More often than not you hear the term Separation Anxiety when dealing with separation issues in dogs. In the vast majority of cases and I mean over 99% of them, this expression is incorrect and flawed. It is also incredibly dangerous when used in training methodologies aimed at resolving separation related behaviour in domestic dogs.
This expression lives in the realm of the ignorant or poorly educated dog trainer and as such any person hearing this expression must question this directly and immediately with the trainer before any behavioural work can commence.
Let me explain.
Most dog trainers have very little understanding of training terminology at the best of times. You may remember from an earlier post we discussed the difference between Positive Punishment and Negative Reinforcement. It invariably is the same trainer that does not understand the difference in these that also misunderstands the difference between Separation Distress and Separation Anxiety.
To help clarify the situation,
Anxiety when dealing with dogs relates to the inability of the dog to determine the arrival of an “aversive” or unpleasant stimulus. It is this state of uncertainty that invariably creates a level of anxiety within the dog. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.
This is hardly the case when dealing with separation based issues with your dog. The reason for my annoyance in the misunderstanding of this very simple concept is the direction needed to be taken in the resolution of the inherent residual behaviour.
Let me give you two very clear examples that hopefully will outline the difference.
Scenario 1 - A typical dog say 6mths of age that was brought home at 8 weeks and has spent every single waking moment with its owner, has to a degree developed a deep bond or better yet a direct dependence on and with the owner. Any time spent away from the owner without gradual weaning away from the owner will render the dog in a state of Separation Distress as all the dog wants to do is return back to the owner and be united. This is very typical as dogs are inherently pack animals and as such thrive on company. Isolation of any kind is abnormal and stressful.
Typically as humans we have patterns or habits that dogs pick up on. We have rituals that give the dogs queues for up coming events. At night there will be sequence of activities we follow before putting out our dogs, that’s if they stay out at night. In a similar way, we have rituals that we follow in the morning before we go to work, and so on. All these are predictors of upcoming events that will lead the dog to being left alone. They are able to predict when, they are just not able to control the outcome, hence why they develop a distress response in this environment. The duration is typically predictable. Many trainers label this as Separation Anxiety and it is Incorrect.
Scenario 2 – The same dog as above is sleeping or doing an activity that is random and non threatening. Without any warning the dog is removed from that environment and has no further contact with its owner. Not only this, but the dog is unable to determine when it and the owner will be reunited. Do this once and the dog has little side effect. Do this two times and the dog is now starting to wonder what has happened and what is going to happen. Do this often and in differing situations and the dog is now unable to determine when this aversive event will occur. We now have the beginnings of Separation Anxiety. You will notice that Scenario 2 is extremely rare and as such has little bearing on how dogs in the normal world relate to being left alone.
The vast majority of dogs will experience Scenario 1 at some stage in their life. Very few if any will experience Scenario 2.
The frustration for me as a dog trainer is that the paths I need to follow for the rectification of each of these two Scenarios is vastly different.
In Scenario 1 all we need to do is establish patterns that will facilitate the dog getting used to being left alone. They are simple, effective and of little or no stress to the dog, and most importantly relatively quick to resolve. These will be explained in a future post.
In Scenario 2 we have a very different path to follow. We need to remove the Anxious state that the dog is in and that is not easy given that we need to place the dog in that stressful situation and re-adjust how it perceives the outcome to be. The whole process is very stressful on the dog and is likely to take considerable time to resolve.
It is critical to understand this difference so that the remedial process can be selected without additional stress on the dog.
There is a wide and varied debate in the dog training world over the merits of different forms of training, with the main emphasis being the "best practice" revolving around Positive Reinforcement only training and the subsequent use of food.
It is the intention of this article to outline what the reality is behind the process so that all the facts are on the table for review by those that are in fact interested.
Firstly, we need to understand the terminology as many trainers let alone clients get this totally wrong.
Positive Reinforcement - The giving of something pleasant to assist in the reinforcement of a desired action.
