Dog Behavior – Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Parts 1, 2 & 3

< Versions of these articles were published in the July, August, and September issues of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 14SEP17 >

< You can listen to a podcast on this topic that was broadcast on The Woof Meow on 16SEP17 by clicking here >

I recently saw a meme posted on Facebook with the words “Getting a dog without understanding the breed is like buying a house without an inspection.” A discussion followed as to whether or not this was a good way to emphasize that breed matters when you are selecting a dog that will best fit into your family, lifestyle, and the environment in which you and your dog will live. I agree with the sentiment of the text in this meme; however, I believe that the question of how important breed is when selecting a dog is far too important to leave to a discussion on Facebook. If you want the greatest probability of getting a great canine companion, you need to consider breed before purchasing or adopting a dog, and your research needs to extend beyond social media and avid fans of the breed. Every breed or mix of breeds has its downside, not often apparent to their biggest fans.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) currently recognizes 202 different breeds of dogs organized into seven groups: Herding, Hound, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Working. Different breeds of dogs exist because each breed was developed to address a particular need or role in serving humans.

In some cases, the AKC group description is helpful in understanding what a dog was bred to do, while some of the groups contain breeds with a wide variety of individual physical and behavioral traits and I question how they were lumped into the same group. However, looking at the Group is a good place to start. Below you will find my thoughts on each AKC group and factors that I recommend you consider before deciding which breed is the best for you. Please recognize that you want to choose a breed that is also the best choice for your family, your lifestyle, and the environment in which you live. The average lifespan of a dog, which can also be breed dependent, can range from six to eighteen plus years. As you consider your current lifestyle and environment, think about the future and what your life will be like when your dog is older. Adding children to your life or moving from a rural to an urban environment should be considered when you choose your breed.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

The Herding and Hound Groups

Herding Group

All breeds share the fabulous ability to control the movement of other animals. …pure instinct prompts many of these dogs to gently herd their owners, especially the children of the family.1

The most popular of the breeds in the Herding group is the German Shepherd Dog, which has been second on the AKC’s list of Most Popular Dog Breeds for the past four years2. Other dogs in this group include Australian Shepherds (#16), Corgis (#18, #69), Shetland Sheepdogs (#24), Collies (#37), Border Collies (#38), and more.

I describe many dogs in the herding group as “Those with a passion for bringing order out of chaos.” Often the dogs in this group need to herd and will attempt to round-up everything from your livestock, to ducks at the park, your cats, other dogs, the neighbor’s children, and yes, even stationary tennis balls. Some breeds herd with their eyes while others use quick, but effective and often uncomfortable nips with their teeth. If you live in a chaotic household and have children nearby, you should carefully consider if a dog from the herding group is a good choice for your situation. On a positive note, the dogs in the herding group have been bred to work in close collaboration with a person so they can be easier to train.

Hound Group

Most hounds share the common ancestral trait of being used for hunting. Some use acute scenting powers to follow a trail. Others demonstrate a phenomenal gift of stamina as they relentlessly run down quarry.1

The favorite breed in the Hound group is the Beagle, which has been the fifth most popular dog in the USA since 20152. Other dogs in the Hound group include Dachshunds (#13), Bassett Hounds (#39), Bloodhounds (#52), Greyhounds (#151), and more.

The key thing to remember about the AKC’s comments on the Hound group is that hounds were bred to hunt by selectively breeding them to emphasize their predatory instincts. Some hounds use their sight, and some use their impressive sense of smell, but they are both experts at detecting and chasing down prey. Since hounds often work independently of their handler, unlike the breeds in the Herding and Sporting group, a hound may be more challenging to train. While it is not impossible to train a hound to be off-leash in unfenced areas, it will typically take more time and higher value rewards. Some hounds will never reach off-leash reliability no matter how skilled you are at training. Because many of the hound breeds have been bred to work as a group, they can have excellent social skills and will often do well with other dogs.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

Many dogs in shelters are labeled as being part hound, and we see a wide variety of them for both boarding and daycare. If you put the time and effort into training your hound and have reasonable expectations, they can make excellent, laid back companions. Yes, I said laid back. I cannot think of any hound I have met that I would classify as hyper.

Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.

The Sporting, Non-Sporting, Terrier, and Toy Groups

Last month I started a three-part series on the importance of understanding your dog’s breed and what they were bred to do before selecting a dog. That understanding is critical to making sure you get the perfect dog that we all seek. Last month I discussed the AKC Herding and Hound groups. This month I will look at the Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Toy groups.

Non-Sporting Group

– “The breeds in the Non-Sporting Group are a varied collection in terms of size, coat, personality and overall appearance.1

Some of the more popular breeds in the Non-Sporting group include Bulldogs (#4), French Bulldogs (#6), Poodles (#15), the Bichon Frise (#45), Dalmatian (#62), Keeshond (#92), and more2.

The breeds in the Non-Sporting group are so diverse that discussing them as a group is not very valuable. For that reason, I recommend that anyone considering a dog from this group not only talk to breeders but also veterinarians, trainers, and kennel and daycare owners about your particular breed of interest. Always make sure you seek advice from those with no financial gain in the breed that you choose.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

Sporting Group

Naturally active and alert, Sporting dogs make likeable, well-rounded companions. … Potential owners of Sporting dogs need to realize that most require regular, invigorating exercise.1

The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog in the US for many years, and the Golden Retriever often holds the number three spot on the AKC most popular breeds list2. Other popular breeds in the Sporting group include; German Short-Haired Pointers (#11), Brittany’s (#25), English Springer Spaniels (#26), Cocker Spaniels (#29), and more.

We see lots of Sporting breeds in Maine due to their overall popularity but also probably because many Mainers love outdoor adventures and so do the dogs in the Sporting group. These dogs are bred to work closely with their handler, so they often are some of the easiest dogs to train. However, they do tend to be some of the larger breeds as well as being well known for their enthusiastic exuberance. If you have a dog from the Sporting group, starting training at an early age is essential. Because of their retrieving instincts, some of the Sporting breeds can be overly mouthy, so training them appropriate bite inhibition before they are 13 weeks of age is critical.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

For hundreds of years, retrievers have been bred to have the stamina and instincts to hunt during hunting season while being able to relax and be an ideal companion dog the rest of the year. Within the past few years, some of these dogs have been bred to be, in my opinion, overly driven so as to be more competitive in field trials. These dogs are not always a good choice as a companion as they often exhibit poor bite inhibition and a hyperactive personality.

