Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Who's in Charge?"

Canine Behavior - Who's in Charge?
Every team member and Doctor at Dove Creek Animal Hospital is dedicated to see to it that your "furry family friends' are healthy in every respect.  That also means that your pets are happy, well-adjusted to suburban life and are a joy to have around at all times.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case and, regrettably, the leading reason for too many pets being surrendered for adoption (or even euthanized) is for behavioral problems.  Many of these unfortunate cases were preventable had better information reached owners in a timely fashion, or if small problems had been addressed at an earlier stage when they were more easily reversible.

Over the coming months we will, hopefully, post specific information here that will help you better understand the unique relationship between pet owners and canines and how sometimes even good intentions can lead to less than ideal outcomes when training the family dog.

First, let's discuss the general subject of Leadership in the household and why it's so important to having a healthy relationship with your canine companions in terms they understand, and why it's so often misunderstood.  Leadership does NOT mean that owners must physically "dominate" their dogs in any strict sense of the word, nor does it mean that the pet - owner relationship should be cold, impersonal or uncaring.  Quite to the contrary, a canine that feels secure that its' owner is "in charge" is often less anxious, more stable emotionally, and much happier adjusting as a four legged member in a two legged pack.  A lack of leadership by a pet owner often, if not usually, is a root cause of many undesirable behavior patterns of the domestic canine - from barking and annoying habits like leash pulling to more serious offenses such as extreme over protectiveness to outright aggression.

One of the foremost authorities on canine behavior, and the subject of leadership, is Patricia McConnell.  Paraphrasing from her book "Leader of the Pack" she says:

"I know you love your dog, but if you love your dog you will do him no favors by continually catering to him, continually cooing over him, or providing him with no boundaries.  Dogs need to feel secure to be truly happy and that means they need to feel secure that you will be the leader.  Leadership doesn't mean forcibly dominating your dog.  Leadership is more a mental quality in which you set boundaries without intimidation.  Good parents and good teachers know that children need kind and benevolent direction, and good dog trainers know that dogs also need the same thing.  Like children, all dogs need love, but there's a big difference between being loved and being spoiled.  It will do your dog no good to live in a home where he/she can get anything they want by being pushy and demanding.  If you are comfortable being that benevolent leader, your dog can relax, and will love you all the more for it."

Leadership (or lack of) is communicated to your canine pets in many ways.  It often is unspoken and more subtle and may mean the rules sometime have to change in the way they are petted, walked, how they are fed, and even how you look at them and use their name.  Body language is key to the way in which canines interpret who's in charge and where they fit in the family hierarchy.

Dove Creek Animal Hospital encourages you to become a more confident leader and to learn more about this topic by reading any of Ms. McConnell's books and checking our blog often.  We plan to address specific topics - including prevention and remedial behavior therapy - in coming months.  We also offer behavior counseling on an individual, appointment basis for more challenging problem behaviors.  Although we are not board certified, we are very interested in helping our clients through these ordeals if and when they arise.

In the meantime, Be a Leader and your dog will love you for it!

Dr. David C. Zoltner, Denton Veterinarian at Dove Creek Animal Hospital
Denton Veterinarian Dr. David C. Zoltner

David C. Zoltner joined the Dove Creek Team in 2010 after 25 continuous years of veterinary practice in Denton, Texas.  He is a 1976 graduate of Oklahoma State University and has practiced in both Oklahoma and Arkansas before coming to Denton in 1983.  For more information about Dove Creek Animal Hospital visit www.dovecreekanimalhospital.com