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Alpha is Not a Four‑Letter Word
Equating alpha with abuse is a mistake.
By Carol Lea Benjamin
Source: GAZETTE, Dog Trainer's Diary, August 1991, pp 31-32.
As a pack animal, bred and born for cooperative living, the dog, not Ronald Reagan, is the great communicator. It is part of the very nature of a dog to be able to assess a group of any species to determine strong from weak, alpha from omega, and, clever thing, to place himself accurately in the hierarchy. He does this by using and reading body language, the subtle signs and signals of natural authority or the lack of it. That's communication! Dogs don't take ground with tanks and guns. They're too smart, too practical.
What happens when the dog finds out someone other than himself merits leadership? Were he human, he might become small and bitter, full of thoughts of revenge. But he's not human. Isn't that partly why we are so attached to his species? He feels no resentment at all. Instead, and here's the kicker, he worships the one he recognizes as worthy of leadership ‑‑the alpha. There is nothing more attractive to a dog than his alpha. Did your dog ever instantly offer the crown to a stranger? In a living room full of company, who did he choose to look lovingly at, to lean on? Or, if not so well‑schooled, did he climb aboard the "dominant" person's lap and clean his glasses? There's a kind of mental strength and greatness of spirit that any dog can recognize and respond to. It is what makes him feel safe and happy. It is the right of every dog to know who's in charge.
Alpha is an attitude, confidence brought on by understanding dogs and loving them as well. It has nothing to do with cruelty. Yet of late, there is a great sweep of sentiment toward training methods which virtually eliminate the concept of alpha, equating alpha with dominance and dominance with abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Saying that you train with positive reinforcement or just with love and praise sounds really good. It sounds kind. Surely, we dog lovers all want to sound kind. And no one who trains dogs would deny the importance of positive reinforcement. But a dog, because he is a dog, needs to know the other side of the coin. When adolescence rears its ugly head, positive reinforcement‑only techniques tend to fall quickly apart.
Ironically, many trainers say they only use food for "difficult to motivate" dogs, or worse, ''difficult dogs," ensuring that they remain so. The obsession to "stay positive" gets as silly as the advice in one book that suggests you rid your dog of obnoxious behavior by naming the behavior and never requesting it. As Joan Rivers would say, " Grow up!"
Training with treats offers instant gratification. You can get a puppy to sit and down and stand and follow in no time flat by luring him with bits of food and by shaping and naming the postures and behaviors you desire. But as quick as the training appears to be is also how superficial it is. When something more tempting arises, the dog will not obey. This is particularly so for the adolescent dog when simply the freedom to disobey is in itself an irresistible temptation. In fact, choosing to disobey is a normal stage of development, the canine version of the terrible twos.
At this point, the trainer's response should be something like your parents' was when you were an obnoxious teen: "Because I said so." If you are alpha, you do this with a warning sound, a well‑directed look or, if necessary, a leash correction. Dog abuse? No, dog training, training based on the concept that the dog is a pack animal and that every pack needs a leader.
There is another important issue here. When training a dog in a more traditional way‑‑the way his mother taught him‑‑you keep his focus on the relationship. This leads to a most satisfying friendship with a dog. Lure or food training developed with animals that could not be trained by traditional dog‑training methods because they were notpack animals or they lived in water rather than on land. You cannot train a chicken to dance using a collar and leash or the force of your personality. When chickens or dolphins are trained to perform it is that performance that is important, not the relationship. In circumstances where this is also true with dogs, lure training is an appropriate choice. In other words, if getting a flashy, accurate, high‑scoring performance in the obedience ring is what's most important to you, and if your time is limited, lure training may be your best bet. With it, you can get a good performance. You are unlikely, however, to get a well‑trained dog.
Trainers complain that pet owners will not spend the time it takes to train a dog well with natural (i.e., alpha) methods of training. No doubt about it, training a dog takes time. But in the long run, short cuts take more time because they don't really work. So many of the clients I see are paying the price for having used instantly gratifying puppy training. They are finding that when their dogs begin to think the dark thoughts of adolescence‑-"Hey, this is America, just because you call doesn't mean I have to come"‑‑they do not have an appropriate relationship or language to fall back on. These dogs, dogs who live as family members, need the natural family structure they are born to understand. To rob them of this is perhaps in itself a form of dog abuse.