Terrier Group

These are feisty, energetic dogs whose sizes range from fairly small, as in the Norfolk, Cairn or West Highland White Terrier, to the grand Airedale Terrier. Terriers typically have little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs. Their ancestors were bred to hunt and kill vermin. …In general, they make engaging pets, but require owners with the determination to match their dogs’ lively characters.1

The most popular breed in the Terrier group is the Miniature Schnauzer at #17. Other dogs in the Terrier group include the West Highland White Terrier (#41), Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier (#50), Airedale Terrier (#55), and others2. You may have noted that Terriers fall lower on the popularity list and that is because a terrier is not for everyone.

The AKC group description indicates that dogs in the Terrier group often have issues with other animals, including dogs. I describe Terriers as being the Seal Team of the dog world; they seek out and kill and do it very efficiently. That sometimes makes them less than ideal for those new to dogs, those with children, and those that are fans of backyard wildlife. If you have other animals in your home, talk to a certified dog trainer or canine behavior consultant about adding a Terrier to your family before committing to do so.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

Toy Group

The diminutive size and winsome expressions of Toy dogs illustrate the main function of this Group: to embody sheer delight.1

The most popular breeds in the Toy group include; Yorkshire Terrier (#9), Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (#19), Shih Tzu (#20) and Pug (#32)2. The most distinguishing feature of these breeds is their size; they are small. The shape of their faces, the length of their coat, and personality can vary widely.

Many breeds in the Toy group were bred specifically to serve as lap companions. We see several toy breeds for boarding and grooming at Green Acres, and they have very endearing qualities. For someone that primarily wants a canine buddy, they can be ideal. I often recommend both the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Pug for first-time dog parents. They are small, durable, have great personalities and are pretty low maintenance, although both breeds may suffer from serious health issues.

Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.

Next month I will close out this three- part series by discussing the AKC Working group and Mixed Breed dogs.

The Working Group and Mixed Breeds

This is part three of a three-part series on the importance of understanding your dog’s breed and what they were bred to do before selecting a dog. That understanding is critical to making sure you get the perfect dog that we all seek. In July I discussed AKC Herding and Hound groups and in August I looked at the Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Toy groups. This month I will address the AKC Working Group and Mixed Breed dogs.

Working Group

Dogs of the Working Group were bred to perform such jobs as guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues. They have been invaluable assets to man throughout the ages. …Their considerable dimensions and strength alone, however, make many working dogs unsuitable as pets for average families. And again, by virtue of their size alone, these dogs must be properly trained.1

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

If you look at the top 10 list for dogs in the US you will find these breeds from the Working group; Rottweiler (#8) and Boxer (#10). Other popular breeds in this group include the Siberian Husky (#12), Great Dane (#14), Doberman Pinscher (#15), Bernese Mountain Dog (#27),Newfoundland (#35), and others2.

Like the Non-Sporting group, the breeds in the Working group are so diverse that discussing them as a group is not helpful. For that reason, I recommend that anyone considering a dog from this group talk to breeders as well as veterinarians, trainers, kennel and daycare owners about the particular breeds that interest you. Always make sure you seek advice from those with no financial gain in the breed that you choose.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

The dogs in the Working group were bred for a wide variety of purposes. The livestock guarding dogs were historically bred in the fields with the animals that they are supposed to protect. They are independent and naturally suspicious of all but the flock they guard and a few people. The Northern breeds in this group; Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed love the cold and snow and find the heat uncomfortable.

Other factors to consider with the breeds in the Working group are their size and strength. Can you safely handle a dog this big? Are you physically able to or do you have a plan to lift them and carry them should the need arise? Are you committed to training the dog?  A dog from the working group can be an excellent choice if your lifestyle is compatible with what they need to thrive. If you have other dogs in your life, you need to consider the difference in size between the dogs. The play between a large dog in from the Working group and a toy breed will need to be carefully supervised.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

We care for many dogs in the Working Group, primarily Boxers, Great Danes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Mastiffs. They all do well, and we enjoy seeing them; however, they each have very individual personalities, so it is important that we take the time to get to know them well.

The most important consideration when getting a dog is their temperament and personality. While both vary in any breed, when choosing a pure-bred puppy or dog you can look to the breed for a highly probable predictor of what you will get. The same cannot be said of mixed breeds.

Mixed Breeds or Mutts

Fifty-percent of the dogs in the US are mixed breeds. I know from personal experience, with my own mixed breeds as well as the many that we care for at Green Acres, that mixed breeds can be marvelous companions. However, when getting a mixed breed, it can be problematic because you do not always know what you are getting. Knowing what breeds make up your mixed breed is difficult at best unless you make use of a reliable DNA test.

Unless your mixed breed is a “designer breed” like one of the many varieties of Doodles, there was probably no witness to the breeding. That means that your mixed breed was labeled as being a “something/something” by a person, based solely on their appearance or physical traits. Unfortunately, that is not a very accurate way to determine a mix of breeds.

In 2012, a study3, 4 was initiated to “…determine the accuracy of visual breed identification compared to DNA breed profiles.” The study looked at 100 shelter dogs. Photos of the dogs were reviewed by “Self-identified “dog experts,” including breeders, exhibitors, trainers, groomers, behaviorists, rescuers, shelter staff, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians…” Their identification of the breed mix of each dog in the photo was compared to a DNA test of that dog. The results indicated “Respondents correctly identified a prominent breed an average of 27% of the time. Each of the dogs had an average of 53 different predominant breeds selected. No one correctly identified a breed for 6% of the dogs, and 22% of the dogs had the correct breed chosen less than 1% of the time. Only 15% of the dogs were correctly identified more than 70% of the time. These results indicate that, regardless of profession, visual identification of the breeds of dogs with unknown heritage is poor.” [Emphasis added] In other words, mixed breed dogs in shelters or rescues are misidentified more often than not.

