Pet decisions are adult issues

2013-11-28 00:00

AS I’ve mentioned on occasion, one of the biggest factors affecting human-canine relationships is our emotional state of mind. When puppies, or rehomed pets, move onto a new property, the instinctive need to survive is first and foremost in their minds. The quest for food, water, shelter and safety controls the eventual, overall behaviour.

With Christmas looming large on our horizons, the inevitable puppies for presents will be a decision made in many homes, especially where children are involved. Many of us would love to have a puppy that remains cute, cuddly or furry, without ever growing bigger or older. More often than not, due to their emotive states of mind, I find it fairly difficult to impress on puppy owners how critical it is to look ahead at 18 months of age, when the puppy phase ends and adulthood commences.

Sadly, there are those who lose interest when a large-breed puppy, for example, is already a substantial force to be reckoned with, let’s say at six months of age. That which was adorable, has now become a whiner, barker, hole digger, house soiler, shoe chewer and escape artist, to mention just a few. Four-year-old children, who initially delighted in holding and stroking their puppies, are now finding the interaction to be rough and painful at times, even causing fear.

At 25 kilograms, little Sheba, having previously been allowed inside the house, is kept outside permanently. After the initial whining and crying subsides, our puppy, being in a very strong investigatory phase of her existence, has chewed on items such as cottage-pane window frames, her new kennel, vehicles’ plastic bumpers and wooden garden furniture. After digging up plants, she targets owners and visitors with muddy paws. In addition to incessant barking, washing is pulled from the line and when she does manage to get inside, it is usually coupled with urinating or defecating. Destruction escalates dramatically during storms, due to her fear of thunder. Trips to the vet in a vehicle are a nightmare because of wild behaviour, vomiting or defecating.

Then, shortly after the festive season, in the mistaken belief that Sheba needs a companion, another puppy is added to the family. If one puppy by itself is already a concern, multiple dog packs will be even more challenging. Pups learn from older pets and very soon both of them are involved in a whole list of unwanted behaviours. Now it is not only destructive behaviour that we have to deal with, but due to issues such as premature litter departures and a lack of social skills, our pups are already displaying early signs of abnormal aggressive or fear behaviour. It may be mild or even amusing during puppy hood, but if ever there is a time when extreme aggression surfaces, it will be at 18 months of age or afterwards.

Surely it makes sense that when our intention is to acquire a pup, it must be with a view to having a constant, well-behaved companion. Pets should never be taken for granted, and their care and education must always remain priorities in our daily lives. If adults decide on a pet as a companion for a child, then the final responsibility remains with the grown-ups. Children can play with their new friend and feed it, but correct breed choice, temperament compatibility, education, exercise, medical care and vaccines are adult issues. Christmas may be a time of giving, but puppies do not understand the concept of goodwill.

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

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