The Old‑Fashioned Way
Having never done anything cruel or unfair to a dog in my life, I get fed up reading articles that claim that training by any other method other than a lure method is rough or cruel. The fact is that over the years I have observed a lot of other trainers working. I have also seen lots of dogs working and failing to work. As far as I can observe, it's only the real stuff, old fashioned dog training if you will, that goes deep, teaching a dog so well that he understands exactly what you want and is more than happy to give it to you because a) you are his leader and he worships you: and b) he knows you can make him do it in the same comprehensible way his mother would have should he decide it's his constitutional right to disobey.
When I go out and about with my dogs in the real world, their safety is in my hands. I have to know that when I call, my dogs will not find another dog, a flock of pigeons or something blowing in the wind more attractive than me. The only way to proof a dog for a real life is by being alpha. To me, that has always meant being the kindest, smartest, most fun leader you can possibly be. How on earth did alpha become a four letter word, folks? It makes no sense to me.
On Another Note
If my mother were here, she'd remind me now to say thank you. You spoke. The GAZETTE listened. I am grateful. This is grand friends, simply grand.
Ms. Benjamin is a professional trainer and author of five books on dog behavior. She returns to the GAZETTE after an eight‑month hiatus.
Original Doc: beha-9.doc
Avoiding Shyness: A Primer for Breeders
By Carol Benjamin
Source: GAZETTE, Dog Trainer's Diary, pp 18 &20.
''A man's rootage is more important than his leafage."
Shyness is epidemic among American dogs. The shy dog makes a poor showing in the ring. He makes an unsatisfactory pet. He should not be bred. His shyness sometimes leads to biting. Treated seriously, (after all, it is), and with courage and honesty, this problem could be virtually eliminated.
Shy Yields Shy
It should go without saying that no shy dog should be bred. If the shyness is caused by genetic factors, a new batch of puppies carrying this unfortunate trait will be brought into a world already overpopulated with problem dogs. If the shyness was environmentally caused in the bitch, it will be among the first traits she will teach her offspring. A shy mother raises shy children. And here, as elsewhere, we should remind ourselves that shy means fearful.
Even if your male were the shy one, could you ever be sure that his shyness was one‑hundred percent environmental and would not be passed genetically to his offspring? Perhaps when genetic factors lean toward fearfulness, environmental factors can best take hold. Indeed, I have seen several dogs who should have been shy and fearful, dogs, for example, who stayed in a kennel situation much too long. Yet they exhibited no signs of shyness. Perhaps their genetic programming made for bold, thick‑skinned, easy going dogs, dogs that could easily overcome the limitations caused by environment. Sadly, the reverse is more often the case--the pup that was kept a few extra weeks or months to see if it was a show prospect adjusted poorly to the change in environment. Many of these dogs get worse as they get older, becoming nearly psychotic when they are adults. Many do not respond to re‑training or socialization of any kind. Preventing this trait, painful to dog and owner, is much easier than correcting it. And here's the good news, preventing it is easy--if you are a serious breeder, if you are honest and if you have courage. (I've got your number, right?)
Ways To Prevent Shyness
Following is a primer for avoiding shyness. Point one is a given. There are no exceptions. Not coat. Not gait. Not nothing. A shy dog is not like a Golden Retriever with a white spot on its chest or an off‑color Pharaoh Hound. It won't make a good pet. It's worthless. The rest of the points take time. What doesn't when you breed dogs? What shouldn't? Sure, you've broken the record for feeding the most amount of dogs in the least amount of time, but only so you'll have more time to be with them, to socialize, to fondle and admire. Where better to spend your time than in improving the temperament of the dogs you've so carefully bred? Hence, one primer.
1/ Do not breed any dog, a male or female, who exhibits signs of shyness.
2/ Socialize all your puppies well and positively to males and females, children and adults.
3/ Offer your puppies a variety of sounds, sights, textures. Make sure that all your little puppies, by the time they are eight weeks
of age, have walked on at least four different surfaces. Make sure that one of those surfaces is grass.