FMIhttps://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2012/05/2012-Croy-Maddies-Shelter-Medicine-Confernce-Abstract.pdf

My dog Muppy was labeled as a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix when we adopted her. She certainly looks like a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix, and we love her just as she is, but we decided to do a DNA test just to learn more. The Mars Wisdom Panel reports that Muppy’s DNA indicates that she is 37%, Cocker Spaniel. The test was not able to identify other specific breeds in her lineage but does suggest that the next largest component comes from the Terrier group. Muppy has DNA from what the Mars Wisdom Panel defines as the Middle East and African group which contains breeds such as the Afghan Hound, Basenji, Saluki, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Lastly, according to the test, she contains some DNA from the Herding group.

We decided to do a second test, this one by Embark, which many consider to be more definitive. The Embark test reports that Muppy is: 44.7% Cocker Spaniel, 30.0% Rat Terrier, 12.2% Boston Terrier, and 13.1% SuperMutt. The latter is a category where Embark lumps together other DNA evidence that suggests Muppy may have small amounts of DNA from other distant ancestors, in her case: the American Eskimo Dog, Bearded Collie, and Collie.

FMIMuppy’s Embark resultsembk.me/muppy

No identifiable DNA was found in Muppy that would suggest that she is part Golden Retriever, Both tests indicate she is predominantly Cocker Spaniel and terrier. I suspect the Golden Retriever came into play when she was in rescue. When Muppy was rescued, she was pregnant. I have seen photos of her puppies and photos of two of those puppies as adults, and her offspring most definitely look like Golden Retrievers. It is quite possible that the father of Muppy’s pups was a Golden or a golden mix. However, the point is, judging by appearance only is highly inaccurate and Muppy is a prime example of how looks can be deceiving. No one labeled her as part terrier based on her appearance, yet both tests suggest a significant amount of terrier DNA.

From a behavioral perspective, Muppy shows several traits from her Cocker Spaniel lineage; she is very into birds; she points, and she retrieves. She also knows how to use her nose, and does so more than any other dog I have owned. I do not know if that trait is because of her DNA or is a behavior that was learned in order to survive as a stray. Muppy has been very easy to train, which could be due to her Sporting Group genes or her possible Herding DNA, or both. I do not see any Terrier behavioral characteristics.

Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.

References

1 AKC websitehttp://www.akc.org/public-education/resources/dog-breeds-sorted-groups/

2 Most Popular Dog Breeds – Full Ranking Listhttp://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/most-popular-dog-breeds-full-ranking-list/

3 Dog Breed Identification: What kind of dog is that?http://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/library/research-studies/current-studies/dog-breeds/

4 What kind or dog is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholdershttps://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2012/05/2012-Croy-Maddies-Shelter-Medicine-Confernce-Abstract.pdf

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – http://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – http://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©3SEP17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 3 – The Working Group and Mixed Breeds

< A version of this article was published in the September 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 14SEP17 >

< You can listen to a podcast on this topic that was broadcast on The Woof Meow on 16SEP17 by clicking here >

< UPDATED – 3SEP17 – All three parts of this series have been compiled into a single article at http://bit.ly/DoesDogBreedMatter >

This is part three of a three-part series on the importance of understanding your dog’s breed and what they were bred to do before selecting a dog. That understanding is critical to making sure you get the perfect dog that we all seek. In July I discussed AKC Herding and Hound groups and in August I looked at the Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Toy groups. This month I will address the AKC Working Group and Mixed Breed dogs.

Working Group – “Dogs of the Working Group were bred to perform such jobs as guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues. They have been invaluable assets to man throughout the ages. …Their considerable dimensions and strength alone, however, make many working dogs unsuitable as pets for average families. And again, by virtue of their size alone, these dogs must be properly trained.1

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

If you look at the top 10 list for dogs in the US you will find these breeds from the Working group; Rottweiler (#8) and Boxer (#10). Other popular breeds in this group include the Siberian Husky (#12), Great Dane (#14), Doberman Pinscher (#15), Bernese Mountain Dog (#27),Newfoundland (#35), and others2.

Like the Non-Sporting group, the breeds in the Working group are so diverse that discussing them as a group is not helpful. For that reason, I recommend that anyone considering a dog from this group talk to breeders as well as veterinarians, trainers, kennel and daycare owners about the particular breeds that interest you. Always make sure you seek advice from those with no financial gain in the breed that you choose.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

The dogs in the Working group were bred for a wide variety of purposes. The livestock guarding dogs were historically bred in the fields with the animals that they are supposed to protect. They are independent and naturally suspicious of all but the flock they guard and a few people. The Northern breeds in this group; Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed love the cold and snow and find the heat uncomfortable.

Other factors to consider with the breeds in the Working group are their size and strength. Can you safely handle a dog this big? Are you physically able or do you have a plan to lift them and carry them should the need arise? Are you committed to training the dog?  A dog from the working group can be an excellent choice if your lifestyle is compatible with what they need to thrive. If you have other dogs in your life, you need to consider the difference in size between the dogs. The play between a large dog in from the Working group and a toy breed will need to be carefully supervised.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

We care for many dogs in the Working Group, primarily Boxers, Great Danes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Mastiffs. They all do well, and we enjoy seeing them; however, they each have very individual personalities, so it is important that we take the time to get to know them well.

The most important consideration when getting a dog is their temperament and personality. While both vary in any breed, when choosing a pure-bred puppy or dog you can look to the breed for a highly probable predictor of what you will get. The same cannot be said of mixed breeds.

Mixed Breeds or Mutts

Fifty-percent of the dogs in the US are mixed breeds. I know from personal experience, with my own mixed breeds as well as the many that we care for at Green Acres, that mixed breeds can be marvelous companions. However, when getting a mixed breed, it can be problematic because you do not always know what you are getting. Knowing what breeds make up your mixed breed is difficult at best unless you make use of a reliable DNA test.

Unless your mixed breed is a “designer breed” like one of the many varieties of Doodles, there was probably no witness to the breeding. That means that your mixed breed was labeled as being a “something/something” by a person, based solely on their appearance or physical traits. Unfortunately, that is not a very accurate way to determine a mix of breeds.

