Why do today's dogs have a multitude of so called behavioural problems that their ancestors never suffered from. 'Modern' behavioural assessments are now big business with owners shelling out often hundreds of pounds to sort their dog out. In the same way that modern parenting is the cause of modern social problems in the modern world, is it the dogs or us, or parents or children who are to blame? After all, someone has to be blamed don't they?
We all know that having a good dog isn't just about training. Just because a dog sits when it's told to, doesn't mean it won't bite the postman, attack other dogs or bark at children. However, does that behaviour come from character (nature) or it's formative learning (nurture)?
How are dogs to know how to behave when we don't give them any lessons? They have few social opportunities to present and learn natural behaviours from other canines as we continually isolate them on leads. The majority of new dog owners don't know where to start and naturally turn to books to teach them how to care for their dog. Unfortunately this can often have disastrous consequences as what many (not all) books do, is to disable owners natural instincts from figuring out for themselves why puppy/dog is behaving in the way it is. Each book advises something different until they end up so confused the dog gets worse and is re-homed as a problem dog. Of course some dogs do have particularly strong drives which are totally mismatched to their new and inexperienced owners, and that's why we use the Volhard Character Assessment methods to find a best match and eliminate many potential problems. However, even the softest, most submissive, easy going puppy can be turned into a so called 'dominant' dog if the owners are not up to the job.
Few dogs are born to be natural leaders but an unsure human will make the most easy going puppy 'dominant' or unstable by being an inept leader. Dogs have remarkable instincts for figuring out who is good enough to lead and who are weak, and the puppy without a decent boss has no option but to 'become dominant' as he/she has to survive. In the dogs' world it is still about survival and 'someone has to be leader of this weak pack' - even if they weren’t naturally cut out to be so. This is where conflict begins in the dog’s mind. "I wasn’t born to be boss but these guys are useless, so what choice do I have if I'm to survive? Then they punish me for it!"
One of the most frequent questions we are asked when new owners get their puppies (although it is in the puppy pack), is 'how do I stop my puppy biting me?' Rather than think you have a puppy who is a biter/nipper, consider this:
Puppy goes to his/her new home and everyone gazes adoringly on the new prodigal son or daughter. Pup thinks this is good, I only have to whine a bit and look at all the attention I get. I only have to wander around griping and they play with me. I don't have to earn my food, they deliver it to me. I'm adored, fussed and petted when I ask for it. The humans keep kissing me (to a dog this is supplication - ie infant asking for regurgitation), the children drop to their knees when they see me, they roll on the floor like puppies and play fight like my siblings.......
Then people wonder why it won't do as it's told and tries to nip everyone into submission! A puppy or child would never disrespect an elder like this naturally, but is it any wonder when everything you've taught your puppy is that he's the boss. You've been supplicant, fawning on him, smiling at his every whim and you think it's him who has the problem!
IS IT ANY SURPRISE DOGS ARE MESSED UP?! Confident natural leaders never have puppies testing them and have therefore never had to tell a puppy off for nipping. Our pack dynamic/power balance is clear from the beginning. Lots of love and plenty of structure with discipline.
So, what to do?
Firstly start thinking for yourself and review your interaction with your dog. Do you give attention, adoration, cuddles, love food freely? This is absolutely NOT about being hard or not giving love – I have loving hands on my dogs most times during the day, but it’s when I choose to give, not theirs to ask. If I realise I’ve been typing too long and dogs push me for fuss, I ignore them then two minutes later go over to them for fuss. An indulgent smile is enough to make them squeeze next to me but equally a stern eyebrow raised look makes them think – oops, pushed that one a bit far!
If you make all the running and effort and your dog has you wrapped around his little paws, then you have your pack dynamic completely wrong and it’s hardly surprising your dog will think you are weak. Where else in nature do you get a pack leader who behaves subserviently? Make your dog work for you not the other way around.
