Determining rank by observation and experimentation.
By Ian Dunbar, PH.D., M.R.C.V.S.
Source: GAZETTE, Behavior, pp 36 & 38.
As part of Dr. Frank Beach's long‑term study of the behavioral endocrinology of sexually differentiated behaviors in dogs (conducted at the University of California, Berkeley), he investigated sex differences in social rank and aggressiveness.* His findings proved so rewarding that observational experiments on the development of social hierarchies in dogs became the focus of the research program for nearly a decade.
Social rank was assigned primarily from results of dyadic bone tests (two dogs with one bone), and from general observations of the pack at large, Standard dyadic bone tests comprised two parts: first, the equal opportunity test. In which a bone was thrown to land equidistant between two dogs and the ensuing interactions (possession, approach, threats, etc.) were observed for 90 seconds: and second, the affirmative action test, wherein the bone was given to the underdog for 30 seconds and then the higher ranking dog was released from a holding cage and their interactions were observed for a further 90 seconds.
Male‑Male Dyads. An examination of intermale relationships demonstrated a linear hierarchy with extremely infrequent variation in nearly ten years of testing. Ownership of a bone‑‑or any valued commodity‑‑was almost always decided by the rank of the dogs concerned, regardless of the specific situation.
Female‑Female Dyads. Females had a similar linear hierarchy, but compared with males they exhibited more variation from day to day, Female success was often dependent on the specific situation, For example, if both females had an equal opportunity to take possession of the bone, its ownership was decided primarily by rank, However, if a bitch had established possession, it was not uncommon for her to defend the bone against higher ranking females and sometimes against higher ranking males.
Male‑Female Dyads. In view of their greater size and strength, it was not surprising to find that males were generally higher ranking than females and won nearly 80 percent of the tests.
Group Structure. Males and females had separate hierarchies: an almost fixed linear hierarchy for males, and a more flexible linear hierarchy for females. Within the group as a whole, the rank order of males was always the same and the order of females was usually the same, but the relationship between males and females often varied from day to day.
The various dyadic relationships were the building blocks for group structure, though observations of the group as a whole revealed additional variations and complexities, generally favoring lower ranking individuals. For example, when the bone was thrown to a group of twenty dogs, opportunistic lower ranking animals would often get a few bites of meat before a higher ranking dog expropriated the bone.
At one interesting point in the study, immediately after the top dog Ken had died of old age, the rank of the next top five dogs showed a perfect inverse correlation with regard to body weight: The top dog, "Fast" Eddie, was the smallest: the number two dog, Cassius, was the second smallest: middle ranking Joe was the midsized dog; and Whip‑‑the underdog‑‑was the largest in the pack!
When a hungry pup is confronted with an occupied teat, it has a couple of options: to supplant the resident nurser, or to search for an unoccupied teat. An analysis of teat expropriations and teat defenses revealed a rudimentary linear hierarchy as early as two weeks of age. High rank was strongly correlated with body weight: Larger pups were able to supplant others and hence had primary access to the bitch's milk‑‑further increasing their weight advantage. Rank was also correlated with sex: Male pups (often heavier) were usually higher ranking than females.
Intralitter Pup‑Pup Dyads. Dyadic and group bone tests revealed that within each litter both the top dog and the underdog were irrefutably established by eight weeks of age. Top and bottom ranking dogs have unique social positions, since both may generalize about their social relationships. The top dog assumes it is higher ranking than the rest of the pups, and the bottom dog learns that it is lower ranking to all. However, middle order pups experience a more complicated social scenario since they are higher ranking to some individuals but lower ranking to others. The middle order relationships were not firmly established until the pups were 12 weeks of age, whereafter each litter had a stable linear hierarchy, with rank correlating strongly with sex and weight: Male pups and/or heavier pups tended to be higher ranking.
Interlitter Pup‑Pup Dyads. Each litter had grown up with mom in individual indoor/outdoor runs. When three of the litters were 10, 12 and 16 weeks old, they were transferred into a large outdoor living area along with 12 adult dogs (including the sires and dams). Relationships between littermates remained stable. The most important determinants of rank in pups from different letters were age and sex: Older and/or male pups were higher ranking. At this age, even a small difference in age represented a considerable weight advantage.
Pup‑Adult Dyads. One day after testing, we noticed pups competing for a bone in the group enclosure. The top puppy, James, won the bone, whereupon all the other dogs encircled James and watched him chew. Obviously, none of the pups was going to take the bone away, and it seemed like the adult dogs were somehow inhibited from doing so too. After a while, Doris, a low ranking but opportunistic female, inched forward and gently tugged at the bone. James growled. snarled, but eventually gave up the prize. The instant James relinquished possession, the bone rapidly changed paws a number of times, ending up with Eddie, the top dog.
