Earlier this year I arrived home and found a note attached to my door. The note was a plea for help and a request to contact the owner of a one year old Welsh Terrier called ‘Bailey’. I immediately contacted the owner and arranged a meeting.
I met a lovely lady who was very distressed and at her wits end, ‘Bailey’ had been punishing her and inflicting nasty bites. What surprised me was the fact that I knew this little dog and had no idea of the double life it was leading. I had encountered her whilst out with my own dogs. The dog that I had observed was a pleasant and confident dog, albeit one that was noticeably very independent. However, I had no idea what was occurring behind the scenes.
Following an initial consultation with the owner it soon became apparent that this was a situation whereby a dog was controlling the environment and more significantly the owner through physical force and aggression. The owner had reached a crossroads and had no idea which way to turn. This was further complicated by the actions of the dog walker and also guidance provided by a local trainer.
The dog walker held the view that all dogs should know their place and be put there physically. Sadly, this is also still the view of many that operate in the dog industry; however there is a vast difference between calm effective leadership and physically forcing a dog into submission. This position was further exasperated by the actions of a local dog trainer, who provided advice, guidance, and instruction that resulted in an escalation of the dog’s aggressive temperament.
A clear lack of knowledge, experience, and professional training, resulted in extremely poor advice being given. The individual instructed the owner to tackle her dog’s display of aggression with a rolled up newspaper and charged her for the privilege of such outrageous advice. Using physical punishment to deal with a dog already learning to be aggressive is quite simply a recipe for disaster. Meeting aggression with aggression generally leads to one party getting injured and the intensification of behavioural problems.
This was a straight forward case of people misunderstanding how dogs learn and failing to recognise breed traits, if you fight a terrier there is a strong chance that it will fight back. After all they are game dogs that were bred to tackle, badgers, otters, foxes, and other creatures once considered vermin.
‘Bailey’ had simply learnt to defend herself against anything that she considered unpleasant. However, she had also become accustomed to redirecting her pent up aggression on her loving owner. She was being the dog that she was bred to be, fearless, bold, and game, but she was expressing her anger in the wrong direction and with significant consequences. When she became intolerant or bored she became feisty and attacked her owner. This was demonstrated through several unpleasant encounters that resulted in superficial injuries. The position was untenable, the relationship damaged beyond repair, and urgent action required.
The owner truly cared for ‘Bailey’, but sadly she was unable to meet the needs or control the demands of her terrier and it soon became apparent that a new home was the only likely successful outcome for this young dog. A new home would be a chance to start afresh with strong owners who understood the needs of the dog and more importantly could meet them.
Before attempting to find a new home the people who bred ‘Bailey’; were contacted. They formulated the opinion that the owner was too soft and should take a firm stance with ‘Bailey’. This opinion they formed without any observation or assessment. They also criticised the owner for seeking external support from The Way of the Dog, but then stated that they would euthanize ‘Bailey’ if she returned to her breeding home. The owner was heartbroken; she knew that she had to find a new home or continue to suffer the punishment from ‘Bailey’. She could not support the breeder’s views or their suggestions of euthanasia. She had tried her hardest to engage with ‘Bailey’, but the damage was done.
Notwithstanding all the unnecessary sadness, this case has ended well. I can happily report that some months on ‘Bailey’ lives in a new home with new owners and other dogs to provide her with guidance. The early days have not been without incident but she has slowly learnt to trust again and is progressing very well indeed. Her new owners manage her carefully reducing any opportunity for her to practice being aggressive.
They have taken ‘Bailey’ very much to their hearts and have provided a stable home and environment in which she can now flourish. Each week that passes is a step in the right direction and the new owners are committed to meeting ‘Bailey’s’ needs and maintaining a safe and structured environment. ‘Bailey’s’ former owner is delighted that ‘Bailey’ is now happy and safe.
From the many cases that I have dealt with the case of ‘Bailey’ epitomises the extent to which routinely treating a dog with physical force and punishment can lead to real and serious damage for both dog and owner. It also highlights the extent to which damage can be caused by enlisting the services of poor trainers.
Back in September the Kennel Club organised the National Puppy Awareness Week (PAW), seeking to raise awareness and promote the responsible breeding and trading of puppies here in the UK. Finding the right puppy can be a difficult task and locating a suitable breeder can be something of a lottery.
