23 July 2016

BEHAVIOUR - Don't Forget Your Dog is a Dog

As we continue to view our dogs less like animals and more like surrogate children, the trends and marketing fads associated with some of this so-called ‘humanization of dogs’ has even the most committed dog lovers wondering how far is too far.

Options for dog food – once wet or dry – have exploded into non-GMO, Gluten Free, organic and made with high quality cuts of meat; toy options of ball or stick have evolved into automated treat dispensers, ball throwers and virtual pet friends; knitted sweaters for the vulnerable minis have expanded into full-fledged fashion lines for pets.

For many urban dwellers this humanization is simply an expression of love, but when it comes to the training process it is key to remember that humans are humans and dogs are dogs.

According to Barbara Walmer, Department Head of Behaviour at the Calgary Humane Society, the tendency of pet owners to attach human emotions to dogs can be counter-productive in the training process.

“Sometimes people will attach high-level emotion to their dog’s behaviour. For example, they will say the dog is jealous or embarrassed - emotions that we do not know for sure an animal feels. Instead we need to look at the behaviours displayed and simplify our explanation for the motivations behind them.”

According to Walmer, poorly trained dogs may be the result of defying the KISS principle.

“Sometimes we make it much more complex than it needs to be. If there is a concern with an animal’s behaviour, we need to work with that animal to change their environment and enhance their ability to display different behaviours.”

Rather than become frustrated with regressive animal behaviour in the training process, like anything patience remains a key virtue; there is also a benefit to looking at training as a lifelong, gradual process rather than expecting perfection immediately following a puppy boot camp.

“Animals are constantly experimenting with their behaviour. If we are not actively helping them with their behaviour on a daily basis, their behaviour will change. It is never too late to work with your animal on their behaviour and help them acquire new or refresh old skills.

"The relationship with your dog is a journey not a destination. You can train your dog for its entire life and both of you will be enriched and have a stronger relationship for it.”
When it comes to the never-ending pet products on the market, Walmer said the essentials are a necessity and that enrichment toys or tools are beneficial.

“First, we would ensure they have the appropriate walking equipment including a leash and harness; the adequate training classes that are most suitable to the dogs’ needs; food, water and shelter requirements and then we would discuss enrichment toys. Depending on budget, the dog’s preference, and safety, there are enrichment options that you can purchase and also make at home. Enrichment is critical to a dog’s mental well-being and depending on their owners’ lifestyle, they may need more or less stimulation.”

While our humanization of four-legged friends has led to more options in the marketplace, a needs assessment appears to be the best way to distinguish a dog’s needs from the human want and unnecessary, gimmicky purchases.

And the most important items for the training toolbox continue to be love and patience, and an understanding that an expectation for a dog to behave like a human will result in frustration and counter-productive training.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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