4/ Praise your litter of puppies--and each puppy you work with individually--for any new thing they do that could possibly be construed as positive. Any new thing. It does not have to look spectacular. But think about it. The first time a puppy put his paws on your wooden floor, the day he first climbs out of the whelping box (see 5.), it's a gigantic event for him. The floor feels nothing like newspaper or old carpeting or towels, or whatever else is the only thing he's been on. So tell him he's a brave puppy. He is. And the confidence he gains by walking on wood, rugs, bricks, slate, linoleum. grass, dirt. etc. will help him when it's time to climb his first flight of stairs, meet a cat, ride in the car, go to the groomer. He needs to be brave. Praise him when he is. Therefore--
5/ Let your puppies climb out of the whelping box. Of course you won't let them run around unattended when they're four weeks old, loose and lost in the kitchen or basement. But, when you're there and have the time, take down the boards and let your puppies feel their oats, those brave, little darlings. Let them climb over each other and escape. Let them be daring. Big deal if they urinate a little on your kitchen floor. You've got a mop, haven't you? So let those puppies test their brand new feet and brand new courage away from mother and their siblings, on new surfaces. Tell them what brave, good puppies they are, then kiss them and put them back with mommy. A two minute escape- excursion is a great experience for a little puppy. A kind of hedge against shyness. However--
6/ Do you have to stand on your head to find STRESS for your little puppies, in order to make them brave? Not on your life. There's more than enough stress in anyone's early life. After all, mom won't be there every minute. Even the most devoted dam will leave to relieve herself, to eat, and eventually, to rest, play, take a breather. And when you handle them, that's pleasant, but it's stressful as well. And when you clean the box and put them elsewhere for a moment, that's stress. See what I mean? Enough's enough.
7/ Give your litter experiences. The more things they face and conquer, the better puppies they will be, the better able to walk into the ring, heads high, the better able to put up with little Maryann' s five girlfriends who've come to see her new friend, the better able to meet any new challenge that gets thrown at them. And life is full of those. We let our puppies run around in the basement while we cleaned their pen. Of course, then we had to clean the basement--and that took a longer time than cleaning the pen. But did those puppies ever have a good time! They found an old rug wrapped in cord. They removed the cord and invented the tug of war. They found my snow tires and jumped in them and hid. Then POUNCE. They jumped on any puppy dumb enough to pass the tire. They tried the steps. They played hide and seek. They got lost - and cried. And then they got found. And, most important, they got smart. At a very young age, they got to explore a larger world than their safe, little den, once or twice or three times a day. They overcame fear. They met challenges. Then they got to go back to their warm blanket and be babies again. Back and forth it went. Their early life was chock full of experiences and it made them the very best dogs they could be.
8/ And then, when the puppies started to go to their new homes, we made sure that, for those who stayed with us beyond eight weeks of age, experiences increased and their little world was widened. Here, indeed, is the most important point, along with point one, of this article. If you are keeping your puppies beyond eight weeks--to see if they are show quality, to crop their ears, because you think they're just too young to go, you must get them off your property. In order for them to be able to adjust to moving later, to a true change of environment, they must experience that change starting at two months of age. Of course, you'll be careful to take them to places that are as clean as possible. I would not take pups that young to a park where lots of adult dogs play. But I would walk them, on show leads, down almost any suburban street. I would--and did--take them, one or two at a time, visiting to a friend's house. (Bring your own paper towels.) I would take them out any place I could get away with, so that they become super puppies, so that they do not get hooked on my home environment, so that they meet new people away from home, so that they overcome their fear of unusual noises, so that when and if they are sold. they will give their new owners the pleasure they deserve. Even if your home territory is 100 acres, it's still the same place to the puppy, He must have a true change in order to become casual about future changes in his life. He must become sophisticated. And that will only happen if he gets around. You can be creative and get your puppies out and around without exposing them unduly to viruses and parasites. We even took Scarlet down to the lobby of our apartment building so that she could see people coming and going, and so that she could be handled by them. We chose the cleanest streets we could find for walking her and, of course, we did not allow her to sniff the droppings of other dogs, if we saw any. We took her once, when she was small, to a Christmas party, by carrying her in a Canvas bag. Then she got to socialize with 25 strangers. She had a marvelous time. And, miracle of miracles, she found both the water bowl and the newspaper we had put down for her in the kitchen of this strange apartment. Many of you take your puppy prospects to kennel club meetings. But those pups are usually half grown. To prevent shyness, they have to get out when they're really young, two and three months old. In this case, if you find you do want to sell a puppy at five months of age, he will still make a good pet. But if you keep him home, or worse, in a kennel, he may make the transition poorly, acting shy and fearful, often for the balance of his days.