The above incident prompted a two‑year series of bone tests between adults and pups (from these and other litters). In the equal opportunity test, adult dogs always captured the bone and never let pups come close. However, in the affirmative action test, adult females never took the bone away from two‑month‑old pups, and adult males expropriated the bone in only 40 percent of the tests. By the time the pups were six months old, adult females expropriated the bone in 60 percent of tests and adult males always took it away. It was apparent that adult dogs, bitches especially, showed leniency towards pups in social situations.
The termination of this "puppy license" is cued by rising testosterone levels in male pups at four to five months of age, reaching a peak at around 10 months before declining to stable adult levels. When puppies approached adolescence, they were continually harassed by adult dogs, male adolescents by adult males especially. This stressful phase of social development is short, because the pups quickly learn to display active and exaggerated appeasement to allay adult harassment.
Relative size and strength is the most important determinant of rank at each stage in development. However, once pups of the same breed have grown up and assumed their relative positions within an established adult hierarchy, there need be no correlation between rank and adult weight. Social hierarchies must always be viewed in a developmental context. Indeed, the above mentioned adult male hierarchy that was negatively correlated with adult weight had, in fact, a perfect positive correlation with age. Thus, although in adulthood Cassius was larger than Eddie, for the first six months of Cassius' life he was a mere slip of a pup compared with a three‑year‑old and very macho Eddie.
*Competitive Behavior in Male, Female, and Pseudohermaphroditic Female Dogs by F. Beach, M. Buehler and I. Dunbar. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1982.
Original Doc: beha-10.doc
Successful Late Placements
Puppies should always be ready for new homes.
By Carol Lea Benjamin
Source: GAZETTE, Dog Trainer's Diary, pp 32 & 34
There's good news for dog breeders. Late‑placed puppies can be raised in such a way that all the puppies--those that will ultimately be tested in the ring and those that must make a last‑minute change in occupation from show dog to pet dog--will be able to go about their lives with equanimity, exhibiting none of the problems often associated with placements after the age of two months.
A program of super socialization, educating as well as socializing at the optimum age for puppies to learn, can result in success instead of failure. It simply means taking each of the appropriate and positive things you now do a thoughtful step further, having goals in mind appropriate for both show and pet puppies. After all, a confident attitude, comfort with change, a high stress threshold and a genuine ease with people of all types and ages are desirable qualities for the pet dog, and essentials for the show dog as well.
Do you ask adults and children to handle and pet each litter? Bravo! Now also ask them to work with your puppies. Having the puppies play "Follow the Leader" with both adults and children sets the stage for accepting leadership and training. Get extra mileage from each session by naming the activity and beginning the puppies' vocabulary list. Starting with seven‑ or eight week‑old puppies, have your guest trainers cheerfully tell them, "Let's go," praising as the puppies follow.
Next introduce recall games, calling, "Puppy, puppy, come," to the group, then to each individual, teaching the recall before that psychological umbilical cord is gone forever. Your puppies will establish good habits before bad ones become entrenched.
This early "work" makes dogs more trainable, great for pets and show prospects alike. (Imagine the extra appeal of those puppies placed as pets at, say, six months of age who follow nicely and come when called.)
Are your puppies used to show leads? Great! Puppies kept beyond seven or eight weeks should also be trained to walk on a collar and leash. First get the puppies used to wearing flat puppy collars (never leave these on when you are not there to watch). Praise when you put each collar on. Next, since they are already following you around, add a light leash and praise as you go. Guests can join in, following puppies and encouraging puppies to follow them, all with a leash on.
The World On a String
Now for the most important part of this program: Once they can walk on a leash, the puppies must see the world on their "string," not just your backyard. Initially, if you are worried about the puppies being vulnerable to disease, carry them out, one or two at a time. (I carried my now 62‑pound puppy around in my jacket when he was small, taking him everywhere I went. You can start the same way, the puppies taking turns going out with you. Even riding inside a jacket they see and hear the world away from home and I guarantee you, at that size, everyone will want to pet them.)
After it's safe to take the puppies out--and for many suburban and country puppies, taking walks can start prior to the last inoculation--walk them on leash. Take a different route each day. Take the puppies in the car and take your walk in a new place altogether. Take them visiting, too. Not all of your friends have white carpeting.
