For the love of dogs!
The main focus throughout this period of study has been mainly the behaviour of canines and why they behaviour in certain ways. I have been able to put what I have learnt to good practise as I personally run a dog playgroup.
Many of the dogs who have attended my sessions have presented behavioural issues and I have been able to put what I have learnt to good use as well as it been extremely interesting and gaining the knowledge of why dogs behave the way they do and how to treat or correct it.
Dogs are naturally social animals and form packs and within a family environment, with good teaching and relationship forming, the dog will look up to us (the Alpha) for respect and guidance. Although naturally all dogs act in certain ways or for particular reasons, he will depend on his family throughout his life and his behaviour will be greatly influenced by his owner, either good or bad. It would seem that it could potentially easier to influence how a dog will react or behave later on in life if his learning begins through his puppy years.
During certain periods of a dog’s life, they have the ability to learn new things as they grow from a very early age. However, it is not to say that a dog’s behaviour cannot be corrected or influenced later on in life, it may prove a bit more difficult but not impossible. Through retraining the dog and his current thought process, new goals and knowledge can be achieved.
As stated, during my time running a dog group I have been presented with mostly dogs who have some kind of behaviour problems, whether it be anxieties, fears or more serious, dominance issues. Over the months of working with the same dogs, all have shown improvement slowly. Firstly, working with an individual dog and his/her needs.
I have one particular dog who on first arrival was over excited but also wanted to be dominant over all other dogs. She showed signs of aggression towards them, was possessive over toys/food and wasn’t social. We had to work slowly and get her use to other dogs and been in the presence of them. We tried a lot of different ways to try and help correct her mind set and found food was a good reward that grabbed her attention to want to learn.
However, it was only short lived while the food was on show. As the group grew larger, different ranks were formed and it was only when another dog showed (dog 1) she was in charge, did she start to shows signs of calmness and improvement. We now have a group of regulars who themselves without much human intervention have formed their own little pack of rankings and all get along together through been social and play.
The key to the pack working was also not only them figuring out themselves where they stand, but also understanding that I (the leader) am in charge and the dominant one. Through teaching them this, it also keeps them safe and knowing I am the one who makes the decisions of their group and gradually they have all learnt their own ranks.
I have also recently gained a new member who came to my group looking for help with a very shy and timid dog who showed great signs of fear around other dogs. Through the process of this open college course, I have learnt much about certain behaviours and this one has helped me the most in been able to help the dog’s fears
There has been a particular part I learnt about reinforcements and how touch is important to a dog, it is seen to them as a form of a reward. For a dog who is fearful and runs to us for support, instinctively we want to reach down, hold them, comfort them and tell them it’s going to be okay. It would be hard not to, but it would seem that this is the incorrect way to help.
So, by us touching the dog to comfort them while they are frightened, we are actually causing their mind to think this is okay, we a reinforcing the behaviour and telling the dog that been scared of that particular situation is correct, when actually, there isn’t anything to worry about for them. This was proved by the owner making contact every time the dog showed signs of fear, she knew automatically kept coming back to her owner. So, with this in mind, we starting working with the dog to rethink the situation.
As the dog and owner hold a strong bond, she always looks to her for reassurance. We began by having her ignore the fearful behaviour, not show any kind of contact or reaction throughout the whole session and let the dog just feel comfortable in her own space and check out the environment in her own time. Although scared and shying away from other dog’s, she seemed able to allow them one by one to come and check her out without any signs of aggression and without any contact from the owner, she had to learn herself if this was a safe situation.
Eventually over time, the less contact that was made by the owner, the more the dog was getting more confident with her own decisions and wondering further away from her comfort zone. The small pack we already have formed seem to understand or at least respect that she needed to take her time, they were patient and only came into her space when she seemed comfortable to allow it.
Over time she has learnt that all our dogs in particular are of no threat to her and this has helped her immensely to understand that not all dogs are to be feared and she has learnt herself how to behave and react. The owner has also learnt how to newly reinforce her dog with showing her that she can explore more freely and learn herself what she feels is safe with a bit of influence from humans.
All of what I have learnt throughout this course has helped me gain new and important knowledge to be able to support and better the group I run. This has all greatly improved how I teach and run things in order the benefit the dogs and owners for the better, safer, foreseeable future.
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Copyright – H Darwent
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