Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes

Over my many years, I am able to look back to how things were with our family dogs back in the day. I lived in a rural area and it was no big deal if my dogs went walkabout. I don’t remember anything about dog ‘training’ for family pets before Barbara Woodhouse.

Apart from one big dog that scared me by barking at me from behind a gate when I was a child and a Boxer belonging to a neighbour that chewed up my tortoise resulting in my strongly disliking dogs until I had one of my own in my early twenties (a Labrador), I don’t remember problem dogs.

Dogs back then, particularly away from towns, were more able to ‘be themselves’. As I remember it, mongrels were a lot more common.  I can’t remember dogs being overly fussed. Dogs simply lived in our houses, were chased away from our food – and had freedom. If they wanted to hunt – they went hunting.

Dogs’ lives today are for many reasons much more prescribed by us.  There is more traffic for a start. Most of my clients work all day and simply don’t have enough quality time to give their dogs and this often makes them feel guilty. They may then compensate in ways that aren’t particularly helpful for the dog, perhaps by over-indulging them in some way.

Despite our ever-increasing knowledge, it seems there is more and more work for someone like myself. Over the years that I have been working with dogs, there has been a huge increase in the number of dog trainers and behaviourists.

Busy people, instead of choosing dogs that were bred to be easygoing family pets, today are doing the very opposite. It’s crazy.

Why do we choose pedigree dogs, the majority being some kind of working breed? We mix breeds as with the doodles – working genes and brains. Why? We choose dogs that can’t breathe properly or give birth naturally. Why?

Unwittingly we subject our working dogs to a kind of prison. Lucky are the dogs with really dedicated humans who have the time, knowledge and enthusiasm to enrich their dogs’ lives appropriately and give them the kind of lives they were bred to live.

I picked out at random three of my ‘stories‘. Each one is a dog living a life he or she was not born to live. No wonder the huge amount of frustration, inappropriate guarding and hyperactive behaviour we are now dealing with.

Einstein

Einstein is a Poodle Rottie Doberman mix. Brains, herding and guarding. Is it any wonder that he chases people away – or tries to? Early training and lots of cuddles is good, but not enough.

Pixie

Pearl is a Jack Russell. Bred to hunt, to be on the lookout for rats for most of the day. Quick bursts of extreme energy. She is alone indoors for ten hours a day. Is it any wonder she is awake at night, that she is short-tempered or that she constantly seeks attention? Her evening walk is good, but not enough.

Banjo

Banjo is a Beagle. Bred to hunt and to live in a pack. Is it any wonder he doesn’t like being left alone, that he’s destructive, he still messes indoors at two years old and that he chases the cat? Two on-lead walks a day and half an hour of ball play is not enough.

This is what Pat Miller has to say in Whole Dog Journal: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions; many live in social isolation, and when they do get out, their activities are on a tight schedule. Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night, including when and where they are allowed to poop and pee. Some of today’s dogs never get to run off-leash or socialize freely on a regular basis with other dogs. During any free time they may have, they are expected to just lie around and be “well behaved” (by human standards, not canine ones!). They have virtually no control over what happens in their world. Some trainers suggest this strict regimentation is a significant contributor to the stress and arousal levels of today’s family dog. Imagine how stressed you might be if your life was as tightly controlled by someone else.’

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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs - Certified Canine Behaviourist) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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