Following on from my blog discussing the concept of the ‘reactive’ dog, the first cause of ‘reactivity’ is ‘Genetics’.
And here’s the best bit…. for this we can definitely blame the dog! Its most definitely the dogs genetics at play, rather then yours…. however I am sure in certain cases, YOUR genetics may be a contributing factor 😉
Well when I say its the dogs fault… thats not strictly true…. We, as humans have to take some responsibility.
If we look at all the ‘groups’ of dog breeds we have created, they all have a distinct purpose and vocation….even breeds that may have been bred to be companions would have originally derived from the same source.
Dogs are predators and its this predatory response that we have harnessed and turned into usable traits for OUR lives.
So the urge to chase, stalk, hunt and kill has been refined to herding, gathering, collecting and being an aid for our survival. They have been selected to protect us, and our property….our families and material items…..
So we created specific breeds or types with a purpose, a vocation, a role and a distinct agenda. We selected the individuals who most exhibited these traits, and bred from them to enhance and exaggerate these traits, so that they would have an aptitude to do the ‘job’ with ease and little influence from us.
We pointed the pup toward sheep, and he instantly started to stalk them and move them around a field…. we throw an object into long grass, and he fastidiously hunted and searched until he found it. We selected, crafted and created the perfect tool for the job. If you need a hammer to bang in a nail, you’d select the appropriate materials…. we need the same with breeds and types of dogs.
Because the role of ‘companion’ came as a by-product of the need to work ‘together’ and spend a considerable amount of time together in the ‘field’, the notion of the dog being a domesticated pet in our home was born.
Of these dogs, there would be certain characteristics and attitude to work that would be sought after. Those hunting, seeking, gathering and guarding would need to have a deep desire to perform the same task repeatedly for hours, days, weeks, months and years, again and again. The desire to perform this task would have to be so strong that they would be willing to perform in all conditions, irrespective or physical discomfort, pain, distraction and with little reinforcement other then the job itself. We see this same level of intensity in sports athletes, high performing business people, Type A personalities.
We ultimately created our own demon though. We have created an animal with the want, need and desire to do a job…. but when those instinctive hard wired traits are not understood or satisfied, we see ‘reactivity’ and behavioural issues. It doesn’t matter if the individual dog is one of these breeds or a combination of a few…. the instinct is still within the dog. With crosses or mixes, you may even have several traits from several breeds.
Its the same with people. When I worked with young offenders, those that were often the most problematic were often the brightest, most energetic and brilliant minds… but as the saying says, ‘the devil make work for idle hands’…..
Your herding breed that reacts to fast movings things, is doing what s/he should do… we wanted it!
The guarding breed that barks menacingly and aggressively at the innocent jogger, is doing what we bred them to do….
The gundog that has been bred to dive into thick bramble and undergrowth to get a dead bird, has to have a strong desire for the ‘thing’ it happens to find… but when that thing happens to be your childs toy, and the dog doesn’t want to give it up or allow anyone else to take it, we have to take responsibility.
These are just a few examples of the various issues that we have inadvertently created.
Often these traits and instinct conflict with our expectations of the domestic companion. I have discussed in previous blogs, in what we essentially want from a domestic dog is to be inconspicuous and docile to anything and everything.
Well that wasn’t part of the contract which we agreed on hundred’s of years ago.
So, how do we deal with genetics? And is it actually even possible??
Well in short the answer is yes, of course it is. I have lived my life with numerous dogs, who on paper should have had severe behavioural issues, and they have all been well adjusted family pets.
Firstly, understand, honour and appreciate what you have in your dog. Its this genetics that make him/her who and what they are. Its what makes them so amazing. Your border collie that obsessively wants to chase cars, or bikes… is a result of years of selection for those traits! Isn’t that amazing! We have managed to change the desire to kill something into a visible act of self control and purpose.
Secondly, appease the desire and instinct. Don’t try and fight it. Don’t try and make your introvert child an exhibitionist, and don’t try and make your flamboyant party goer, a wall flower…. accept them for who and what they are. Don’t try and create calm, without satisfying your dogs more primal needs. Calmness is a outcome of satisfaction, mentally and physically.
Find a medium or outlet for that energy. So if your border collie likes to run and chase, find a safe and productive way for this to be utilised.
If your gun dog wants to search and find things, play search games in long grass with a ball…. your terrier wants to hunt, try some scent work….
Guarding instinct is often the most difficult to appease, due to its conflicting nature of what the dog would find an outlet for this desire versus what is compliant with our human existence. The other instinctive traits can largely be expelled in a safe and constructive manner. Guarding is often the hardest.
If your guarding dog wants to bark at strangers, ensure that you socialise them with as many people as possible, in a safe and constructive manner. Ensure that you have clear boundary training in place and expel their energy on a daily basis. Additionally ensure that you are clear with your perimeter of when it is acceptable to be a vigilant guard and not necessary when you are having a coffee at the local cafe.
Focus on the behaviour you do want, from your dog don’t take it for granted when you dog ‘ignores’ another dog, or fast moving item… even if its 200m away….dont take it for granted when you dog ignores the cyclist, or greets another dog appropriately…reinforcement is key…..
Be realistic about your expectations and manage them. Your dogs instinct is hardwired in their DNA. Expecting your shetland sheepdog to stop herding is like expecting a eagle not to fly or a salmon not to swim. If they happen to herd the hoover, either train them to stay on a bed when this happens, put them in another room or ignore it…. or better still… don’t do housework!!!! Hooray!!! Always a silver lining!
Do you homework about what your dog is, and whether thats ‘really ’what you want…. what you see on TV isn’t necessarily the reality. Be honest with yourself of your limitations and get the dog that suits your lifestyle, and what you need… seeing someone else with the finished productive doesn’t mean you’ll get the same end product.
And finally, teach, train and educate your dog about how you want them to be, and navigate this weird and wonderful life…. Its not easy, it is your role to create a relationship based on trust, clarity and where needed… boundaries. At the end of the day, we have brought these amazing animals into our lives, to enrich them, give us joy and happiness…..its the least we can do to teach them what we want and accept them for who they are.
‘Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid’. (Albert Einstein)