In 2012, a study3, 4 was initiated to “…determine the accuracy of visual breed identification compared to DNA breed profiles.” The study looked at 100 shelter dogs. Photos of the dogs were reviewed by “Self-identified “dog experts,” including breeders, exhibitors, trainers, groomers, behaviorists, rescuers, shelter staff, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians…” Their identification of the breed mix of each dog in the photo was compared to a DNA test of that dog. The results indicated “Respondents correctly identified a prominent breed an average of 27% of the time. Each of the dogs had an average of 53 different predominant breeds selected. No one correctly identified a breed for 6% of the dogs, and 22% of the dogs had the correct breed chosen less than 1% of the time. Only 15% of the dogs were correctly identified more than 70% of the time. These results indicate that, regardless of profession, visual identification of the breeds of dogs with unknown heritage is poor.” [Emphasis added] In other words, mixed breed dogs in shelters or rescues are misidentified more often than not.

FMIhttps://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2012/05/2012-Croy-Maddies-Shelter-Medicine-Confernce-Abstract.pdf

My dog Muppy was labeled as a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix when we adopted her. She certainly looks like a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix, and we love her just as she is, but we decided to do a DNA test just to learn more. The Mars Wisdom Panel reports that Muppy’s DNA indicates that she is 37%, Cocker Spaniel. The test was not able to identify other specific breeds in her lineage but does suggest that the next largest component comes from the Terrier group. Muppy has DNA from what the Mars Wisdom Panel defines as the Middle East and African group which contains breeds such as the Afghan Hound, Basenji, Saluki, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Lastly, according to the test, she contains some DNA from the Herding group.

We decided to do a second test, this one by Embark, which many consider to be more definitive. The Embark test reports that Muppy is: 44.7% Cocker Spaniel, 30.0% Rat Terrier, 12.2% Boston Terrier, and 13.1% SuperMutt. The latter is a category where Embark lumps together other DNA evidence that suggests Muppy may have small amounts of DNA from other distant ancestors, in her case: the American Eskimo Dog, Bearded Collie, and Collie.

FMI – Muppy’s Embark results – embk.me/muppy

No identifiable DNA was found in Muppy that would suggest that she is part Golden Retriever, Both tests indicate she is predominantly Cocker Spaniel and terrier. I suspect the Golden Retriever came into play when she was in rescue. When Muppy was rescued, she was pregnant. I have seen photos of her puppies and photos of two of those puppies as adults, and her offspring most definitely look like Golden Retrievers. It is quite possible that the father of Muppy’s pups was a Golden or a golden mix. However, the point is, judging by appearance only is highly inaccurate and Muppy is a prime example of how looks can be deceiving. No one labeled her as part terrier based on her appearance, yet both tests suggest a significant amount of terrier DNA.

From a behavioral perspective, Muppy shows several traits from her Cocker Spaniel lineage; she is very into birds; she points, and she retrieves. She also knows how to use her nose, and does so more than any other dog I have owned. I do not know if that trait is because of her DNA or is a behavior that was learned in order to survive as a stray. Muppy has been very easy to train, which could be due to her Sporting Group genes or her Herding DNA, or both. I do not see any Terrier behavioral characteristics.

Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.

References

1 AKC website – http://www.akc.org/public-education/resources/dog-breeds-sorted-groups/

2 Most Popular Dog Breeds – Full Ranking List – http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/most-popular-dog-breeds-full-ranking-list/

3 Dog Breed Identification: What kind of dog is that? – http://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/library/research-studies/current-studies/dog-breeds/

4 What kind or dog is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholders – https://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2012/05/2012-Croy-Maddies-Shelter-Medicine-Confernce-Abstract.pdf

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 1http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/07/29/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-1-the-herding-and-hound-groups/

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 2 –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/08/02/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-2-the-sporting-non-sporting-terrier-and-toy-groups/

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – http://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©1SEP17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 2 – The Sporting, Non-Sporting, Terrier, and Toy Groups

< A version of this article was published in the August 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 14SEP17 >

< You can listen to a podcast on this topic that was broadcast on The Woof Meow on 16SEP17 by clicking here >

< UPDATED – 3SEP17 – All three parts of this series have been compiled into a single article at http://bit.ly/DoesDogBreedMatter >

Last month I started a three-part series on the importance of understanding your dog’s breed and what they were bred to do before selecting a dog. That understanding is critical to making sure you get the perfect dog that we all seek. Last month I discussed the AKC Herding and Hound groups. This month I will look at the Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Toy groups.

Non-Sporting Group

– “The breeds in the Non-Sporting Group are a varied collection in terms of size, coat, personality and overall appearance.1

Some of the more popular breeds in the Non-Sporting group include Bulldogs (#4), French Bulldogs (#6), Poodles (#15), the Bichon Frise (#45), Dalmatian (#62), Keeshond (#92), and more2.

The breeds in the Non-Sporting group are so diverse that discussing them as a group is not very valuable. For that reason, I recommend that anyone considering a dog from this group not only talk to breeders but also veterinarians, trainers, and kennel and daycare owners about your particular breed of interest. Always make sure you seek advice from those with no financial gain in the breed that you choose.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

Sporting Group – Naturally active and alert, Sporting dogs make likeable, well-rounded companions. … Potential owners of Sporting dogs need to realize that most require regular, invigorating exercise.1

The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog in the US for many years, and the Golden Retriever often holds the number three spot on the AKC most popular breeds list2. Other popular breeds in the Sporting group include; German Short-Haired Pointers (#11), Brittany’s (#25), English Springer Spaniels (#26), Cocker Spaniels (#29), and more.

We see lots of Sporting breeds in Maine due to their overall popularity but also probably because many Mainers love outdoor adventures and so do the dogs in the Sporting group. These dogs are bred to work closely with their handler, so they often are some of the easiest dogs to train. However, they do tend to be some of the larger breeds as well as being well known for their enthusiastic exuberance. If you have a dog from the Sporting group, starting training at an early age is essential. Because of their retrieving instincts, some of the Sporting breeds can be overly mouthy, so training them appropriate bite inhibition before they are 13 weeks of age is critical.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

For hundreds of years, retrievers have been bred to have the stamina and instincts to hunt during hunting season while being able to relax and be an ideal companion dog the rest of the year. Within the past few years, some of these dogs have been bred to be, in my opinion, overly driven so as to be more competitive in field trials. These dogs are not always a good choice as a companion as they often exhibit poor bite inhibition and a hyperactive personality.