Many breeders take their puppies to match shows and feel that is sufficient to socialize the puppies to the world at large. Sorry. That is only a good part of a program. A match show, for all the commotion, does not have the random real‑world sights and sounds a puppy needs, particularly if he might become someone's pet later on. But what about your show puppies? I have seen many a gorgeous hunk fall apart at Westminster because of too narrow a socialization program. Your show puppy may never get to Westminster, but wouldn't you like to keep that option open?
Sniff, Honey, the World!
As long as you're outside, try this to help put all your dogs at ease with new things. Beginning at home, when the puppies are very small, add "Smell it" to their vocabulary list. Since sniffing is the first investigation any dog will try, this "command" takes two minutes to teach.
Offer a puppy five or six objects, each time saying, "Smell it, good puppy!" I have never seen a dog or puppy, (a) not smell an offered object; or, (b) not learn what "smell it" means almost immediately. Now you have a good tool for socializing your puppy to the world. As you take each little dog out and about, offer leaves, branches, stones, the letters you are about to mail, anything at all to let it investigate with its nose. Later, if anything spooks the puppy, pat the object and issue the command, "Smell it." Its nose will tell the puppy the overturned garbage can, open umbrella, shopping cart, bench at Westminster, or whatever, is inanimate and therefore harmless.
You already give your puppies toys to tug and chew and wrestle over. Good. Now add obstacles to their environment, like tunnels or a board to climb on or crawl under. Make those puppies be problem‑solvers. Make sure they get to walk on different surfaces: gravel, carpet, tile, concrete, grass. Most important, especially if they will quickly become too big to carry, teach them how to walk up and down stairs. You'd be surprised what a killer this is for many pet owners. Giving puppies a rich environment results in the sort of flexibility they need to move easily into another lifestyle, should that be their fate.
You probably crate train. After all, you need that for traveling with your puppies to shows. But do you house‑
train? If not, can you even imagine getting a six‑month‑old, 50‑pound un-housetrained puppy? Or even a 20 pound one, a kennel puppy who actually learned the opposite of what a pet dog needs to learn? Whenever you might be selling a dog after the age of two months, you must begin to housetrain. Add "hurry up" to the vocabulary list. It focuses the pup and speeds the training.
A crate and a schedule will get the job done. Be sure that any puppy who might be placed as a pet becomes comfortable in the house and out of doors, blasé with the sound of traffic as well as the vacuum cleaner. Simply give each puppy play time indoors after he relieves himself outside.
The late‑placed puppy who is not broadly socialized may appear perfectly normal to you. It is not until he leaves the comfortable environment of your home or kennel that the results of insufficient socialization show up. At that late date, there's little hope. But with thoughtful planning and goals that suit a variety of needs, you can raise puppies perfect for any heart's desire.
Ms. Benjamin is a freelance author and dog trainer living in New York City.
Original Doc: beha-3.doc
Training Programs Calm Dogs' Fear of Thunderstorms
By Steve Dale
For Pets Monthly
The Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution, July, 1995
A clap of thunder, a bolt of lightening and Bowser dives under the couch, hightails it to a secluded room or tears up the house in a whirlwind of panic.
It’s canine thunderstorm phobia and it’s as real as the phobia some people have about heights or flying.
Just ask Dr. William Fortney. An assistant professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., Fortney initially used valium to relax his pekeapoo during thunderstorms.
Although the drug mellowed the pet, “I didn’t like the idea of having a zombie dog,” Fortney recalled. So he tried a desensitization cassette tape.
Little by little, the volume of crashing thunderstorms heard on the tape is increased. Additionally, the pooch is distracted with games and food. Eventually, if all goes well, the dog is numbed to the sound of thunder.
Fortney utilized a cassette tape program produced by dog trainer Steve Boyer, of K-9 Communications in Glenview, Ill.
Boyer believes dogs exposed to the tapes actually learn that the sounds they’ve been fearful of are really harmless. Scientists and canine behaviorists disagree, but concur that the dogs slowly become accustomed to, or desensitized, to the sounds.
The “cure” doesn’t take hold overnight, however. For Fortney’s dog, it took six months.
Marge Gibbs, of Leash and Collar Dog Training in Riverwoods, Ill., says that Krista, her 10-year-old German shepherd, has a built-in radar system that would impress the national weather service.
Since she was 4 years old, at the first sight of ominous clouds, Kirsta saunters to an upstairs bathroom and wedges herself into her own little den behind a shower stall.