The Kennel Club’s bid to raise awareness and address the issues that arise as a result of puppy farms and also the inappropriate importing of puppies is admirable and a responsible step in the right direction. However, it is important that we appreciate that these issues need our full-time attention and appropriate action if we are to make changes.
This week BBC News Manchester ran the following story, “Pedigree dog cruelty: Bury breeders banned for 10 years.” The article went on to explain how profit was the primary consideration over welfare.
Last April the Manchester Evening News exposed an illegal farm selling 400 puppies a year. The reality is that where there is a market there is a problem. Animal cruelty exists, dogs are being bred in horrendous conditions with disturbing consequences, financial gain often being the motivation.
In 2012 I wrote an article about the problems that may arise from buying a puppy without seeing the birth mother. I have attached the article for reference and download.
The Dog’s Trust – Battery Farmed Dogs: Battery Farmed Dogs Campaign (Puppy Farming)
Do people really understand what their dogs are communicating? Or is it that our human rationale takes over and we seek to excuse our dog’s poor communication and unruly behaviour with something we consider acceptable instead of the truth?
Here comes that dog again….
Regularly I encounter others out walking their dogs and more often than not their dogs are off the lead and enjoying being a dog. In some cases this poses no issue as the dog is extremely well behaved responding to their owner’s words and demonstrating balanced behaviour. These dogs are happy to engage in play and soak up the benefits that such mental stimulation will bring.
However, there are also numerous occasions where I encounter dogs that are not under control presenting as anti-social yet their owners justify their dog’s behaviour by those mortal words, “My dog just wants to play.”
My interpretation is often somewhat different, I see a dog that lacks discipline failing to respond to the owner’s words, and is seeking to threaten or intimidate by rushing or forcing itself upon the passing dog. The truth is that some dogs just don’t know how to play or communicate; they may be overly exuberant or unnecessarily forceful. They lack appropriate communication skills and do not take heed of subtle cues from the dog wanting to be left alone. They seek to forcefully inspect or interact with the dog with no interjection, supervision or leadership from their owner. This often leads to scuffles and over reactions.
Read the situation
Of course it is true that many dogs are happy to play and socialise, however there are rules to be considered:
- Are the owners happy for their dogs to interact?
- More importantly, do the dogs actually want to interact?
Dog owners should consider whether the oncoming dog is a potential play mate before allowing their own dog to rush ahead. If the oncoming dog is on the lead I would suggest that it is safe to say that there is a perfectly legitimate reason for this and perhaps the owner doesn’t want a dog to dog interaction. There is no requirement for all dogs to meet and greet when being exercised.
Not every dog wants to play with another dog, not every dog is comfortable with other dogs. There are many dogs that are poorly bred, lack appropriate socialisation training from birth, or simply lack the confidence and courage to be around other dogs due to a host of different reasons. Some dogs are not seeking to play, quite the opposite, they are seeking to create space and distance by rushing at the other dog because they are potentially fearful and lack certain confidence.
All people are different and I firmly believe that all dogs are different, we should consider this when we are out exercising our dogs and respect the space of fellow dog owners.
Have you ever considered that my dog doesn’t want to play?
A recent study conducted at the University of Tokyo suggests that dogs are emotionally connected to people and will yawn in response to their owners yawning. Previously it was thought that dogs would yawn when feeling anxious, however the study leader Teresa Romero suggests that dogs are “emotionally connected” to people and yawn out of empathy rather than stress.
The experiment ruled out stress having found no significant difference in the dogs’ heartbeats during observation. The dogs would respond to their owner’s yawns and responded less towards fake yawns also suggesting that they were more sensitive to their owner’s yawns rather than those displayed by strangers.
Scientific studies are often considered subjective however when it comes to the evolution of the domestic dog I feel that such studies have a clear place in helping us try to better understand and connect with our canine friends. I suggest that we should keep an open mind when it comes to science and appreciate that studies can have flaws with the results sometimes open for interpretation or challenge. Notwithstanding, the better we are able to understand our domestic dogs the better we can support them. We can only achieve this by studying them.
Do you feel emotionally connected to your animal? Professor Marc Bekoff in his book, ‘The Emotional Lives of Animals’ writes the following; “Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them and so do other animals. We must never forget this.”