Negative Reinforcement - The removal of something unpleasant to assist in the reinforcement of a desired action. (often represented as Positive Punishment by uneducated trainers)
Positive Punishment - The giving of something unpleasant to assist in the reduction of an undesired action
Negative Punishment - The removal of something pleasant to assist in the reduction of an undesired action
It is only after we consider and understand these states of being that we can appreciate what actually works and how to apply it. Most positive reinforcement only based training will categorically tell you that dogs do not learn from negative experiences. How far is this from the truth.
Dogs in a day to day existence rely on understanding how their environment works. They experiment, they experience outcomes, some are pleasing and some are not. Those that are found to be pleasant are remembered and remembered favourably for future use, while those that are found unpleasing are also remembered, but for the opposite reason. These too are remembered as things to avoid.
Consider this simple scene. I had a dog in the past that was partial to sweet things, he found a bee hive in the park and experimented with it. The first time he was lucky and didn't get stung and actually got some honey. The second time he was not so lucky and received multiple stings. To the day he died I could not walk him near the hive on or off leash due to the impact of the experience. This was a clear outcome. Bad experiences for whatever reason are in fact remembered by a dog and can be used as part of training. They are every bit as important as the positive ones.
Positive only dog trainers believe that by not placing a dog in a situation where it can show a bad response to something is the best way to eliminate unwanted behaviour. Sadly this does not work. Ignoring potential problems or triggers for bad behaviour is irresponsible advice. Problems that trigger unwanted behaviour need to be identified and addressed, and as early as possible.
Dogs in all reality learn much more effectively when there is a clear balance between the positive and negative experiences they receive as part of the training process. This is not to say that Positive Reinforcement is not important, In fact I would agree with the general dog training community in saying that it is the most important tool we have at our disposal, but even the reason behind it is misunderstood by the greater dog training community.
In the wild dogs DO NOT receive any positive reinforcement for desired behaviour. The main reward for any positive behaviour is staying alive and in the pack structure. There is no one to pat them. there is no one to give them food treats. Dogs just realise that they did what they did and as a result they are alive, it is that simple. Where we have the advantage as trainers is that we can work with nature in our favour and over and above having the dog feel that it is alive and happy due to its behaviour, we can actually introduce greater motivators such as positive reinforcement to further convince the dog. Simple isn't it, but why do many trainers not get this.
Where the Positive Only brigade get it wrong is once again through inadequate selection of the reward and go straight to food. Food Training is the basis of the lazy trainer, given its easy delivery. It is far easier to give the dog a treat than to actually reward the dog by means of direct interaction. Please read my other post on Motivation Principles to see what I am talking about.
The problem with food is all in its delivery. Even those that swear by this method of training, will tell you that the quality of treat is critical, and that daily feeding routines can be disrupted due to training with food treats, In fact many will use the training process as the main food delivery method for your dog. Stop and think about that for a minute. How can a dog receive a balanced diet if it is being fed even partially with treats that are often processed food.
Another aspect is that many dog training centres using this method will tell you not to feed your dog the day before training and use food to get it to do things for you and as a result they receive food. Think about this clearly, if we make the dog hungry and then when it does something we give it a small piece of food, thus reducing the hunger, what are we doing?
Read back at the headings at the top, and you will realise that what is presented as Positive Reinforcement training is actually Negative Reinforcement based on mild starvation in that the Unpleasant Experience being Hungry is partially removed with the carrying out of a desired action. I have copied an extract below from a Positive Only dog training centre as part of their advice to clients. Have a good read and then look down at the type of food suggested and how much is processed garbage.
FEEDING DOGS BEFORE CLASS
Dog training classes can be very distracting places for dogs so it is imperative that you do not feed your dog his/her normal meal dog prior to class. This way your dog will be hungry and more inclined to pay attention to you. If you feel it necessary to give your dog some food prior to classes do not give him/her more than HALF their usual meal.
TREATS FOR CLASS
Please bring AMPLE treats cut up into very small portions - no larger than the size of your little fingernail (half that for smaller breeds). You will need at least 100-200 tiny pieces of food.
Human food treats work best, below are some suggestions:
This is animal cruelty to the extreme. In fact what the Positive Only brigade won’t tell you is that if you have a dog that isn't food oriented, they suggest that you withhold food making the dog hungry in order to make it work with food through hunger.