Gibbs says Krista isn’t a likely candidate for desensitization tapes because the sound of thunder is just one of her many fears of storms. As soon as the dog spots distant black clouds approaching, she’s already in a fear-mode.
She reacts similarly to the smell of oncoming rain, shakes with the vibrations of thunder and closes her eyes when there’s a bright bolt of lightening.
On occasion, such secondary fears seem completely unrelated to the thunderstorm itself.
Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ontario, is past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and has long studied dogs suffering from thunderstorm phobia. Landsberg says he knows of one dog that growls at an otherwise beloved family member whenever it storms. The pet’s odd behavior presumably dates to the time the family member accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail during a thunderstorm.
One anxious pooch sought refuge under a carport during a storm. Unfortunately, the structure collapsed on the pet, escalating the dog’s fear of thunderstorms and creating a new fear of carports.
Even when secondary fears complicate the matter, or in extreme cases of thunderstorm phobia - dogs that mutilate themselves or whip around the house like a cyclone - Landsberg says a carefully prescribed program, including a desensitization tape, can at least help calm the dog, if not completely cure it.
The prescription might include overwhelming the dog with other stimuli, a technique behaviorists call “flooding.”
“Throw a party. If the pooch loves kids, invite the neighborhood for a rainy day bash.” Gibbs suggests. “Serve doggy treats and cookies.”
Landsberg knows at least one owner who successfully played the “1912 Overture” to drown out the sound of downpours.
However, some dogs are so petrified of storms they simply won’t be distracted. They’re in no mood to party. Gibbs says many owners unknowingly reinforce a dog’s anxiety by hugging and holding it, in essence, telling the dog it has good reason to be afraid.
Don’t offer treats to a dog cowering in the corner, she warns. You don’t want to reward the pooch for being afraid.
Landsberg says that out of frustration some owners holler at their dog or punish it. That can be downright cruel. Some want their dog to face its fears and attempt to drag the panic-stricken animal out from under the bed. If you try this, remember that a phobic dog isn’t thinking clearly and may bite.
Nearly all experts agree that if a dogs is harming itself or damaging household items whenever it storms, medication may be required. But the goal should be to use smaller doses over time (literally shaving off tiny slivers of the pill with guidance from a veterinarian).
Prozac is one of several medications that may help. But even Dr. Steven Melman, a Potomac, Md.-based vet and ardent supporter of Prozac, urges using behavior modification in conjunction with drugs.
“Drugs simply mask the symptoms, and perhaps make the dog easier to live with,” says Fortney.
“Ultimately, drugs don’t cure the problem.”
Naturally, the best way to deal with a dog’s phobia about storms is to prevent the phobia from developing in the first place. Landsberg theorized that puppies can be readily socialized to anything, from loud noises to objects, when they are 4 to 10 weeks old. He asserts that some puppies simply are not exposed to thunderstorms at this formative period stage. Later in life, if genetically predisposed, they can develop a fear of storms.
Gibbs says that while there’s no scientific evidence to support this theory, it makes sense. “Gun dogs are exposed to the sound of gunfire during this same formative age. The exposure occurs at a distance and while the dogs are feeding or playing.”
Steve Boyer is now marketing desensitizing audiotapes to veterinary professionals and breeders for growing puppies. Besides thunderstorms, they include the sounds of sirens, fireworks, car horns and other urban street noises. The tapes, with instruction book, are available at K-9 communications, $19.95; (800) 952-6517.
Other tapes are also available. Ask your vet or a local dog trainer.
Original Doc: beha-15.doc
The benefits of properly played doggie games.
By Ian Dunbar, Ph.D., M.R.C.V.S.
GAZETTE, Behavior, pp 18 & 20.
No topic engenders such a wide range of conflicting advice than whether or not to play physical contact games with dogs, e.g. playfighting, tag and tug‑o‑war. Some breeders and trainers are vehemently opposed to these games, feeling they make a dog uncontrollable and more aggressive. Others, however, feel frequent games make for a better companion. Certainly, there are pros and cons to doing almost anything with a dog, and this includes roughhousing. Without a doubt, misguided and/or inadequately informed owners can very quickly turn a good dog bad by allowing contact games to get out of control. On the other hand, a thinking owner can derive many benefits from properly playing doggie games.
