Learn to ‘speak’ in your dog’s language

2014-06-12 00:00

CORRECT litter-departure age, socialisation and habituation, is really just a matter of following procedure and ensuring exposure of the puppy to appropriate stimuli. One of the biggest events in a puppy’s existence is the time when they change location from the litter to a new home controlled by humans.

Providing food, water and a place to sleep is fairly simple. The challenge comes in the various languages that are “spoken” by different species. A puppy does not know how to solve this problem due to an inability to think or reason. Thus the responsibility lies with its owners.

How do humans converse with another species in a manner which the recipient is capable of understanding? Let’s add cats, a few rabbits, plus a parrot, to the mix and now the pack consists of five different species, all “speaking” different languages.

Problems arise because the parties involved do not understand messages sent during any interaction which occurs via sound, body language or even release of pheromones. When owners do have the necessary experience or knowledge to integrate parties successfully, it is thanks to homework having been done and trouble taken in achieving a happy outcome.

I say this due to the many human-canine relationships brought to my attention where pet owners did not know how to establish and maintain successful pack hierarchies, or were shown ineffectual methods.

When puppies are introduced to strange hierarchy structures, they have to rely on knowledge attained from mother and siblings when finding their position of rank in a new pack.

Stable, resident older dogs will know instinctively how to teach new younger canine members, but people are designed differently and so problems always begin as a result of owner-pet communication being the same as with other humans. As a result, in a very short period, all the good work completed during the early developmental months, begins to unravel.

For instance, when Tiny, the large or giant-breed puppy jumps up against us at nine weeks, the behaviour produces hugs and kisses, but at 12 months, and weighing 60 kg, his size and strength are not cute any more. Unfortunately, the big guy has learnt that by merely using his bulk and power, people tend to give him a wide berth. Not only does he jump up against his owners, but also counter tops, to sample food prepared for family members and guests. Lawns turn into sand patches while visitors are intimidated by his rough behaviour and thunder-like growls. Initially, his owners had control, but as he grew bigger and stronger, even simple tasks such as feeding and walking, became a struggle.

Bought from a responsible breeder at eight weeks, socialisation and environmental enrichment were adequate. He even attended puppy school. All the requirements for future stable behaviour were met, but as happens in so many cases, our pup’s new owners never learnt their pet’s language and incorrect responses only exacerbated the already failing relationship.

This is not just a body mass issue. Small and medium breeds may among many others for example, defecate on beds, urinate on owners’ laps, or produce ear-splitting barks.

In summarising, it is extremely important therefore to provide, not only physically, but also mentally, in order to have long, enjoyable friendships with our pets.

However, to make this possible, we need to know the correct formula.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website at www.dogtorsteve.co.za Advice is only dispensed in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.

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