Shyness should not be the widespread problem it is. I have seen the sadness in breeders' eyes when their best prospect tucks his tail in the ring and no amount of loving praise or applause seems to make a difference. But the sadness in a pet owner's eyes is worse. Because in that case, the shy dog is the only one he's got. He won't sell it, cry and forget with another. He will keep it for its lifetime. Yet it will never be the dog he wished for, the one that, with a small investment of a breeder's time, he could have had.
The staff of the GAZETTE congratulates Carol Benjamin on sweeping the award field for 1985 - a "Fido" from Gaines Dog Care Center as Dog Writer of the Year, and a plaque from the Dog Writers' Association of America, for also being named Dog Writer of the Year. -Editors
Original Doc: beha-6.doc
Early Stimulation and Socialization Can Result in A Healthier, Smarter, Bettery Adjusted Dog
by Carmen Battaglia
Source: AKC Gazette, May 1995, pp. 47-50.
Surprising as it may seem, it isn't innate capacity that explains the differences that exist between individuals - humans or dogs. Most seem to have far more capacity than they will ever use. The ones who achieve and out-perform others seem to have within themselves the ability to use hidden resources. In other words, it's what they are able to do with what they have that makes the difference.
Researchers have studied this phenomenon and have looked for new ways to stimulate individuals to improve their own natural abilities. Some methods have produced lifelong lasting effects, and many of the differences between individuals can be explained by the use of early stimulation. the key, it seems, is adding just the right amount of stress early on; not too much, and not too little.
Because of its importance, many studies have focused their efforts on the first few months of life. When pups are first born their eyes and ears are closed. Their digestive systems have limited capacity and require periodic stimulation by their dam, who routinely licks them in order to promote digestion.
At this age they are only able to smell, suck and crawl. Body temperature is maintained by snuggling close to their mother or by crawling into piles with other littermates. During these first few weeks of immobility, researchers have found these immature and underdeveloped canines are sensitive to a restricted class of stimuli that includes thermal and tactile stimulation, motion and locomotion.
Other mammals, such as mice and rats, have also demonstrated a similar sensitivity to certain stimuli. Studies show that removing them from their nest for three minutes each day during the first five to 10 days of life causes body temperatures to fall below normal. This mild form of stimulation was sufficient to stimulate their hormonal, adrenal and pituitary systems. When tested later as adults, these same animals were better able to withstand stress than littermates who were not exposed to the same early stimulation exercises.
Other studies involving early stimulation exercises have been performed on both cats and dogs. The electro encephalogram (EEG) has been used to measure the electrical activity in the brain because of its extreme sensitivity to changes in excitement, emotional stress, muscle tension, and changes in oxygen and breathing. EEG measures show that pups and kittens given early stimulation mature at faster rates and perform better in certain problem-solving tests than non-stimulated littermates.
While experiments have not yet produced specific information about the optimal amounts of stimulation needed to make young animals psychologically or physiologically superior, researchers agree that very early stimulation has value. What is also known is that what may be just the right amount of stimulation for one may be too intense for another, and that too much can retard development. The results show that early stimulation exercises can have positive results but must be used with caution. In other words, too much stimulation can cause pathological adversities rather than physical or psychological superiority.
The Military Method
The U.S. military developed a method that still serves as a guide. In an effort to improve the performance of dogs used for military purposes a program called Bio-Sensor was developed. Later, it became better known to the public as the Super Dog Program.
Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects on dogs. Their studies confirmed that there are specific time periods early in life when neurological stimulation has optimum results. The first period is a window of time that begins at about the third day of life and lasts until the 16the day. This is believed to be a period of rapid neurological growth and development.
The result of this research is a group of exercises called the Bio-Sensor method. These exercises affect the neurological system by kicking it into action earlier than would normally be expected, resulting in an increased capacity.
Five benefits have been observed in dogs that were exposed to the Bio-Sensor stimulation exercises:
*Improved cardiovascular performance;
*More efficient adrenal glands;
*Greater resistance to stress;
*Greater resistance to disease.
