Lead the pack

2011-11-10 00:00

DAVE and Monica Bessinger, residents of Ashburton, contacted me with concerns about all four of their pets. Their two six-year-old dogs, Waddles, a male daschund, and Aero, a female Labrador, responded fearfully to thunder and fireworks from 18 months of age. Sheba, an 11-month-old female Rottweiler, was jumping up against vehicles, nipping people, killing chickens and chewing furniture. Duke, a nine-month-old Great Dane, already the size of a small Shetland pony and still growing, was also chewing furniture, bumping and leaning against people, or drooling on them.

Except for Sheba all the dogs left the litter at eight weeks old. She left at six weeks. All the pets had been to training courses where leashes and not the owners were perceived as dominant,.

Except for the more serious concerns, the dogs were actually very well-behaved and enjoyed a high standard of care. The inappropriate behaviour was multidimensional. It could be attributed to early litter departure, inadequate interspecies imprinting (Sheba) and inconsistent pack hierarchy principles. I was surprised that the two older dogs only showed an aversion to thunder and fireworks from 18 months. Normally, fear behaviour is exhibited at a much earlier age due to poor environmental enrichment, but this was not a problem with Waddles and Aero. It seemed that it was only after leaving the pack with a sitter on one particular weekend that they started reacting to loud noises. In cases like this it is difficult to determine what led to this deviation from normal behaviour, especially if there are no eye witnesses to the circumstances.

The dogs tended to leave Dave alone and mostly targeted Monica. Before sitting down at the consult Duke leaned against her almost causing loss of balance. About 20 minutes later Sheba jumped on Monica with her front paws. About an hour later Duke walked over to Monica passing Marilyn, Dave’s sister. Marilyn hastily vacated her chair to avoid contact with Duke’s saliva. I explained to Monica that the dogs focused on her because she was the easiest to dominate. Monica knew this and mentioned that even Smokey the cat controlled the dogs more effectively than she did. I explained that it is possible to enjoy the dogs, but that she needed to behave more dominantly. This would enable her to enjoy her pets more without all the unpleasant side effects.

As the humans changed their reactions to the dog’s behaviour using my psychology-based body-language techniques, the pack, especially the two puppies, became more insistent in their attempts to dominate. I explained that this would subside quickly and in about 24 hours calm would prevail. My prognosis was correct and not only did the dogs become calmer, but Waddles and Aero were less reactive to loud noises. As to the chickens, my advice was to deny Sheba any access to them until we are ready to deal with this issue.

In conclusion, the use of lengthy force-based training methods will subdue behaviour for a short while, but inevitably lead to further problems, especially in adult dogs. Psychology is far more profound, accurate and effective, bringing owner and pet stress levels down quickly.

It was a pleasure to meet with this lovely family and I was glad to have been able to assist.

Please contact me or your vet’s practice should you need assistance.


• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted at 083 340 8060 or visit www.dogtorsteve.co.za

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