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Monday, May 31, 2010

Dogs and toddlers, so much alike!

Sometimes I am asked some pretty dumb questions about dog training, but every now and again someone is generally interested in understanding and doing the right thing!
Recently I had a question regarding a dog who had a behavior problem and the owner was trying to understand why odd behaviors develop in dogs, what happens in a pack dynamic and how the fact that she would now be taking over as the leader of the pack would this teach the dog to behave better. Her pack consisted of her small dog, herself, her husband, and 2 kids. The problem was that the dog was too clingy to her and growled at anyone who tried to move it away from her, even if this meant something pleasant such as going for a walk. Now in all fairness, the dog was a rescue so we don’t really know much about its past. What we do know is somewhere along the line the dog growled and people moved away from it.

Below is how I related my experience with dogs in a way that she could better understand. I do hope this helps others to understand as well.

Dogs develop their behaviors generally within the litter, similar to humans who have siblings who bully, or use other behaviors try to get their way. For dogs it is very simple really, when something works for a pup or dog they continue to do it.

If your baby sister cried and told you she was going to tell daddy that you would not share your Barbie doll with her and to avoid your father’s wrath you handed over the Barbie doll, what do you think she would do the next time she wanted the doll? Simple right? Hey it worked for me! My brother always gave me his Barbie doll!

Generally pups learn how to act and become socially acceptable among the dog world during the time they spend with their litter mates, but this does not happen when they are taken away from the litter too soon. I hear too often of people who are willing to sell their pups at the age of four or five weeks because by then the pup is weaned and eating dog food, but little thought is given to the pack dynamics and how important it is that they learn how to interact with not only each other , but also people during this critical time.

Common practice is that a pup is taken from the mother/litter at the age of eight weeks, which is still a very critical time for them to learn how to behave socially, and then they are thrown into a home and expected to behave. Once they are in the home that family then becomes its pack and if that home already has other dogs, then sometimes those dogs will show the pup how to act socially.

So, in comparison when a pup is taken away from the litter too soon in its life it’s like taking a human toddler and tossing her into a class of five year old preschoolers! The toddler does not have the social skills to ask a preschooler for an item, instead, if the item is not handed over, the toddler will yell, hit, and bite to get it! They have not had time to form the observation that this behavior does not get them the toy among other toddlers. Let’s be truthful here, if one toddler bites another toddler, the victim toddler is gonna bite right back! If the biting toddler is put in their place enough times by other toddlers they learn that biting does not get them what they want. If they skip that stage and are sent right up to preschool, they will continue to bite the preschool children, who in turn will react in horror and run away from them, or give them what they want before they risk getting a chunk taken out of their arm. As long as the preschool child continues to give in, the toddler is not learning social skills, but only that biting gets her what she wants.

As it pertains to being a leader: dog packs have leaders and those leaders reign as long as they remain healthy enough to put the others in their place and this is done mostly with body language, hovering over another dog's neck, going through an open door first, being the first to eat and leaving the leftovers for the pack, deciding when it is okay for the pack to play and when play should end, etc.

This is similar to the head of a household, AKA your mother! From the time our children are born we as leaders choose when our children will eat, what they will eat, where and when they will play, sometimes who they will play with, what activities they can do, etc. Now, we do this for many different reasons and mostly it's to keep the child safe and healthy, so until the child feels its oats and tries to rebel a bit, we are seen as the child's pack leader. Even when the child does start to rebel, it's not that they are rebelling that is the issue, it is how the parent handles it that will show the child how to develop into a socially acceptable part of the human race. But please don't grab your child by the scruff of the neck or someone will report you!

As humans we don’t have the patience to wait things out when it comes to our dogs, even I have been guilty of that from time to time. It would be great if we were all as even tempered as a Golden Retriever! We live in a society in which we want instant gratification even if it is at the expense of physically hurting the dog. Although I understand that we live in an ‘I want it now’ society, I don’t think dogs have evolved all that much since we took them hostage as pets.

That’s it in a nut shell. Dogs are not as dumb as we sometimes make them out to be, their annoying habits are not annoying habits but intentional chess moves! Checkmate!

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