What ever happened to a simple pat and play, with what should be your best friend.
Having said that, I do use food in my training, but not in the same way. My positive reinforcement is based on direct interaction with my dog, which is proportional to his performance, and when we get home the quality of food I offer him is also based on how he performed. The food I give him is always high quality but his extra treats such as a bloody meaty bone is reserved as an over and above reward, which he appreciates and subsequently identifies with the way he worked that day.
In conclusion Positive Reinforcement is a critical part of dog training but should be considered carefully in terms of how it is implemented, and must be adopted as part of a balanced approach using the dog's ability to draw experience from pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
I will add another post shortly on Punishment and what this means in training,
In past posts we have discussed the benefits of balanced approach to training. This post today is aimed at providing guidance on the appropriate use of positive punishment, ie corrections for non-compliance.
In the last post we discussed the problems associated with Positive Reinforcement only training. The following points identify the two main types of Punishment from a scientific perspective.
Positive Punishment - The giving of something unpleasant to assist in the reduction of an undesired action
Negative Punishment - The removal of something pleasant to assist in the reduction of an undesired action
You will have noticed that one involves the administering of a physical correction or something the dog finds unpleasant or aversive, while the other involves the withholding of something the dog finds pleasant or appetitive.
The way dogs are hard wired in life is to experiment, test, respond to a given stimulus and as a result derive a reaction to that stimulus based on the cause and effect outcome. Risk versus reward. Quite simply, the way a dog responds to a given stimulus is based on what the outcome was as a result of the interaction. If the outcome was pleasing (appetitive) the behaviour will be reinforced. If the outcome was unpleasant (aversive) the behaviour will not be reinforced and may be reduced subject to how aversive the outcome was to the dog.
Where most people fail in this entire scenario is misunderstanding that a dog can find something appetitive even if there is a degree of discomfort in meeting its intention to respond to that stimulus. This is heightened where the behaviour around the stimulus is instinctive. (I will leave the instinctive responses to stimuli and subsequent effect on a dog for a later post, as it is quite detailed and lengthy). If a dog shows interest in a stimulus, the intensity of response to that stimulus is critical in determining how and when to administer punishment. Most people that have been conditioned to not administer punishment will be happy by simply using voice as part of discouraging that behaviour. While I would agree that this can work with some soft or timid dogs, exhibiting low intensity behaviour, this reaction in general will not work with typical dogs in normal response situations let alone dogs of more intense temperament and higher intensity behaviour.
If a dog finds a certain behaviour appetitive and the motivation for ceasing that behaviour is not sufficiently strong enough, the behaviour will not be terminated. In fact the dog may have an enhanced response to that stimulus or what is classified as an behavioural escalation to that stimulus.
This is where this post can become quite technical so I will try to keep it as simple as possible. In order to terminate the behaviour the dog must find meaning in the aversive aspect of interaction. For example, if a dog likes honey and up to a given time is not stung by raiding a bee hive, the behaviour is reinforced given the honey is the appetitive outcome. If one day the dog is stung by one bee the behaviour may or may not be terminated as the benefit of taking the honey may be worth dealing with the one sting. However, if the dog is stung by multiple bees at once, the balance may shift to making the dog believe that the outcome is not worth the potential benefit. In this case the reward is not worth the risk.
This is what is classified as an effective correction. The purpose of an effective correction is to change the behaviour to a degree in the desired direction. It happens to dogs every day in the course of their day to day lives. By not using this tool in our kit to train dogs we are missing one big part of the process.
The intention of punishment is to change the behaviour, and if possible by that one action, and not by numerous or multiple lower level or weaker corrections which by their nature will desensitise the dog progressively. Just how this is done depends on the dog, the intensity of behaviour, the temperament of the dog and most of all timing. In fact quite the opposite can be beneficial, in that the correction should sensitise the dog in specific situations.
The ways dogs actually balance risk and reward in their daily exploration is by determining what is in it for them based on previous experience with that situation. The greater the distance between what the dogs finds appetitive for a given behaviour as opposed to what the dog finds aversive a given behaviour makes it very clear to the dog where its advantage rests in the interaction with that situation. This is a fundamental part of balanced dog training.