When your puppy bites, do not loudly shriek ‘ow!’ You will sound like a wounded animal and that will illicit prey drive – what fun! If you say no, scowl at puppy, and start waving your arms around to avoid him and his teeth, make much of the situation, your puppy has succeeded in getting your attention and putting you in your place. Stand up, walk away (yes that is what a pack leader would do – not that a pup would ever try nipping an alpha pack leader anyway). Game over/not on your terms. Do not ever shut your puppy out or scold by putting pup in isolation. What utterly stupid advice some idiot so called behaviourist (probably studied from a book, never a real dog), came up with.
Do wait a few moments (so it’s not on pups terms), then go and train (routine – sits/downs/stands/roll overs etc), play fetch for five mins, then offer a juicy bone on an old sheet for puppy to settle down with. Once you decide the game is over, give a nice gentle soothing massage rub – grooming is offered by the dominant animal, and teach them therefore that in the sitting room whilst you are watching TV, is where relaxation happens. Puppies obviously take longer to settle down; they are more energetic, so if you plan on coming home, taking dog for an hour around the park then not hearing a peep from pup, think again.
Remember pups and dogs don’t have TV or books or play-stations, and we are often their only interaction with other beings, so understand why they are misbehaving and get into a routine of when you give attention or not.
Do be aware that nNot all dogs mouth for dominance reasons. Bouschka (Equinox) and her progeny/relations, tend to mouth for affection and hold your arm/hand in their mouth. The biggest mistake ever would be to chastise them for being affectionate. The 'old dominance theory' resulted in a lot of miserable dogs whose owners thought they should make a playful or affectionate dog submissive. (Ooh look, friends cry, you shouldn't let him get away with that!). Show him/her who's boss - and owners go overboard fearing this strong big black dog is trying to be boss, when in reality it may just be testing bite inhibition (ie how much hurts!) or feeling bored. It would be very wrong to punish a dog for being bored if we constantly ignore it. The general rule is, however, no teeth on humans.
With all training,
do not allow yourself or your dog to become stressed. No creature can concentrate when stressed, so if something isn't
working out, just stop and start again or panic and confusion will
set in. Keep your voice steady - with puppies do not use 'disciplinary
tones'. If you shout or snap commands, it sounds like you are barking, so
keep your voice mellow. You may find silent
or clicker training useful if your voice is sharp. Carry out each
exercise no more than three times. Any more and it becomes too repetitive.
Try to finish each task with a 'win', ie if puppy has succeeded
after try two, finish the exercise on a win, and leave it for another day. Go
back to basics when training your pup in whichever task it is.
However old they are, they don't always understand what your command
is - that is not their fault, it's yours for not giving it properly.
Just remember, there is always a reason for every action, it's up
to you to find out what it is. IMPORTANT remember - when your puppy
does the right thing, praise it! Otherwise how do they know that
they've done a good job? The words most puppies hear is 'NO, naughty
puppy, NO'! Try giving the puppy an opportunity to do something
right so they can receive praise. That will change the dynamic in their relationship with you and they will want to start to try and find ways to please you. The difference will astound you.
The breed is not always be suitable for first time dog owners, who through lack
of experience may not understand some of the behaviour
that a challenging young dog can present. Because Dobermanns
are highly intelligent and demanding, new owners may sometimes think a dog is trying to be 'dominant'(there's that wretched word again!), and a few may resort to 'coming down hard on the dog' in
the misguided belief that the dog will then respect them for it.
As in all cases, respect must be earned through leadership, and encouraging the dog
around to the owners way of thinking is more rewarding than
having to physically discipline the dog. As any experienced owner
will tell you, Dobermanns are a very sensitive breed and will not
achieve their best if roughly handled or stressed. There are some
who advise anyone with a problem dog to assert their dominance by
'taking it around the back and giving it a whacking'. Times have
moved on from when we sent children up chimneys. There are far better
ways to deal with problems than by ignorant people who advise you
to physically or mentally punish your dog, which only escalates
an already stressful situation. Click HERE for our training page.