Terrier Group – “These are feisty, energetic dogs whose sizes range from fairly small, as in the Norfolk, Cairn or West Highland White Terrier, to the grand Airedale Terrier. Terriers typically have little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs. Their ancestors were bred to hunt and kill vermin. …In general, they make engaging pets, but require owners with the determination to match their dogs’ lively characters.1

The most popular breed in the Terrier group is the Miniature Schnauzer at #17. Other dogs in the Terrier group include the West Highland White Terrier (#41), Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier (#50), Airedale Terrier (#55), and others2. You may have noted that Terriers fall lower on the popularity list and that is because a terrier is not for everyone.

The AKC group description indicates that dogs in the Terrier group often have issues with other animals, including dogs. I describe Terriers as being the Seal Team of the dog world; they seek out and kill and do it very efficiently. That sometimes makes them less than ideal for those new to dogs, those with children, and those that are fans of backyard wildlife. If you have other animals in your home, talk to a certified dog trainer or canine behavior consultant about adding a Terrier to your family before committing to do so.

FMIhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

Toy Group – “The diminutive size and winsome expressions of Toy dogs illustrate the main function of this Group: to embody sheer delight.1

The most popular breeds in the Toy group include; Yorkshire Terrier (#9), Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (#19), Shih Tzu (#20) and Pug (#32)2. The most distinguishing feature of these breeds is their size; they are small. The shape of their faces, the length of their coat, and personality can vary widely.

Many breeds in the Toy group were bred specifically to serve as lap companions. We see several toy breeds for boarding and grooming at Green Acres, and they have very endearing qualities. For someone that primarily wants a canine buddy, they can be ideal. I often recommend both the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Pug for first-time dog parents. They are small, durable, have great personalities and are pretty low maintenance, although both breeds may suffer from serious health issues.

Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.

Next month I will close out this three- part series by discussing the AKC Working group and Mixed Breed dogs.

References

1 AKC website – http://www.akc.org/public-education/resources/dog-breeds-sorted-groups/

2 Most Popular Dog Breeds – Full Ranking List – http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/most-popular-dog-breeds-full-ranking-list/

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 1http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/07/29/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-1-the-herding-and-hound-groups/

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/09/01/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-3-the-working-group-and-mixed-breeds/

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – http://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2AUG17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

Like us, our dogs can and do experience stress. Just as stress can make us feel afraid or hyper or edgy or irritable, it can do the same to our dogs. It is a well-established fact that the “wrong kind” of stress or chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our behavior, health, and overall well-being. Whether “good stress” or “bad stress”, physiologically, the manifestation of stress in dogs is similar as to that in humans, with the same negative and positive effects. Stress has the potential to make one ill, suppress the immune system, cause behaviors that damage relationships with others, and increase arousal. This increase in arousal greatly increases the probability of aggressive behavior.

As a pet behavior consultant, I have observed that most behavior problems with pets, especially the more serious such as aggression and separation anxiety, are the result of stress. Therefore, as responsible guardians for our dogs, we have an obligation to understand stress and its impact so we can do what is necessary to minimize stress in the lives of our canine friends.

Definition of Stress

Stress is the response of an organism to a demand placed upon it to change or adapt.*”

*Canine Neuropsychology, third edition, by James O’Heare, Ph.D., DogPsych, 2005, page 3

“Good” Stress versus “Bad” Stress

Certain levels of stress are normal and even necessary for survival and the increase of gray matter in the brain. Good stress is called eustress. This “positive” stress allows an organism to utilize energy in a positive manner and assists in the development of new capabilities. This type of stress, in appropriate quantities, is essential to normal growth.

When stress is negative or becomes excessive, it is called distress. Stress of this manner can damage an organism, resulting in illness and behavioral problems such as anxiety and aggression. This may become a vicious cycle, with stress contributing to even more stress until an organism collapses in exhaustion or self-destructs.

The susceptibility to distress varies with each individual organism. How an individual responds to distress is often affected by a combination of inherited genes and events within the organism’s environment.

It is important to understand that eustress and distress occur over a continuum. Eustress can range from contentment to extreme excitement and distress can range from worry to extreme fear or minor irritability to severe aggression.

Eustress and Distress

What Does Stress Feel Like?

Stress affects us both physiologically and emotionally, and the two are always interconnected. Whether experiencing eustress or distress, the physiology and the effects on the body are essentially the same. Therefore, the biggest difference between the two types of stress is a matter of our perception of how we feel.

Good Stress (eustress) Always Acute Bad Stress (distress) Acute or Chronic
Heightened Sense of Awareness Increased Reactivity/Jumpy
Alert Hyper-Vigilant
Euphoria Irritability
Learning a new task (confident) Inability to learn (doubtful)

We have all experienced both eustress and distress at some point in our lives, but fortunately not all of us have experienced extreme distress. Some medications can cause the same physiological effect as distress so if you have ever been on prednisone, or known someone who has, you may have a better idea of how severe distress feels.

Prednisone is a man-made corticosteroid that is used to suppress the immune system. It is often used to treat autoimmune disease, asthma, lupus, colitis, Bell’s palsy, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Prednisone mimics cortisol, a major stress hormone, so the side-effects of prednisone can be similar to those of an organism in extreme distress. These side effects include; insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability and even psychotic behavior. (As an asthmatic I have been on prednisone numerous times and know how it makes me feel. While it eventually makes me physically healthier, the side effects are not pleasant for me, or those around me. I have also observed animals on prednisone, and sometimes they can react negatively and experience significant behavioral changes, which do not always resolve long after the drug is no longer being used.)

Physiological Effects of Stress

When something stressful happens; we are frightened or startled or experience physical or emotional pain, our body falls under the control of the Sympathetic Autonomic Nervous System (SANS). The SANS is part of the body responsible for controlling the flight or fight response. Our body goes on auto-pilot to protect us from the perceived threat.

The SANS is closely associated with the limbic system, which is the section of the brain that deals with the expression and experience of emotions, storage of memories and expression of aggression. It is the most primitive part of the brain and is very involved with instinctual survival mechanisms. It is separate from the cerebral cortex, which is thought to be the “thinking” part of the brain and the site of conscious thought and intelligence. Note that the brain is hard-wired to ALWAYS remember negative emotional responses to help ensure our future safety.

When the limbic system (emotional auto-pilot) is activated, the cerebral cortex is suppressed. This is why one does not typically behave rationally when in a highly charged emotional state. This can also help us to understand why expecting our dogs to respond to a well-trained cue when they are in distress is usually a futile effort. Likewise, the parts of the brain responsible for learning something new are shut-down at this time. Conversely, when the cerebral cortex is highly active, the limbic system is suppressed.