It is highly unlikely that dogs will become more aggressive by playing games with their owners. Quite to the contrary--game playing usually builds confidence and promotes friendliness. Perhaps the so‑called increase in aggressiveness would be better‑termed excessive rambunctiousness. Play‑chasing, play‑growling, play‑mouthing and play‑fighting happen when the dog is over‑friendly. Nonetheless, regardless of how friendly the dog's intentions, unsolicited rambunctious roughhousing is often annoying and can be potentially dangerous. Human games and sports offer a good analogy, especially when the participants have been poorly coached and/or the game is badly refereed. It is not the games that are at fault; rather, potential problems come down to a matter of control. And so it is with canine games.
Certain games do not have an intrinsic property to render dogs uncontrollable. Instead, it is the manner in which the owner allows the dog to play the game which influences the dog's tractability and willingness to comply. For example, many trainers incorporate game playing and the prerequisite teaching of game rules to reinforce their control over a dog. Alternately, allowing a dog to play willy‑nilly, without instruction or guidance, would no doubt make it more difficult to control.
Control problems are threefold: 1) The owner allows the intensity of play to increase to the point where it may be physically dangerous; 2) The owner can no longer stop the dog from playing; and 3) The owner allows the dog to initiate unsolicited play sessions. In other words, the owner barely knows which end of the whistle to blow.
So, why not just stop playing these games altogether? For starters, dogs (especially adolescent dogs) are going to attempt to play this way with people anyway. In fact, much of a dog's waking existence--and certainly most of its playtime focus--is on mouthing (and/or biting) objects both inert and alive. Consequently, it makes sense to take time to teach the critter the rules. Further, many owners, especially men and children and especially boys (ranging in years from two to fifty‑two), are going to play these games with dogs anyway. So it likewise makes sense to teach owners how to be better canine coaches so they may correctly referee Rover and reap these games' many benefits.
First and foremost, games provide good exercise for dogs and owners-- good physical and mental exercise. Also, games are fun. As soon as the dog learns that it can have fun with its owner, it begins to focus its attention there, rather than always looking to other dogs for enjoyment and amusement. Similarly, owners learn they can actually have fun with their dogs. (Believe it or not, many owners have to be taught how to have fun with their dogs.) One of the best ways to motivate owners to train their dogs is by suggesting and describing games-- games, of course, which have been intricately integrated with basic obedience skills.
A number of trainers have designed entire obedience programs around game‑playing, following the maxim "control the games and you control the dog." Indeed, there is nothing like a controlled game of tag to give moribund recalls a spark. Similarly, a dog's favorite tug‑o‑war toy is an ideal lure for teaching sighthounds to come, sit and heel; for teaching terriers anything (and everything); or for remotivating moose‑like dogs and getting them to enjoy obedience and enthusiastically perform with verve and vigor.
The above advantages are really no more than attractive fringe benefits, however, when compared with the primary reasons for roughhousing and playing tag and tug‑o‑war with dogs. When played according to the rules, these games: 1) increase the level of control owners have over their dogs, specifically, by proofing control at times when the dogs are excited and worked up; and 2) motivate, build confidence and make dogs less aggressive, specifically, by improving and maintaining their bite inhibition.
Playing by the Rules
Any physical game, be it dodgeball, fencing, wrestling, agility, lure coursing or tug‑o‑war, requires rules to prevent participants from hurting each other. In fact, playing games is one of the best ways to teach rules to children and dogs. Games are designed to practice controlling the participants when they are bubbling with excitement. Dogs must be actively taught that the rules are always in effect, even though the dog might be beside itself with exuberance. The primary rule of any game is to stop playing when the whistle blows. In fact, the primary reason to play any physical game is to teach this prime directive: to stop playing immediately upon request.
You will find it is prudent to practice beforehand, when the game and the excitement are both under your control, rather than trying to teach the dog in a real‑life situation. Never allow a dog to indulge in any enjoyable activity for long. uninterrupted periods of time and then stop the game altogether. Not surprisingly, the dog will not want to stop. Instead, let the dog play for as long as you like, or as long as the dog likes, but frequently stop the game for short time‑outs. Why stop the game? To practice stopping the game, of course. Each time the dog stops playing on request offers proof you can control the dog no matter what it is doing. How to stop the game? By telling the dog to sit, lie down or by giving any obedience command. Each time the dog stops playing and sits, you may reward it by telling it to resume playing once more. Thus, the game now becomes a reward working for training, rather than a severe distraction in competition with training.
Just as the dog must learn always to stop playing and respond appropriately on a single command, so must it also learn never to start playing unless requested to do so. It would be disastrous for a dog to take it into its head to initiate a game of herd‑and‑tag with a group of elderly people on an outing to a herding trial, to play tug‑o‑war with a child's Nerf football or to roughhouse with Grandpa in the middle of his TV dinner. Unintentional misfiring is easily prevented by using combination commands, in much the same way as some competition folk protect their obedience patterns and prevent anticipation.