Dobermanns require mental
and physical exercise; they are not a 'Sunday afternoon walk in
the park dog'. They require their owners to be of a steady nature
(mentally) and to be experienced handlers. Due to the need of the
Dobermann to be part of your 'pack' they are not a breed suited
to solitary confinement. For that reason we do not sell to people
who are out at work all day or who intend to keep their dogs in
a kennel. This breed is not suited to environments where they are
not treated as a member of the family. Like all dogs, they need
rules to work to. That doesn't mean they won't try to step outside
the rules, Dobermanns will push and test you if they feel you may not be a worthy leader,
especially the males during adolescence when they can be quite hard
work, but if you gain their respect with calm authority, you will
be rewarded with absolute devotion and loyalty. If you try to dominate, suppress and bully the dog into submission, you will cause more problems than you had before
by introducing conflict and fight.
Many dogs, especially
those who live without another dog, become so attached to their owners,
that when the owner leaves the house (or in some cases the room),
the dog becomes desperately worried. He feels alone and panicky,
and these feelings most often manifest themselves in destructive
behaviour and/or barking. Some owners think it's 'sweet' that their dog follows them everywhere - 'oh he loves me so much I can't make a cup of tea without him following me'. I think this is frankly tragic and if a child behaved like this it would be in considered very troubled. Is it funny or sweet to make your dog co-dependent on you? What if you need to go into hospital or away for the day and your dog becomes so distressed. It's not cute and it's not funny.
The basic treatment
for these behaviours is the same, and it will not be a miracle cure
overnight. Expect to be working on this for a month or more depending
on the severity of the separation anxiety. Preferably don't allow this behaviour to start in the first place.
From an early age when your new puppy comes home, do not let him
follow you around the house or around the room. He must learn independence,
and must also realise that you will always return to him sooner
or later. If he follows you around the house, shut the door to stop him following you and open it a second later before he's begun to register and complain about being separated from you.
Teaching your dog
to stay, is the most useful of exercises to start with. This exercise
is NOT recall, it is to return to the dog. Start in the garden as
a game, tell him to sit or down with a definite command. Walk away
from him, wait for a few moments then return. If the dog creeps
after you whilst you are walking away, return to him, say 'go back'
and take him back to where you left him. This is important, you
mustn't let him lie down anywhere but where you asked him to stay.
When he is confident and staying where you tell him to, start to
increase the time until you can leave him for a good 5-10 minutes.
During this time you should let him see you moving around and when
you and he are really practiced, even going out of sight.
Use this exercise
in the house by telling him to wait in his basket. This teaches
him not to follow you from room to room. Eventually, (don't push
it too fast), you should go out of the house. Return after 1 minute,
then 5 the next day and so on. Remember on your return to give small
Make no touch, talk or eye contact when you leave the dog on his own, either leaving or
on your return. He will be ecstatic that you've come back to him
at last. Just say hello and carry on unpacking your shopping or
making a cup of tea. This doesn't mean you have to ignore him completely,
but you should ignore his constant demands for attention, no matter
how imploring he is or what toys he is bringing to you. Whatever
you do, don't go into "poor baby, Mummy's back now" routine.
Many people advise giving the dog a huge treat when you are leaving
him, such as a big bone or buster ball filled with treats to keep
him occupied and happy. However, if the only time he gets this is
when you are leaving him to go out of the house, you are simply
re-enforcing the issue of leaving the house, which is a big step.
Therefore, if you feel he needs something to do whilst you aren't
with him, give him the special treat whilst you go into other parts
of the house. This is his reward for being alone. You must of course
remove it when you return, because otherwise it loses it's special
Try and reduce the dog's general dependency on you. When he comes
up for fuss, ignore him. A few minutes later, call him to you for
fuss. This is used to establish hierarchy in dominant dogs, however,
it is also useful for demanding dogs, which in a sense is dominant
- don't become your dog's personal slave!
talk or look at your dog when he is barking, even to just say no. Any attention
is attention of some sort and therefore a reward in his eyes. Ignoring
a dog is bad enough for them. Praise him calmly for being good and quiet.
More soon but in the meantime I must go and give some indulgence to my patient dogs!