The release of various neurotransmitters and stress hormones triggers a plethora of reactions within our body that shuts down all of our bodily systems not necessary for defense. Levels of adrenaline, a neurotransmitter, become elevated which in turn increase pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and the dilation of bronchial tubes and pupils, preparing the body for the surge of energy necessary for a flight or fight response. Cortisol production increases which turns off the immune system and other non-essential systems. The above is a gross oversimplification. For a more in-depth understanding, please refer to the books listed in the resources section of this article.

After the stressful situation has passed, the body’s stress response is supposed to turn-off and levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones should return to normal levels. However, these changes do not “turn-off” instantly but can, in fact, take 24 to 72 hours to return to their normal (non-stress) levels. As a result, if an organism is exposed to frequent stress events (daily or multiple times per day) those levels may never return to normal, leaving the individual in a constant/chronic state of stress. Think of the dog that aggressively reacts to the mail carrier Monday through Saturday of every week. That dogs stress levels may never get a chance to return to normal. The same can happen with the dog that demands to play fetch each and every day. Sometimes when an individual is subjected to chronic stress, the mechanisms that are supposed to turn off stress no longer work and levels continue to build and can reach four times normal levels. Normal now becomes a much higher level.

 

Causes of Stress in Dogs

Brambell’s Five Freedoms

A significant cause of stress for an animal occurs when its most basic needs are not being met. One of the first and most comprehensive efforts to define an animal’s most basic welfare needs started in Great Britain in 1965 with the establishment of the Brambell Commission. This commission, created by Parliament, was charged with reviewing the treatment of farm animals and developing a minimum standard for meeting their needs. They created what is known as “The Five Freedoms,” which is an excellent starting point for evaluating the welfare of any animal, including companion dogs. The five freedoms are:

  1. Ensure your pet is free from hunger, thirst and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple — provide your dog with food and water and the need is met. However, I encourage you to give this more thought. Is the food you feed your dog wholesome and a type that would be in their natural diet? Are they allowed to consume this food in a manner that is natural for their species? We also must consider that too much food is equally bad, as evidenced by the significant number of obese dogs we see today.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from discomfort.

Again this freedom seems relatively straight forward — make sure your pet always has adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. However, there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

Your dog also needs a quiet, comfortable resting place where they can be undisturbed and where they will feel safe. You need to make sure that their environment is free from things that may cause them harm.

Your dog’s breed also affects what they need to be comfortable. If they have long hair, they may be unable to properly groom themselves. If that is the case, you must groom them on a regular basis, so that their hair does not become tangled and matted, causing them discomfort.

Obesity puts a strain on the joints and may cause pain and discomfort, so it is important not to allow our dogs to become obese.

Lastly, dogs, like humans, are social animals and may depend on interactions with others, particularly of their own species, to be comfortable. However, if they do not feel safe around another dog, being compelled to live with another dog may cause discomfort. Knowing and responding properly to your dog’s social needs is critical

  1. Ensure your pet is free from pain, injury and disease.

One of the easiest ways to meet this freedom is to make sure your dog gets an initial series of vaccinations to ensure that they are protected against diseases, followed up by annual and as-needed visits to your veterinarian. At home, a weekly body check can alert you to any changes in your pet’s physical condition.

Being free from pain is very similar to being free from discomfort so the dog’s grooming needs must also be considered. Remember, dogs are designed by nature not to show pain and thus weakness, so often they will attempt to hide their pain. Obesity and matted coats may cause pain.

  1. Ensure your pet is free to express normal behaviors.

If you are going to allow your pet to express normal behaviors you first need to know and understand what constitutes both “normal” canine behavior and “abnormal” canine behavior. This is not easy because there is so much incorrect information about canine behavior circulating as myth and being perpetuated in out-dated books and inaccurate websites.

What we know about canine behavior today has changed greatly since the 1970’s. Many of the old “truths” are in fact not true. Statements such as; “…you need to be dominant or “alpha” over your dog, dogs are like wolves and should be treated as such, dogs are pack animals, and dogs should be trained with choke collars, shock collars, and alpha-wolf rollovers and other types of intimidation” are NOT true and in fact cause far more problems than they resolve. In fact, all of those methods and techniques are a perfect recipe for causing fear, stress, and aggression. That is one reason the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) specifically recommends that the dominance construct or any tools and methods which cause discomfort, pain or intimidation should NEVER be used.*

*2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines

The freedom to express normal behaviors is the one that is most often overlooked, as many dog guardians are either unaware of the huge repertoire of normal dog behaviors or because they do not approve of some of these normal behaviors such as “butt sniffing.” It is imperative you take the time to learn what constitutes normal behavior. The best way to do this is to enroll you and your dog in a dog training class taught by an individual who has been certified by either the Pet Professionals Guild (PPG) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT. They should also comply with the PPG philosophy of training that is Pain Free, Force Free and Fear Free.

Minimally, to express normal behaviors your dog needs adequate space in which to run and an enriched environment to stimulate their minds and bodies. The ability to sniff and explore the world is key to a dog’s life.

Toys enrich your pet’s environment by giving them something to play with; however your dog also needs appropriate interaction with living things as well. That can come from us as well as other dogs.

Playing with your dog is good for establishing and maintaining a lifelong bond. It is also a great outlet for mental and physical activity and can be just plain fun! However, it is essential to understand that play, especially very active play, is stressful in itself and increases your dog’s arousal level. Play should be frequently interrupted and as soon as the dog has calmly settled that behavior can be rewarded with more play. If the dog does not or cannot settle, then play stops. Overly rough play between a person and a dog, especially play where the dog exhibits mouthing and nipping behavior, is inappropriate and for the safety of others, as well as yourself, should ALWAYS be discouraged. The best way to discourage such play is to immediately stop playing when it occurs. You should also learn to recognize the signs that tell you that your dog’s level is arousal is increasing so that you can stop play before the mouthing occurs.