For example, the dog is taught only to play tag on those occasions when the command "Tag" is given with the dog in a down‑stay. Similarly, the dog is taught never to touch an object in a person's hand unless told "Take it" and, moreover, never to play tug‑o-war unless the commands "Take it" and "Pull" are given in succession, while the dog is in a sit‑stay.
Yes, but . . . this is all so complicated, you say. Why not just forbid owners and dogs to play these games at all? Well, there are two reasons: First (remember?), many owners and many dogs are going to try their darnedest to achieve uncontrollable rumbustiousness anyway; and, second, there is no better way to accomplish basic safety training (e.g., teaching a dog not to barrel unto, bump or jump up on people), or to maintain the dog's bite inhibition throughout adulthood.
Physical games are the best means to teach and reinforce specific rules about jaw‑contact and jaw‑pressure. Playing tag, the dog learns that no matter how wild and woolly the action, it must never touch, graze, glance, nose, paw or bump any part of a person's body with any part of its body. In tug‑o‑war, the dog learns never to touch any object held in a person's hand unless requested to do so and, when requested, to do so ever so gently, with butterfly‑wing jaws. In playfighting, the dog learns to mouth hands only and never to mouth human hair or clothing. Why hands only? Because hands are extremely sensitive. During puppyhood, the dog learned never to exert pressure when mouthing, and by far the best way to maintain bite inhibition is to allow the adult dog to mouth hands on request. Why not mouth human hair or clothing? Because hair, scarves, ties, trouser legs and Wellington boots do not have neurons, and if the dog receives no feedback from its mouthing, it will bite down harder and its bite inhibition will gradually deteriorate as it gets older.
There's an added bonus to training with games: If the dog transgresses any of the above rules, physical punishments are absolutely uncalled for and reprimands are seldom necessary. If the dog bends a single rule, the owner simply says "Finish," walks away and that's that. The dog realizes any creative interpretation of the rules always abruptly terminates an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable game. Consequently, well‑coached dogs learn to respect rules for canine games better than most humans playing tennis or ice hockey.
Dr. Dunbar is an animal behaviorist, veterinarian and dog trainer.
Original Doc: beha-4.doc
By Ilana Reisner
Source: GAZETTE, June 1993, pp. 45-48.
Hand-shyness can cause problems in many different situations. It can make dogs appear distant and inaccessible, like Casey. Dogs destined for the breed or obedience rings have an extra stake in the acceptance of touch. Hand‑shyness is a particularly deleterious problem for them and their handlers, because a hand‑shy dog might break its position at theapproach of the judge, pulling away or even growling, snarling or snapping when touched.
In the obedience ring, during the stand for exam, an uncomfortable dog may break the stay and withdraw. During a veterinary exam, the dog may feel particularly upset as the veterinarian palpates every nook and cranny, opens its mouth and peers deeply into its eyes and ears. And at home, many dogs are unwilling to be touched by visitors, creating inevitable problems.
The consequences of such behavior are as variable as the circumstances in which it is seen, ranging from owner dismay and embarrassment to poor results in competition and, with some dogs, risk of aggressive behavior.
As seemed true with Casey, some hand‑shy dogs actually appear quite sure of themselves. Others, however, are overtly afraid of contact.
Traitor, an Australian Shepherd dog, had gradually worsened in his fear of unfamiliar people. As a pup, Traitor greeted strangers, but as an adolescent he grew more wary. Although at first he would circle behind his owner's legs, he had recently begun lunging toward the "target."
Interestingly, as long as I paid no attention to him, Traitor seemed unaffected by my presence. It was when I tried to interact, first by eye contact and then with an out-stretched hand, that he let me know his feelings about the subject. With much dedication, his owner had worked him through two legs of a CD, but at times, she complained, he tended to tense up and shy away from the judge during the stand for exam. She had come to the behavior clinic because of Traitor's increasing discomfort with even the anticipation of touch.
In dog language, posture and eye contact have supreme significance. We have all seen films or photographs of wolves as they interact within the pack hierarchy. In addition to a rich vocabulary of facial expressions, the dominant wolf will directly stare at and stand over a subordinate pack member. This essential language is universal among dogs. Ironically, therefore, many of the gestures we consider affectionate and benign are quite threatening to some dogs.