Let me draw a very simple example for positive punishment we can all understand.
A dog knows how to drop but elects not to. In simply saying drop again without consequence, the dog not only has no negative effect for non-compliance, but has also learned that it is able to ignore us in future. If we administer some form of positive punishment for non-compliance there is now a direct effect for non-compliance that the dog can relate to. We now have an aversive extreme for the dog. If the dog complies when told to drop, and on compliance is released and played with, with genuine enthusiasm, there is now a direct effect for compliance that the dog can relate to. We now have an appetitive extreme for the dog. With this information in hand, the dog is now able to make a decision to comply or not based on risk and reward. Very simple, and very effective.
Let us use an example of where negative punishment can be very useful.
Imagine taking your dog for a walk, when the dog is expecting it. You tell the dog to drop and it doesn't. . In simply saying drop again without consequence, the dog not only has no negative effect for non-compliance, but has also learned that it is able to ignore us in future. If you use negative punishment, and put the dog back into the back yard and not take it for a walk, the dog has learned that non-compliance has now meant it has lost the walk it was expecting. The negative aspect here is the loss of the walk which the dog found very appetitive. This may need to be repeated after say 20mins to drive the message home to the dog. If the dog drops the walk is on offer, In this instance we also have the two extremes for compliance and non-compliance.
As advised previously, a balanced approach to risk and reward for the dog is the optimum way to obtain predictability in response.
In future posts will be on schedules of reinforcement for compliance and non-compliance.
I often get asked, "how do you get the best motivation out of your dog and is food the best way". Interesting question that hopefully I can help clarify.
Before we go to far into specific methods we need to look at what "motivation" means in simple terms. Basically, motivation is all about possible engagement between YOU and YOUR dog. If done correctly nobody other than YOU should be able to get the best out of YOUR dog. This is the foundation to understanding just what we as dog handlers need to do.
The foundation of good reliable motivation is based around making your dog not only want to be around you, but also actively engage with you of it's own accord. The minute we start to elicit action, we have lost not only the battle but possibly the war against lack of motivation.
For those of us that have older dogs this process becomes more difficult, than for those of us with puppies. I will attempt to cover the basics for both situations.
Those fortunate enough to have puppies, the process is as good as it gets and should be taken advantage of to the fullest extent. From day one your puppy is geared up to explore, test, challenge, receive and respond. We as handlers need to recognise just what signals are being offered and how to translate them into bond building actions, which as the dog grows we can further develop. It is at this stage that the appropriate "motivator' be developed.
Most people offer food, balls or tug toys in the training process way too early and for all the wrong reasons. The problem I have found over the years is that the introduction of what I call "high level" motivators too early in the process has the detrimental affect of making our direct bond with the dog fall behind the motivators we are using. The other issue that this causes is that when we really need to increase the motivation or reward for effort, we have nowhere to go........not a good situation.
There is no greater training tool or benefit than having a strong, direct and connected bond with your dog moulded around your and your dog's personality. Done correctly nothing can match it. Developing this from when your dog is a puppy has the long term benefit of imprinted behaviour, which essentially means that ways of dealing with you (or not if not followed) are hard wired into the core behaviour the dogs carries through the rest of its life.
Motivation must be aimed at generating the best and most consistent bond possible which is why as basic as it seems, your direct attention, physical praise and interaction with the dog is the best foundation stone. With every dog I have handled and that includes dogs that belong to clients, typically within minutes of handling the dog I am able to get far more attention from the dog than they can....why?, because I chose to relate directly with the dog, and reward any attempt it makes to interact with me. What needs to happen is not being afraid to get down and play with the dog. Many of us don't like to bridge the gap of human to dog behaviour and what we tend to do is forget that dogs are not human and as such need to be treated as dogs. We MUST change NOT them.
Try if you can to get down on your hands and knees with your dog and mimic what you see when your dog plays with others in the park. There is often, play bowing, typical behaviour aimed at generating action, there is movement from totally passive to quick lunging. Interaction that mimics dog behaviour builds connection and builds the bond. If your dog sees you as a funny looking big dog it will start to understand you more. This is a point of difference that good dog trainers and handlers work on and develop. Understanding that dogs cant reason, but are able to respond and problem solve is our biggest asset, so we should encourage any behaviour that takes a dog down this path.
