The problem is in the training, rather than in the dogs

2012-01-05 00:00

EIGHT families, who owned dogs ranging from a 55-kilogram Boerbul to a four-kilogram Parson Terrier, do not have their pets anymore. In all cases the dogs’ behaviour had deteriorated to a point where the dogs had to be removed from the families.

Problem behaviour such as killing other dogs, ripping windscreen wipers and side mirrors off SUVs, destroying expensive furniture, ear-splitting and excessive barking and extreme jumping causing injuries, eventually led to these pets having to be sent away. Except for two, all were less than 18 months old and three were destined for euthanasia.

Where are those eight dogs now? They make up the members of my pack and have turned into calm, responsive and well-adjusted pets.

How did I achieve this?

Firstly, I concentrated on establishing myself as their pack leader. I did not demand their subservience by choking, hitting, kicking, shouting or throwing objects at them.

I won their respect, coupled with appropriate submissive behaviour, by gaining their trust. If a pet needed to be desensitised to other dogs I would do this in a manner where the social and coping skills were respected.

Kiara the Boerbul­, which had attacked an older male Boerbul on numerous occasions, started trusting me after 11 days.

Her size and strength required a careful introductory process to the other dogs.

Due to poor social skills she had to learn how to produce normal dog behaviour and after about four weeks she was allowed to interact freely with her new pack.

She now meets other dogs and puppies regularly and to date has not shown the slightest abnormal aggression.

I consider her rehabilitation nothing short of a miracle.

Dusty, a destructive female Rottweiler, has calmed down and no longer destroys property or vehicles. At two and a half years of age, with a growl like thunder and a real ruffian personality, she is one of the sweetest and cutest dogs I have owned.

Winston, a Rottweiler-x-Doberman Pinscher, was removed at five-and-a- half-months old after attending puppy school for eight weeks. At one of the puppy classes, the trainer told the puppy owners that in order to dominate their pets, they must take them by the scruff of the neck and pull them down. This position had to be maintained until the screaming, struggling puppy stopped moving.

She proceeded to demonstrate this on a 16-week-old Ridgeback pup which promptly sank it’s teeth into her arm causing severe bleeding.

I told Winston’s owner that when illogical and outdated methods such as these are utilised in the name of dog training it is no wonder that he became so unmanageable.

Also, had the trainer been able to read human and canine temperaments, she would have noticed that Winston’s temperament was too strong and would have informed his owner of this.

It would have been preferable to rehome Winston and acquire another puppy from a less dominant breed, also making sure it was not one of the alpha puppies.

Spike, a Border Collie, left his owner at seven-and-a-half months due to a habit of ripping skirts completely off his elderly owner’s body. When sitting or lying down he would run and jump on her, causing severe bruising.

Four weeks of puppy training only made things worse. Once Spike’s mental and physical needs were met he turned into a perfect companion animal.

Males and females, pedigreed and mixed breeds, these eight dogs are wonderful companions and I derive a tremendous amount of pleasure from interacting with them.

Please contact me or your vet’s practice should you have any behavioural concerns.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website

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