Of course, most pet and show dogs exposed to people in a positive light have become conditioned --have learned--to associate a hug, a pat on the head or a person bending over them with pleasantness. They express it by flattening their ears when a friendly hand pats them on the head. In fact, this expression is submissive; a confident, well‑socialized dog will usually exhibit this behavior subtly and then get on with whatever it was doing.
On the other hand, the same gesture may elicit an adrenaline response and terror from a fearful dog, urination from an extremely
submissive dog or an irritable snap from a dominant-aggressive dog. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between dominance- and fear-motivated biting in this context; either dog has the potential to bite such a hand.
Any of these personality types may be a result of inheritance or of the environment (learning); most are products of both. How, then, can the problem be avoided? To begin, it is helpful to keep in mind that tendencies of behavior are inherited, and therefore puppies should be selected preferentially from homes with friendly, confident parents on the premises.
Good breeders will spend a significant amount oftimehandling puppies, particularly during the sensitive period between 3 and 12 weeks. Conducting temperament tests on individual litter members may reveal hand‑shyness or general timidity. Although there is no documented evidence that puppy temperaments persist through adulthood, there is a reasonable chance a fearful or hand‑shy puppy will exhibit this behavior later on. Because dominance‑related behavior may not emerge until the pup grows into a socially mature adult at about 1 to 3 years of age, it is a more difficult personality problem to avoid.
The best way to prevent dominance-related problems is to select offspring of non‑dominant parents. Once the pup is in its new home, several exercises can help it be more comfortable with touch as well as build up its self‑confidence. During quiet play, practice touching the puppy all over its body. All touch should be associated with calm vocal reassurance. praise and, sometimes, small food treats.
At this age it is also helpful to begin basic obedience exercises, particularly the sit, sit‑stay, down and downstay, using food as both lure and reward. This is an important way to teach the puppy to associate something positive with the sight of a giant human bending down and reaching toward it.
After the first few days, practice touching the pup briefly before relinquishing the treat. Touching should be randomized; sometimes the head is touched. sometimes a front paw, sometimes nothing. Any mouthing should result in the immediate withdrawal of hand and reward. Now is a good time to use bait as a distraction; while the pup is being palpated, the handler should be offering a delicious and rare treat, such as a home‑made liver cookie.
In addition to touch‑training, puppies need to explore the world. Between the ages of 8 weeks and 8 months, they should be exposed to a wide variety of hats, clothes, skin color and beards, in both quiet and noisy environments, all with outstretched hands. Puppy kindergarten is indispensable as a source of stimulation and exposure for puppies. Here, they're passed around in a safe setting while unfamiliar humans talk to and touch them. As the pups get older, strangers pass their hands over the pups' heads and backs in mock stand for‑exam exercises.
Some timid puppies may prefer to hide behind a familiar leg. This behavior should be neither reassured nor punished; instead, it would be most helpful to convince the pup to emerge on its own. How? Try asking the visitor to squat (squatting is much less of a threat). Because eye contact can be pretty intimidating, the person can turn 45 degrees to the side. Soft noises help assure puppies. Try asking the potential puppy‑petter to speak softly. The sight of a favored treat or squeak toy on the knee of this squatting friend may be too much for a shy pup to resist.
If all else fails, the owner can move quickly behind the visitor and look very happy and alluring by waving his arms about and squealing. Even the most withdrawn pup should find such a spectacle irresistible
Such training is meant to be generalized to the dog's manners in all situations and should be practiced again and again, as should physical examination of the head, mouth, ears, feet, tail and anogenital area.
If the dog reacts with movement or timidity, continue the exercise but touch less provocatively, so that the dog is continually rewarded rather than reprimanded. Remember, it is always easiest to associate these sessions with tasty treats. If the dog is still having problems, they should be addressed and resolved with the help of a trainer or behavioristbefore theyworsen.
Persistence and exposure to a variety of circumstances will ensure the puppy will grow up accepting and enjoying the attention of people.Postpubertal adolescent dogs, those approximately 7 to 10 months of age, go through a fearful, wary phase. This is a particularly important time to expose them to different circumstances and stimuli, including friendly, liver‑bearing strangers.
What can be done for the dog already exhibiting hand‑shyness? The solution depends on the cause. Casey, the Cairn Terrier, was exhibiting avoidance because of her natural (innate) dominance. To Casey, an outstretched hand challenged her status in the dominance hierarchy of the family pack. Dominant dogs are uncomfortable being petted not because of insecurity, but because of recalcitrance; they question authority.
