by Don Hanson
Last month I started to address the question, “How do I get the perfect dog?” I discussed how I have heard people define “perfect” and how what people may perceive as “perfect” may not be a realistic expectation and may harm our dog's overall welfare. I also discussed how absolutes like I want my dog to like all people, and I want a dog that NEVER leaves an unfenced yard are unrealistic. behavior is constantly changing and is affected by a wide variety of factors during our dog's life, most of which are beyond our control. the effect of genetics on behavior and the importance of a puppy’s early experience with mom and its littermates before it even joins our family were also discussed.
Once a dog leaves mom and its littermates, and it arrives in our home, we are responsible for that puppy and need to appropriately socialize and habituate it to everything we expect it to encounter (people, animals, surfaces, objects, sounds, smells, etc.) before they are 16 weeks old. socialization can be a very daunting and time-consuming task if you do it right, but it is essential for your dog’s future behavioral health. a puppy that is not gently exposed to a wide variety of people of different ages, sizes, races, and behaviors may very likely be fearful of certain types of people. never being brushed or having their nails trimmed until after 16 weeks of age may result in a dog that is extremely fearful and reactive during this process, which can be a stressful experience for all involved. a puppy that is raised in a rural area the first 16 weeks of its life and then moved to a home in an urban environment with the never before experienced sounds, smells, and intense activity of urban America, may become very anxious and fearful. A dog that is displaced from its home and family could be extremely traumatized just as you might be in shock if you ended up living in a homeless shelter. Trauma can cause fear and anxiety for life and does not go away on its own.
Whether you decide to train your dog and how you train it will also affect future behavior. Dogs with little or no training are less likely to be well-mannered and, for that reason, are more likely to be surrendered. if you use any aversive to train your dog, the most common ones being shock, choke, or prong collars, your dog is more likely to develop behavioral problems. if you inadvertently reward your dog for jumping up on people, chasing people, or barking at strangers, you may create the very behavior problems you are trying to prevent. training matters and you will be best served by investing in working with a reward- based dog trainer accredited by a reputable, independent certification body.
During the course of your dog’s life, it will have many behavioral interactions with people and animals. any time such an interaction occurs, the behavior of one individual in the interaction can influence the behavior of the other individual. The simple act of an infant grabbing at a dog’s wagging tail, due to no malicious intent, may cause the dog to feel physical or emotional pain or discomfort causing the dog to react with anything from a bark to a bite in an attempt to get the child to stop the behavior. the infant’s behavior may have established a fear of children, and the dog and the dog’s reaction may have created a fear of dogs in the child. fears of this nature can be locked into memory by a single event, and the brain is designed, in the interest of our survival, to remember these lessons forever.
many behaviors in all animals are driven by emotion and thus are not always predictable or rational. either party in a behavioral transaction can misinterpret the behavior of the other, which can cause a situation to spiral out of control quickly. it’s dark, and you cannot see your dog lying by the bed, you get up and step on the dog, and the dog lashes out in fear biting your ankle but not breaking the skin, you scream in pain and yell at the dog as you kick him, causing your dog to bite harder in an attempt to get you to stop before he scrambles under the bed to hide from the vicious person. You have both reacted instinctually and emotionally and may be wary of one another for minutes, hours, days, or maybe forever. emotional responses have a great impact on our reactions to another's behavior and on our remembering those incidents.
Next month I’ll address medical issues that can affect our dog's behavior and offer my suggestions on how to give you the best chance of ending up with the perfect dog.