Posts Tagged ‘canine behaviorist’

In Part I of “Why do dogs bite?” we learned that animal behaviorists treat aggression in dogs as a fear response. With that understanding, the owner and behaviorist can begin to approach the situation in such a way that allows the fearful pet to feel more confident and protected, and thus less apt to bite.

Why do dogs bite? Part II

Empathize with your dog. What are you afraid of? Is it snakes, spiders, bees? Imagine running into your greatest source of fear every time the front door opened, or you went to the doctor or a park.

What can you do, to help your pet?

*If someone comes to the door, bring your pet into another room before answering the knock. Do this early, if you are expecting a visitor.

*Bring your dog to the veterinarian’s office for “happy visits” in which your dog receives treats, is allowed to check things out a bit, and can decide whether to approach staff on her own.

*Do not force a fearful dog to socialize with other dogs. If your pet is clearly afraid and would rather not be there, do him a favor and take him home. Do not force him into an enclosed dog park. Imagine someone picking you up and dropping you into a pit of snakes. Would that force you to learn to socialize with snakes or make you more afraid than before?

Socializing and sensitizing a pet are two separate things; it is important to know the difference. Socializing a pet involves positive experiences only, when the pet is comfortable and ready to explore and meet others. Sensitizing a pet involves the negative experience of deliberately exposing a pet to the thing it is afraid of, which leads to more fear, anxiety, and lack of trust between the pet and its owner. Your dog is counting on you to protect her.

Now imagine if the source of fear lived in the house with you, and you were expected to just “get along with it.” Get along with a swarm of bees? That probably wouldn’t happen. And your fear response would be triggered every time the swarm approached. If the bees are hovering over your bed at naptime, will you ignore them and sleep? Probably not. If the bees are buzzing around your dishes, can you eat? No.

That is what fear looks like to a dog. If the fear object is around every corner, there is little opportunity for your pet to relax and let its guard down. This is never more true than when the fear object is another dog that lives in the house.

Because relationships between pets can be complex, behaviorists will make home visits to study the situation, noting the interactions among the pets and people in the house. Since every case is unique unto itself, it is necessary to work with a behaviorist or training professional to untangle relationships and restore order to the household. In some cases, no amount of remediation is possible, and some pets are then re-homed.

Est. 1973

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Part 3 will appear on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

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I recently attended a lecture by animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Dr. Marsha Reich. I took notes to share with you, because what Dr. Reich had to say is something that all dog owners need to hear.

(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Dogs and Fear)

Why dog dogs bite?

Dogs commonly bite due to fear, rather than dominance. Behaviorists today are challenging popularly-held notions about dominance aggression and alpha-male status in dogs. The behaviorists see dogs as belonging to a family, rather than a pack. Using this approach, biting is addressed as a fear response. Rooting out the source of the pet’s fear or anxiety is crucial to eliminating the potential for biting incidents, including among pets in a household and in outdoor settings (such as dog parks.)

Fear response in dogs is a reflex-like involuntary response, which manifests in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze, fidget. For this series, I will focus on the Fight response.

Fear, anxiety, and excitement are closely related, and dogs can switch from one to another in a second.
Think of the dog that excitedly greets another dog or a person, then switches suddenly to barking, snapping, and snarling, with fur raised.

Fear response in dogs is often triggered by “cornering.” A dog feels cornered when its movements are restricted in some way – such as being held in arms or tethered to a leash, or when another animal or a person approaches.

Dogs can feels cornered by obstacles in the household. If a person or animal approaches a dog while the dog’s flight path is blocked by a chair, ottoman, or other piece of furniture, the dog may feel cornered and bite to protect itself.

Interestingly, the fear response is engaged if the fear object approaches the dog, but not if the dog approaches the object. However, just because a dog sniffs your hand or gets close to you, that does not mean he wants to be petted.

Est. 1973

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Part 2 will appear on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

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