While our dogs hopefully enjoy our companionship most also need adequate opportunities to interrelate with others of their own kind in a positive situation. That does not mean you need to have more than one dog, but it does mean your dog may need to have some suitable doggie friends in the neighborhood or at doggie daycare. However, these friends must be of a similar temperament, age, size and play-style and the interactions must be enjoyable for all. Lastly, not all dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, just as many people do not enjoy others. In this case, it is important to understand that you cannot make a dog like another dog or a person.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress.

I truly believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their dog fear or distress. However, lack of knowledge, or incorrect perceptions and beliefs about canine behavior, certainly causes a great deal of fear and distress in our canine companions. As a behavior consultant, I see a great number of dogs for “aggression” that is almost always based in stress related fear.

Far too many people are still not aware of how critical a well thought out socialization plan is for a puppy when they are between 8 and 16 weeks of age. During this time, most puppies are very accepting of new environments, people, and situations — as long as they are setup to ensure it is a positive experience. Socialization does not end after the critical socialization period; rather it should continue throughout a pet’s life. A dog can be socialized after 16 weeks of age, but I recommend that you work with a certified dog behavior consultant to help you develop a remedial socialization program that will be beneficial and not cause more harm.

A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can also cause a dog to become anxious and fearful. A dog needs a moderate amount of both physical and mental exercise on a daily basis. A pet that does not get adequate exercise may become bored and frustrated, and start exhibiting behaviors that you will find undesirable. On the other hand, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Daily visits to the dog park or a doggie daycare are often counter-productive and unhealthy. Activities need to be well balanced with ample opportunities for rest. A dog normally sleeps 17 hours per day.

When we add a dog to our family we are bringing them into a very foreign environment and culture with very different rules. On top of that we are expecting them to understand a foreign language while we often make no effort to learn their language. We need to educate our dog to live in our world and educate ourselves about the dog world if we are to keep them free from fear and distress.

We also need to actively protect our dog by avoiding stressful situations until they have had adequate socialization and training. You are their guardian and as such must take responsibility for managing their interactions with the environment and other living things.

 

What Does An Animal Do When They Are Afraid?

Animals, humans included, have four typical responses when they are afraid; Flee, Fight, Freeze, and Fidget About.


What Do Animals Do When AfraidFlee
is self-explanatory and is all about the normal fight or flight response. It is important to understand that when a dog is on a leash they know that they cannot run away from what is scaring them. That is one reason a dog may be more reactive when they are on a leash; they are desperately trying to scare what they are afraid of away. This is NOT an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash; in fact a known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular six-foot leash or inside a secure fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep a reactive dog out of situations where they react like this because every time such a reaction it occurs it becomes more likely to occur again.

To Fight or become aggressive is also part of the normal fight or flight response.  To allow your dog to react in this manner is a liability risk for you and a safety risk for yourself and others. Dogs can do in an incredible amount of very serious damage in a very short amount of time. As your dog’s guardian, it is your responsibility to prevent this type of behavior. As explained with fleeing, a dog on leash comprehends that the leash will restrain them from fighting effectively. It also can make the situation worse if two dogs are fighting and they are both on leashes that become entangled. Separating dogs in this scenario becomes even more difficult and risky. This is NOT an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash; in fact a known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular six-foot leash or inside a secure fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep an aggressive dog out of situations and environments where they could attack another person or animal because there is ALWAYS a risk of serious injury or death. Every time such a reaction it occurs it becomes more likely to occur again. Dogs that have attacked other dogs should NEVER be taken to a dog park.

To Fidget About is essential the dog exhibiting a normal behavior in an abnormal context. It may be as simple as looking away, sniffing, or playing with a toy. It is the dog’s way of ignoring what they perceive as being threatening with the hope that the threat will ignore them and go away.

Freezing is becoming totally rigid and immobile. It is essentially the absence of any behavior that the dog feels could be provocative. This often occurs when the dog’s emotional state has moved from being afraid to being terrified. Freezing is often misunderstood by dog guardians who because they see that their dog is non-reactive they assume the dog is “fine.” While the dog is not barking, lunging or running away in this situation, it is not doing so because it is terrified. This is a tremendous emotional response that will not be forgotten easily.

The key thing you need to remember with any of the four F’s (Flee, Fight, Fidget About, or Freeze) is that you want to minimize putting your dogs in these situations once you know this behavior is a likely possibility. The brain is designed to remember scary things after the very first event. Subsequent exposures will just make reduce the probability of ever being able to move beyond this fear.

Common Causes of Stress in Dogs

  • Any change in environment (schedule, people, animals, increased noise)
  • Arguments among family members
  • Combination training (rewards and punishment)
  • Excessive play that becomes borderline “obsessive/”
  • Excessive stimulation (too much play, doggie daycare, dog sports, )
  • Frustration
  • Grief due to the loss of a companion (human or animal)
  • Humans ignorant of needs and ways of communicating
  • Inappropriate play partners, human or animal
  • Insufficient stimulation
  • Not being taught how to be alone
  • Punitive training (shock, choke and prong collars)
  • Scary events
  • Too many dogs per available space
  • Unreasonable expectations (expected to like all people and all other animals in all situations, expected to be 100% on all the time)
  • Insufficient social time/family time
  • Uncertainty

 

Identifying Stress in Canines

Dogs express themselves and communicate with body language, vocalizations, and behavior. By getting familiar with our dogs’ bodies, we can tell when they start to feel stressed. It is imperative to look at the entire body and not just isolated parts to get the best understanding of what your dog is feeling.

Ember-headturn-nose lickCalming signals, as described by Norwegian ethologist and dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas, are very subtle changes in the body of a dog that suggest building stress and are used to diffuse conflict before it happens. A calming signal is a polite request to another dog to change their behavior and, therefore, prevent any dispute from occurring. Dogs use calming signals to communicate with us as well.

Two of the calming signals people see most frequently are “licking of the nose” and “yawning.” The dog in the picture is demonstrating both “averting of the eyes” and a “nose lick,” probably because the camera is staring at her. Other signs that can be calming signals are; turn away, softening of the eyes (squinting), freezing, play bow, sitting down, lying down, sniffing, scratching and splitting up.

For more information on calming signals read the article Introduction to Canine Communication http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/.

Some key indications of stress, by body part, are noted below.