All dogs regardless of age suffer from predictability limitations and hence develop a lack of exploration with us. Watch your dog at your local park or even on its walk. If you can watch how it runs to the same places expecting to find something new and the degree of excitement when it does find something new. Typically the intensity of response is proportional to the excitement factor from finding something to smell that is unexpected.
If we give the dog the same level of interaction day in and day out each time it approaches us, as a direct result of lack of exploration or surprise, our bond will deteriorate. Those of us that use food as the primary motivator need to realise that this problem is far more problematic, as in order to keep the surprise or exploration in our dog, we need to continuously alter what we give our dog as food treats. The same treat each and every time kills the element of surprise and hence positive interaction is limited. Learning only occurs if expectations for action are exceeded, or not met. What we don't want is "status quo".
This forms the basis of what I have explained in classes being random schedules of reinforcement, which are aimed at keeping the dog working and exploring to get better. While this process produces great obedience, it also produces great connection or bond between dog and owner.
Further tips will cover many more associated subjects.
How society's attitudes have tarnished how we see and treat dogs.
In the 18 years that I have been training dogs I have seen many things that have put a smile on my face which sadly over time has proven to be a rarity. More often than not what I have experienced in the dog world is sadness introduced by people to the very animals that see us as true companions.
These posts are meant to be informative and educational however today, I feel a particular need to vent what I am seeing as a continued trend that is cruel, ignorant and just unwarranted.
Society for centuries has shown a disdain for its less fortunate. Those people in society with disorders be it physical or mental have to one degree or another been ostracised, neglected or left to rot with blind disregard. This attitude has not only been propagated by the average person, but overwhelmingly by Governments be it State and Federal. The responsibility has been moved away from Government based solutions, to home or family assistance based ones.
Sadly and I mean very sadly, this attitude is reflected deeply in how dogs are treated by the vast majority. Training centres are less and less likely to take on dogs with any form of behavioural issues regardless of their severity, and those of us that actually try to deal with these issues are stretched in meeting the needs. Trainers typically across society are looking for fast solutions that are politically correct, as they don't want to lose clients. The training profession is gearing itself to meet the needs of the easily satisfied many, while ignoring the needs of those with genuine issues. Those that do try to resolve issues are restricted by having certain training techniques or methodologies classed as illegal, thus rendering their efforts as futile. The only option for these brave few is to disregard these limitations at their own peril.
You only need to watch TV to see that "cute" sells. Shows like dancing with dogs, dog events like those we see in many exhibition areas promote the doggie equivalent to "fashion" parades, while dogs with needs go mostly unassisted. The up-coming event at the Exhibition Buildings is a great example of this. Programmes like the Dog Whisperer (Caesar Milan) is one of the rare proponents of Public Behaviour Modification, and for his efforts is negatively hounded and denigrated by dog trainers with a different ethos or approach to dog training. They do this despite not being able to assist in resolving the problems he encounters in dogs. I don't agree with some of his methods, but so what.......it works for him and he gets results so great. At the end of the day the dog wins, so we all win.
Shelters are overflowing with dogs that nobody wants, or at worst have had some bad experience with society and have been judged as unsuitable, with a grim at best outcome. Those special people that seek to work, rescue, foster or just assist in shelters are the unsung heros in society and should be loudly applauded, but sadly they are few in comparison to those that want the cute or the easy option.
Legislation is a big concern regarding attitudes that society retains. Fuel people's fears and then provide a perceived solution to that fear and you have made your own popular platform. While I don't want to delve into BSL yet again, it is a clear example of this very situation. Interest groups in society which at best are poorly equipped with behavioural knowledge along with legislative bodies that are lobbied by these groups and society as a mass, are the main reason why dogs with issues are in such dire straights.
I understand that there is limited time, I appreciate that there are limited funds, I respect that not everyone is able to work in resolving issues that affect the many dogs that have issues, but surely as "dog" trainers we have a greater responsibility to our four legged friends than just teaching them to stand for examination, go over agility or insultingly dress them in human clothing and teach them to dance.
