, and fortunately there were no injuries. ­Obviously this was quite traumatic for both pet owners.

A few days later, Leon contacted me to set up an appointment. Accompanied by his wife, Verekha, they said it was the first time something of this nature had happened.

Nobody had actually seen what transpired prior to the incident, but I told the couple my belief was that the strange dog had behaved aggressively when walking past the property. Dre had probably reciprocated with territorial aggression.

I pointed out to them that it is natural for dogs from different packs to bark at each other. Even running and chasing with teeth bared is acceptable, but an attack such as this is unacceptable. Appropriate behaviour would be both dogs staring at each other with hackles raised, tails up and wagging, but without showing threatening behaviour such as wild lunging and snarling.

The main contributing factor was inadequate knowledge of the rules governing group behaviour. Both pets in this instance had not been afforded the ­opportunity to acquire necessary social skills during the critical imprinting period. Dre had come to ­understand that he was responsible for protecting his own pack and territory from other so-called “predators”.

Leon and Verekha also have another pet, a four year-old female mixed-breed collie, Missy, who is well behaved and has no issues. I explained that dogs ­establish their own rank structure, but unfortunately when we become involved our dogs are treated like humans, and they interpret this as submissive behaviour.

We inadvertently interfere with the pecking order, thus elevating the dogs to a higher rank above us in the pack hierarchy. As a result of this imbalance, another undesirable outcome was Dre’s jumping up against Leon and Verekha or visitors.

That stopped within 48 hours as a result of the ­humans changing their body language, and Leon says that nowadays the dog is more responsive and obedient.

Except for these few behaviour concerns, the dogs were generally quite well behaved, which indicates that the ­couple had been responsible in raising their pets.

To deal with Dre’s aggression towards other dogs, I told the couple that Dre needed to be desensitised, but this would require a careful process where his coping skills had to be respected.

This should preferably be conducted under my supervision, by exposing him to calm and stable dogs in a manner where he would not feel threatened. It would also enable me to determine if there was an element of attention seeking in the aggressive behaviour.

Should you have any concerns about your pet’s ­behaviour or you intend introducing a new one to the household, then please don’t hesitate to contact me or your vet.


• Steve van Staden is a canine-behaviour specialist. To contact him, phone 083 340 8060 or go to his website,

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