In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and were more exploratory than their non-stimulated littermates, over which they were dominant in competitive situations.
In simple problem-solving tests using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely stressed, whined a great deal and made many errors. Their stimulated littermates were more calm in the test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress signal.
Socialization and Stimulation
As each animal grows and develops, factors outside itself affect how it will be shaped as an individual. Early neurological stimulation is the first stage. The second stage is socialization, and it also has a limited window of opportunity.
When ethologist Konrad Lorenz first wrote about this process in 1935, he talked about imprinting and its importance on the later development of an animal. He differentiated imprinting from conditioning in that imprinting occurs early in life, takes place very rapidly and seems to have lifelong results.
Socialization studies confirm that the critical period for canine socialization is between the fourth and 16the week of age. During this period two things can go wrong. First, insufficient social contact can affect proper emotional development, which can adversely affect the development of a human bond. Second, over- mothering can prevent sufficient exposure to other individuals, places and situations that have an important influence on growth and development. The lack of adequate social stimulation, such as handling, mothering and contact with others, adversely affects social and psychological development.
Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate socialization generally results in unacceptable behavior and oftentimes produces undesirable aggression, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy and indifference toward partners.
Busy lifestyles with long and tiring schedules often cause pets to be neglected. Left to themselves with only an occasional trip out of the house or off the property, they seldom see other dogs or strangers and generally suffer from poor stimulation and socialization. For many dogs, the side effects of loneliness and boredom set in. The resulting behavior manifests itself in the form of chewing, digging and behavior that is hard to control.
It seems clear that small amounts of stimulation, followed by early socialization, can produce beneficial results. The danger seems to be in not knowing what the thresholds are for over- and under-stimulation.
The third and final stage in the process of growth and development is called enrichment. Unlike the first two stages, it has no limited window of opportunity. Enrichment means the positive sum of experiences that have a cumulative effect upon the individual.
Enrichment experiences typically involve exposure to a wide variety of interesting, novel and exciting experiences with regular opportunities to freely investigate, manipulate and interact with them. When measured in later life, the results show that animals reared in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are better able to perform difficult tasks.
Studies by canine behaviorists John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller show that, when given free choice, non-enriched pups preferred to stay in their kennels. Other littermates that were given only small amounts of outside stimulation between 5 and 8 weeks of age were found to be very inquisitive and very active. When kennel doors were left open the enriched pups would come bounding out, while littermates that were not reared in an enriched environment would remain behind.
The pups that received less stimulation would typically be fearful fo unfamiliar objects and generally preferred to withdraw rather than investigate. Even well-bred pups of superior pedigrees would not explore or leave their kennels, and many were difficult to train as adults. These pups acted as if they had become institutionalized, preferring the routine and safe environment of their kennel to the stimulating world outside.
Regular trips to the park, shopping centers and obedience classes are examples of enrichment activities. Chasing and retrieving a ball is often considered enriching because it provides exercise and serves as a reward. While repeated attempts to retrieve a ball provide stimulation, it should not be confused with enrichment exercises. Such playful activities should be used as an exercise or as a reward after returning home from a trip, and should not be used as a substitute for trips, outings or obedience classes that provide many opportunities for interaction and investigation.
Because of the risks involved in under-stimulating pups, a conservative approach has been suggested. However, as a guide, it is generally considered prudent to guard against under-stimulation rather than overstimulation. A conservative approach would be to expose them to other people, toys and other animals regularly. Handling and touching all part of their anatomy is also necessary as early as the third day of life. Pups that are handled regularly generally do not become hand-shy as adults.
Both experience and research have demonstrated the beneficial effects of early neurological stimulation, socialization and enrichment. Each has been used to show how significant differences between individual dogs, their trainability, health and potential for individual performance can be realized. The cumulative effects of these stimulations have been well documented and best serve the interests of the owner and the animal.
The Bio-Sensor Method
The Bio-Sensor method is a workout that requires handling each puppy individually, once a day, and performing five exercises (the order of the exercises is not important). These five exercises stimulate pups in a way they would not encounter naturally at this early age. Each exercise is performed for three to five seconds.