To train Casey to accept and even seek petting and touch, I advised her owners to start withholding attention. particularly the physical kind. Instead of reaching out to her or picking her up to force physical contact (which at times resulted in growling), her owners would now wait for her to initiate contact. Though Casey would probably never become the "teddy bear' they said they wanted, she certainly could be trained to seek more contact. Casey was uninterested in toys but practically delirious about food. Her owners took advantage of this by hand‑feeding her and offering food for any approaches.
In addition, they began to subtly change her dominant lifestvle: She would have to obey a simple command before getting anything desirable such as food, having her lead attached for a walk or having a door opened. Her owners were armed with an arsenal of positive reinforcers for desirable behavior. They were also advised how to completely withdraw unpleasant challenges to Casey. Their next step would be to desensitize Casey to hands reaching for her by offering food at each incremental step.
Traitor badly needed a boost to his self- confidence. Unlike Casey's avoidance behavior, his hand‑shyness was due to distrust. and, as with Casey, this lack of trust had the potential to become overt aggression.
To begin with, then, his owner hadto learn to assert herself to well‑meaning dog admirers. No one was to reach out toward, talk to or even look directly at Traitor. Meanwhile, he and his owner would train hard for the day when such attention would be routine and insignificant. Fearful dogs need preparation before they can learn from being flooded with training; rather than just taking Traitor to a parking lot full of obedience judges, hands outstretched, Traitor needed to start with regular obedience sessions (again) using food.
Traitor's owner understood that his profound distress when reacting to a passer‑by might interfere with his ability to learn. We agreed that if Traitor was unresponsive to training after a few weeks, he would be given a mild, non‑sedating anti‑anxiety medication. During walks, any barking or growling would be intercepted by issuinga voice correction quickly followed by a command (sit) and immediate praise. Behavior modification exercises arebased solely on positive reinforcement--at no time was Traitor to be punished for his behavior.
Desensitization exercises involve exposing the dogtowhatever frightens it, but at very low intensities. Good behavior--either an active sit‑stay or just a lack of barking andpacing--is rewarded. Inappropriate behavior is corrected (followed by a command and praise), but is not repeated--the stimulus is sent further away for several more trials. In other words, if Traitor tolerates the approach of a stranger with outstretched hand up to 10 feet away but growls and retreats at 8 feet, the exercise is repeated several more times at 10 feet. Training should not be punitive, particularly for a hand‑shy dog.
This exercise is then taken to the ring. It is preferable to use the ring area during off hours so that chaos is minimized. Friends can be enlisted to help and act as the judge, and the stand for exam, as well as other, more random exercises, can be performed. It helps to train dogs first to learn to associate food with a specific sound (such as a click) then use that sound in training as an additional conditioned stimulus.
When dogs, particularly growlers or biters, are leery of hands, their handlers tend to tighten up on the lead and act tense. Experience has taught them the dog may lunge. Soon, however, such dogs learn to associate tension and a tightened lead with the approach of an upsetting stimulus, and anticipate the approach with aggression. To remedy this situation, the ''cue" must be removed: The lead and the handler should be relaxed during the approach of the target.
First, the dog must be trained to sit‑stay reliably in the face of distractions--for some dogs this step may take weeks or months. Then, enlisting the help of willing strangers, the dog is approached gradually while in a sit‑stay, the handler maintaining a relaxed lead while speaking softly and happily, using food rewards and voice to hold the dog's attention. Instead of pleading, "No! Stay! No!" the handler should give the opposite impression to the dog: "What a good boy. Here comes someone, you good boy, and here’s your liver, yes, you good boy, you. Who's a boy?" and so on.
The sight of a hand over its head can be threatening to a fearful dog. In advanced stages of training, the dog will be looking for treats from the approaching visitor; one hand can hold the liver while the other moves toward the dog--but it should pass first under, rather than over, the head (while the other hand drops the tidbit on the ground). As with all training, the trick is in repetition of the exercise.
In spite of the differences between them, Casey and Traitor have a lot in common. Hand‑shyness is as uncomfortable for the dog as it is for the owner; particularly when there is an element of fear, the dog feels anxious and stressed. Reduction of this stress (which is elicited daily by well meaning dog devotees) is ultimately humane as well as practical. With some work (which, after all, means spending time with a best friend), Casey and his owners can forge a stronger bond, while Traitor can go on to earn his OTCh. with alacrity and aplomb.
llana Reisner earned her DVM from Oregon State University in 1984 and is currently doing her residency in canine and feline behavior at Cornell University's School of Veterinary Medicine. She owns two dogs, an Australian Shepherd and a Shepherd mix.
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