Dogs are amazing animals that can do limitless activities when they are happy, balanced and safe. Take these elements away from a dog and it has nothing, not even hope. Go for a walk in any shelter where dogs are on death row and you see this in their eyes.
Shelters are limited in how they can assist. Under the current regulations carrying out behavioural modification work on dogs is unacceptable given the possible "risk" should the dog display any of the undesirable behaviours once re-homed. The duty on Temperament Assessment in shelters is not an even playing platform, as there is not one proven, consistent and genuinely effective set of criteria for all shelters to use. The more fortunate shelters have access to certified behaviourists that assist or carry out these assessments, but the burden is stacked against them regardless.
Dogs in society need our help. Responsible dog ownership starts with understanding that all dogs have issues, not just the ones that society has ear marked as being "ugly".
Dog training should be much more than just teaching the fun stuff. It should be aimed at creating dogs that are resilient and tolerant in as many situations as possible. I am not opposed to having fun with dogs, in fact I'm quite the opposite. Where I do draw the line is having fun with some at the expense of others.
If you have any comments on this, I would love to read them.
Aggression from first principles
Most common thoughts about K9 aggression tend to label the aggression as fear, predatory or dominance based. This to me tends to put a finite view on what is being exhibited and invariably pre determines a course of action that the trainer will tend to follow to resolve the issues being displayed.
I have for the last few years been looking at K9 Aggression from a totally different perspective. It revolves around looking at the behaviour from first principles and determining a course of action that responds to what is actually taking place as opposed to a pre-determined view of what may be occurring.
Starting at the beginning, let’s look at the “behavioural” aspect of what is taking place. If behaviour is the way an organism responds to its environment, then surely the behaviour a dog gives in terms of aggression is in turn a direct response to its environment whether it is perceived or real.
If this assumption is correct then the next assumption must follow. If behaviour within a specific environment is based around adaptation, then surly the adaptation must be aimed at survival and hence aligned to instinct (assuming a normal dog without sensitized issues). Therefore the behaviour exhibited must be at least to the dog, be in its best interest to remain alive in whatever the situation or environment provides.
Following on, if the behaviour exhibited is aimed at survival or aligned to an instinct it is fair to assume that it is recallable. If we believe that all instincts are intended to maintain life and species then all must serve a direct purpose to avoid injury or death.
Let us look at predation, defense and dominance
Predation – intent is to chase and kill for food. The most dangerous time is potentially if and when the prey becomes a rival by turning against the predatory animal. At that stage the act of predation now becomes danger and is now a problem. It could easily become defensive.
Defense – intent is to stay unharmed. If the act or showing defensive behaviour is to scare away a threat then the point at which time the threat is not overcome is also now a problem.
Dominance – intent is to have the rights of status, mating etc. If the act of achieving or maintaining dominance is not achieved and the rival potentially has the upper hand then the point at which this occurs is also now a problem. Dominance can easily now become defense or avoidance.
In each one of these examples it is a clear parallel to observe that the behaviour leading up to the potentially aggressive event must be more appetitive to the dog than the following aggressive encounter. The behaviour isn’t necessarily appetitive, but appetitive by comparison. In this case we are not talking about a dog with prior experience in which responses have been impacted through training or circumstance, but more so from first experience and first principles.
With this assumption in mind, it is reasonable to determine the following.
The behaviour in the presence of another dog or prey animal is aimed at avoiding a potentially dangerous aggressive encounter. If this is the case it can be argued that the behaviour the dog gives is to obtain control in this environment to stop the situation escalating to the point of a physical aggressive encounter.
Ie “Behaviour aimed at avoiding an Aggressive Encounter”
If a trainer looks at the behaviour in this way, it becomes a totally different mind set for observation, in that we are not looking with a pre-determined idea of what “form” of aggression is on offer, but more what behaviour is being exhibited in order to not escalate the situation. You could say looking at the dog with a “glass half full as opposed to half empty” approach.
When training dogs with potentially aggressive issues we need to determine if we are trying to nullify the behaviour or enhance it depending on how we want the behaviour to develop.
In my training sessions I have found great success when training for abstinence for example to make the dog realize that exhibiting aggressive behavioural traits will not be a way to retain control in that environment, but rather will make the dog lose control. The more the old behaviour is displayed the less control the dog has in changing the environmental impact. The more the dog relinquishes the old behaviour, the faster the dog retains control. Minimal compulsion is used in this scenario.
If training for action on the other hand I have found that encouraging aggressive behavioural traits will reinforce its belief that aggressive behaviour enhances control in that environment, and conversely the less aggressive behaviour is exhibited the less control the dog has in changing the environmental impact. This is a fundamental part of sound working dog training.
This post is NOT about any specific breeds, but more the principle behind the targeting of any one breed.
To start, I would like to add a quotation from Martin Niemöller.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Far too often in these recent times are dogs mislabelled and put to death by acts of ignorance all be it done with (hopefully) the best intentions. Sadly society stands idle and lets this happen.
There is no question that serious injury to children or at the horrific worst case death is not acceptable under any circumstances. The issue I have is that this should not be focused on one or two breed types, but to all breeds across the board.
One of my core beliefs regarding dogs is that "there is no such thing as a safe dog, just degrees of less dangerous". There is absolutely and categorically no situation that warrants unsupervised interaction between a child and a dog.
I have a very firm view that is shared by some great Australian and International dog training minds, in that "once a dog has severely bitten a child there is little or no lenience given to it going forward and in almost all cases the dog should be put to sleep". This is a view that I am prepared to uphold with my own dog now and my future dogs regardless of breed. It is not a question about the dog developing future negative behaviour towards children, it is more the issue that the reason for the behaviour in the first instance needs to be questioned.
The grey area here for me as a dog behaviourist is what kind of bite are we talking about? There is a great deal of difference between predatory biting, alarm or warning biting, and the more intense defensive biting that often leads to massive injuries and death in children.
To people that own dogs that fit into the more placid or less potentially dangerous categories in society please ask yourself this question "if my dog was to bite a child is that action any less severe than the same act carried out by a dog of larger or more driven stature?”
If your answer is yes the act is less severe then I believe that we have serious issues.
Each and every dog has the potential to bite regardless of the ability to inflict damage. The issue we need to focus on is the action rather than the result. If we look at the problem in this manner we can then begin to see that focusing on a specific breed is not the issue, as educated dog trainers and owners, the motives behind the behaviour are what we need to eradicate.
If the answer is no, in that the act itself is the issue not the result then ask yourself the question, “why on earth are we as a society focusing on one breed when so many breeds are responsible for biting children?”
The real problem is that bites from smaller less "harmful" dogs are not often reported and when they are reported, are dismissed as insignificant, while bites from larger potentially more "harmful" dogs even if they are low intensity, are sensationalised.
The parallel in human terms is allowing a light frame small stature man to assault children, but punishing a larger frame and stature man for the same action. Or worse still not allowing a larger stature man from being in contact with children.......does this sound ridiculous? Well that is because it is. Common sense tells us that violence should not be tolerated regardless of the person type. Then why is this principle not applicable to dog behaviour?
Councils have a very hard task at hand and with public scrutiny it is not easy to meet with favourable outcomes, so decisions are not necessarily going to be fair or popular. What needs to happen, is for us as a society, led by our elected officials to take a collective step forward and ask questions regarding responsible dog ownership, that if implemented properly would ensure that the unwanted behaviours are eradicated, not specific breeds.
Sadly breed specific legislation ensures that genuine people with good intentions lose access to certain breeds while people with less wholesome intentions still get access through underground or illegal avenues. This regrettably eradicates the quality and breed control that is currently present in breed clubs around the world.
Many of us believe that the best initiative that has come out of the new Dangerous Dogs Law is the implementation of Criminal Prosecution for the owners of dogs that inflict serious injury. Maybe this will change the culture in society and insist on proper training and socialisation of all dogs not just those within the social spotlight.
When they come for your dog, who will be there to help you unless we all stand together and argue for sensible legislation.
I welcome your comments and hopefully we can get a good debate going on this.