1. Tactile stimulation: Holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently tickles the pup between the toes on any one foot using a Q- tip. It is not necessary to tickle each foot.
2. Head held erect: Using both hands, the pup is help straight up so that its head is directly above its tail. It should be pointed straight upward.
3. Head pointed down: Holding the pup firmly with both hands, the head is pointed downward so that its head and body are pointing toward the ground.
4. Supine position: Holding the pup so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands, the pup is allowed to either sleep or struggle.
5. Thermal stimulation: Use a damp towel that has been cooled in the refrigerator for five minutes. Place the pup on the towel, feet down. Do not restrain it from moving.
These exercises should not be repeated more than once a day and should not be extended beyond the recommended time for each exercise. Experience shows some pups will resist some of the exercises. If that happens, proceed gently. Try not to over-stress any pup. Over-stimulation of the neurological system can produce negative results.
Carmen Battaglia has written numerous articles and books on canine breeding and genetics. He is past president of the German Shepherd Dog Club of America and is a member of the Atlanta, Congers and Lawrenceville Kennel Clubs. He judges the Herding Group, nine other breeds and Best in Show.
Original Doc: socializ.doc
Boys Will Be Boys
The role of testosterone in sexual differentiation
Like most mammals, males and female dogs differ in a number of marked respects. Apart from the obvious primary sexual differences between genes, gonads, genitalia and mating patterns, dog behavior is sexually differentiated in other ways. Male dogs tend to be higher‑ranking and more prone to fight than females, and they employ quite different urination postures.
Sexual differentiation occurs during early embryonic development and undergoes progressive elaboration throughout a dog's life. In genetically female (XX) fetuses, the cortex of each gonad develops into an ovary, whereas in genetically male (XY) fetuses, the gonadal medulla develop into testes. Fetal testes, but not the ovaries, begin to secrete (testosterone‑like) hormones, which in turn cause irreversible effects on anatomy and behavior. In the presence of testosterone, the male (Wolffian) duct system develops, and the previously undifferentiated genital tubercle forms male genitalia.
In the absence of fetal testosterone, the female (Mullerian) duct system develops into fallopian tubes and a uterus, and the genital tubercle forms female genitalia.
The brain is also affected by fetal testosterone. In the absence of testosterone, the hypothalamus retains its cyclic influence over the pituitary gland, which in turn causes the cyclic release of ovarian hormones, giving rise to the characteristic seasonal monestrous cycle.
In male dogs, however, fetal testosterone "masculinizes" parts of the brain. Fetal testosterone organizes neural development, preprogramming the dog to develop in a male fashion so that as an adult it will be more likely to mount and fight with other dogs, and to lift its leg when urinating. Testosterone also suppresses the cyclic nature of the hypothalamus which, via the pituitary, controls testosterone secretion from the testes.
As a word of caution, many drugs (including a variety of antibiotics) may either mimic or block the effects of testosteron, altering the masculinizing process and causing anatomical, physiological and behavioral abnormalities. In such cases, if the masculinization process is interrupted, genetical and gonadal males will develop female genitalia and will tend to act like anestrous bitches.
Other drugs cause genetic and gonadal females to have the outward appearance of castrated male, dogs, with a penis (and os penis), prepuce and empty scrotum. Additionally, masculinized bitches tend to be more aggressive, and are more likely to fight, mount other dogs and lift a leg when urinating. Obviously, the administration of drugs during pregnancy should be avoided. (See "Dangerous And Safe Drugs For Pregnancy" in the May 1990 GAZETTE Veterinary News column.)
The bitch's seasonally monestrous sexual cycle is quite unique in the mammalian world and, similarly, the reproductive endocrinology of male dogs comprises a variety of unique features. In male dogs, the blood levels of testosterone start to rise around four to five months of age and reach a peak at about ten months. The rise in testosterone correlates well with behavioral signs of puberty: sexual preference, sexual interest, increased mounting behavior, increased aggression and the development of adult male urination postures.
Pubertal increases in testosterone are the norm for most mammals. However, following the ten month testosterone peak in dogs, testosterone titers fall to adult levels by eighteen months of age. Thus, adult dogs have lower testosterone levels than eight‑month‑old adolescents. This is quite unusual in the mammalian world.