Eyes

  • Avoiding Eye Contact
  • Blinking or squinting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Furrowed Brows
  • Hardened Eyes (direct stare with pupils dilated)
  • Staring
  • Tightness around eyes
  • Whale eye/ Half-moon eye

Mouth

  • Barking
  • Biting
  • Cheek puffing
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Growling
  • Lip Curling
  • Lip/Nose licking
  • Mouth closed tightly or lips pulled back
  • Mouthing
  • Nipping
  • Panting
  • Showing teeth
  • Smiling
  • Snapping
  • Teeth chattering
  • Wrinkled muzzle
  • Whimpering
  • Yawning

Ears

  • Flattened or lowered
  • Pinned back
  • Upright and alert

Body

  • Cowering
  • Defecation
  • Dribbling or submissive urination
  • Excessive shedding
  • Freezing – little or no movement
  • High body posture, rigid forward stance
  • Groveling posture
  • Low body posture, weight shifted back
  • Penis crowning
  • Piloerection (Hackles)
  • Shake off
  • Stretching
  • Sweaty paws
  • Tail up and flagging
  • Tail Tucked
  • Tense all over
  • Tight brow
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Urogenital “check-out.”

Vocalizations

Dogs may also indicate they are stressed through vocalizations. Some of the more common stress related vocalizations are:

  • Barking – low pitch = threatening, high pitch = fear/stress
  • Growling
  • Howling
  • Screaming
  • Whining
  • Whimpering

 

Behavior

When stressed a dogs behavior will often change. Common behaviors that are often stress induced are:

  • Clinging to or hiding behind guardian
  • Cowering
  • Destructive behaviors, chewing, ripping, shredding, clawing
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Excessive sleeping, often due to exhaustion
  • Freezing or walking slowly
  • Hiding
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Inability to focus
  • Inappropriate urination and defecation
  • Increased urination and defecation
  • Irritable
  • Jumping up on guardian
  • Jumpy/Easy to startle
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obsessive/Compulsive behaviors – (e.g. shadow chasing)
  • Pacing
  • Poor sleeping habits, less than 17 hours sleep per day
  • Refusing food or treats
  • Restless, inability to relax
  • Running off
  • Sniffing, out of context
  • Unable to settle
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

 

The Stress Escalation Ladder

Stress and the dog’s arousal happen on a continuum. Some of the signs of stress start appearing at very low levels of arousal. As the arousal level continues to rise it may result in growling, showing of teeth, lunging and biting at the most extreme levels. It is important to remember that arousal levels increase with positive stress (eustress) just as they increase with negative stress (distress). A dog that is ramped up and highly aroused in play is also more likely to bite and lose their bite inhibition. The chart below, created by Rugaas, illustrates the signs seen at various levels of arousal. It should always be our goal to keep the dog out of the yellow and red zones.

Stress Escalation Ladder-Rugaas

Reducing Stress in Dogs

In order to reduce our dogs’ stress we first need to understand it. Once we have identified the cause, there are many approaches to eliminating the stress.

The easiest way to deal with a dog under stress is usually management — removing the dog from the situation/context where the stress occurs. While this does not solve the problem, it is a temporary fix that will make the dog feel better. If this is a context/situation the dog will need to be exposed to in the future, it is advisable to work with a qualified behavior consultant to help get the dog over this fear. Few dog guardians are successful resolving this type of issue by reading books or watching programs on TV. In our experience, they usually make the problem worse.

A qualified, professional behavior consultant will ALWAYS first recommend that you discuss your dog’s behavioral issues with your veterinarian. Pain and other medical conditions can cause behavioral problems, and they need to be addressed first.

A behavior consultant will consider a number of methods to help your dog deal with their stress. They will almost always recommend a behavior modification protocol, which is a specialized program for your dog’s situation. A dog training class is seldom recommended for a dog with stress-based issues such as anxiety and aggression, as it often puts a dog in an environment where they will be stressed. Any organism must be free from fear if they are going to be able to learn.

Teaching your dog to sit, down, stay, etc. will not change the way your dog feels. In fact, asking your dog to sit in the presence of something that causes them to react may make them more fearful. For example, let’s say that you are afraid of bees and wasps. Now imagine sitting in a room full of bees and wasps and imagine trying to learn. You will not be learning but will be focusing on keeping yourself safe from getting stung.

A behavior modification program is all about changing your dog’s emotions and the way they feel about what is making them fearful or angry. Additionally, a behavior consultant may also recommend changes in diets, and treatment with complementary therapies; Bach Flower Remedies, Herbs, Homeopathy, T-Touch, if they are so qualified. They may also suggest that you ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist so that the veterinary behaviorist can determine if drug therapy is necessary. A behavior consultant should always be working with your veterinarian.

Stress can make us feel miserable, and it does the same for our dogs. If you have a dog living in stress — take steps to help them as soon as possible!

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog

Understanding Behavior; Why It Mattershttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/category/dogs/canine-behavior/

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/category/dogs/canine-behavior/problem-behavior/aggression/

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being: The New AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/08/01/pet-health-and-wellness-your-pets-behavioral-health-is-as-important-as-their-physical-well-being/

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Mythhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Puppy Socialization and Habituation – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/27/dog-behavior-puppy-socialization-and-habituation/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/boarding/what-is-pet-friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Can You Trust What You Read on the Internet? –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/09/03/can-you-trust-what-you-read-on-the-internet/

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet Friendly” Philosophy – Part 1http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/02/yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-green-acres-kennel-shops-pet-friendly-philosophy-part-1/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The PPG – Part 2http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/05/02/selecting-a-pet-care-provider-yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-the-ppg-part-2/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – A Veterinary Perspective – Part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/30/selecting-a-pet-care-provider-yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-a-veterinary-perspective-part-3/

Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/02/01/dogs-dog-training-a-holistic-approach-to-dog-training-parts-1-2/

Trends in Training – The Evolution of a Pet Care Professionalhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2008/04/19/professional-development-trends-in-training-the-evolution-of-a-pet-care-professional/

An Overview of the Bach Flower Remedieshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/22/bach-flower-remedies-an-overview-of-the-bach-flower-remedies/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1 http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/12/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-1/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/19/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-2/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

PODCAST – Pet Behavior Counseling and Don and Kate – with special guest host Dr. Mark Hankshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/01/10/podcast-pet-behavior-counseling-and-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks/

 

Books

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007

Canine Neuropsychology, 3rd edition, James O’Heare, