By Kerry Vinson
The feedback I get from Veterinarians that I know indicate that behaviour questions are one of the most common things that are asked by their dog-owning clients. With this in mind, I am offering the following short list of things that may be helpful to point out to new or existing dog owners:
- Dogs are most comfortable when they have a routine they can follow on a regular basis. Unlike people who may feel that “variety is the spice of life”, dogs prefer structure and are less anxious when they can predict what will be happening next. As anxiety-based behaviour is one of the main issues that dog owners consult veterinarians and behaviourists about. This anxiety can be reduced by providing a dog with a predictable routine in their daily lives.
- As dogs are canids, they communicate with members of their own species through body language, eye contact, and other non-verbal cues. They are also constantly reading these cues from their owners and other people they encounter. As a human’s main form of communication is verbal, we sometimes talk too much to let our dogs know what we would like for them to do. Simple, one word commands (or signals) often work best.
- Recent science-based research indicates that dogs learn best when they are reinforced for behaving the way we would like them to, as opposed to being punished when they do not behave the way we want them to. Furthermore, this research indicates that using physical force or punishment on dogs can actually reduce their potential for learning, and can also lead to aggressive or anxiety-based behaviour in some instances.
- A 2007 study published in the journal Trends in Genetics indicated that over 99% (actually 99.8%) of the domestic dog’s mitochondrial DNA is directly similar to the DNA of a Grey Wolf. Despite this, dogs are not wolves, but are a separate species (Canis familiaris). Wolves are wild animals who hunt prey in order to survive. Due to many thousands of years of domestication dogs have become companion and working animals for human beings and it is a misconception to think of them as wolves, despite what some popular television shows about dog behaviour would have us believe.
- According to the American Psychological Association, the intelligence of the average dog is on par with the intelligence of a two-year-old human. As anyone who is the parent of a two year old will tell you, that is quite smart. My personal opinion and experience is that this is a rather conservative estimate, and that many dogs are actually quite a bit smarter than we might think, depending on breed predispositions and prior learning experiences. I suspect that future research will verify this.
Keep in mind that thorough behaviour consultations for a difficult problem (e.g. aggression) can take between 3 – 4 hours; these issues are usually unable to be resolved during a standard appointment time. For severe cases, referral may be the best option so that a behaviorist can go over the case in-depth without the time constraints that exist with a typical veterinary clinic appointment.
Kerry Vinson, founder of Animal Behaviour Consultants, has a BA in Psychology, has previously taught Social Science courses at the college level in Ontario, and has extensively studied animal learning and behaviour modification. In addition to having conducted seminars on canine behaviour, and assessing dogs with behavioural problems, he has been designated by the Province of Ontario as an Expert Witness in the areas of general canine behaviour, canine aggression, and it’s re-training. As such he has testified in a Provincial Inquest as well as numerous other dog related court cases between 1999 and 2018. For more information he can be reached at (705) 295-3920, (905) 352-3353, or visit: www.animalbehaviourconsultants.com