The "Smell" Hormone
The canine pubertal testosterone peak appears to have an important social function. Testosterone is the hormone which makes male dogs smell male. Hence, adolescent male dogs smell "supermale." High testosterone is a convenient meansto draw attention to maturing male pups and adolescents‑‑future potential competition on the social scene‑‑so that adult dogs (primarily males) may put the pups (primarily males) in their place before they become difficult to handle. Indeed, it is common for adult male dogs to relentlessly harass adolescent males (with high testosterone levels) until the youngsters learn to show deference to their elders and
social superiors. Thereafter, voluntary displays of active appeasement by young and/or low‑ranking dogs allay harassment from older and/or higher‑ranking individuals and form the cornerstone of a harmonious social structure.
For most mammals, the increase in testosterone at puberty is essential for the activation of normal sexual development and the manifestation of secondary sexual characteristics. Certainly pubertal testosterone facilitates sexual development in male dogs, but it does not appear to be essential, as evidenced by the behavioral development of castrated dogs.
Effects of Castration
Castration holds a few surprises in store for the novice breeder. Castration has no apparent effect on sexual orientation and olfactory preferences, which are predetermined during fetal development. Castrated male dogs still prefer to interact both socially and sexually with females. Castration during development and, to a lesser extent, during adulthood does decrease the fervor of sexual interest (roaming, sniffing and licking, for example), but it does not necessarily reduce mounting during sexual encounters. On the contrary, some neutered males appear to mount more frequently and vigorously than they did prior to castration, or compared with non‑castrated counterparts. The developmental and/or long term effects of castration may impair the dog's ability to achieve intromission during mating, but castrated dogs do not necessarily give up trying.
Castrating a dog at any age after it is born‑‑in adulthood, prepubertally or within a week of birth‑‑neither directly reduces the dog's aggressiveness, nor does it reduce the dog's ranking in the social hierarchy. In fact, castration may afford a dog a competitive advantage, since other dogs (especially males) view it as less of a threat (because it smells more like a female) and therefore challenge it less vigorously. This explains why castration often reduces the incidence of fighting.
Although neutering does not decrease aggressiveness towards other dogs, it does reduce displays of aggressiveness by other dogs towards castrated males, which consequently feel less threatened and have less provocation to respond aggressively themselves. This is a common event in behavioral endocrinology, whereby altering the hormonal status of one dog radically changes the behavior of other dogs and, in this example, indirectly reduces aggression.
Both juvenile and adult urination postures are sexually differentiated. Females almost exclusively squat when urinating. Young male pups usually urinate standing on all fours, leaning forwards slightly. Some males may flex their rear legs somewhat, but the posture differs from the characteristic female squat. At any time between four months and two years of age, male dogs begin lifting a hind leg to urinate. (Many females may raise a hind leg when urinating, but the posture is quite distinct from the characteristic male dog‑leg abduction. Females tend to raise the leg off the ground and bring it forwards, usually while squatting.)
Castration does not affect the type of postures used by male dogs, but it does appear to alter the time-course of development by lengthening the transition from juvenile to adult postures. Most castrated males eventually lift a hind leg when urinating. Castration appears to alter the dog's sensitivity to social and environmental stimuli and, for example, it is not uncommon for castrated males to lift a leg in their own back yard, but to stand, lean or flex when urinating on walks or in the presence of other dogs. Other dogs may do exactly the opposite.
Testosterone appears to exert two quite distinct effects during sexual differentiation: 1 ) Developmental. The presence of testosterone during development permanently organizes (both defeminizes and masculinizes) parts of the anatomy, including the brain and peripheral nervous system, so that the course of male development is now predetermined. The animal will no longer act like a female. Whether or not‑-and to what degree‑‑it will act like a male depends on the species and individual, and whether or not it is exposed to testosterone in adulthood. 2) Activational. In the majority of mammals, circulating testosterone in adulthood is essential for the expression of sexual behavior and the development of secondary sexual characteristics. With dogs, although both pubertal and adult testosterone appear to be unnecessary for the activation of male behaviors, its presence during puberty speeds up maturation, augmenting some behaviors but having little or no effect on others.
Dr. Dunbar, a native of Hertfordshire, England, is an animal behaviorist, veterinarian and author. He has developed a series of behavior booklets and a video, Sirius Puppy Training.
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.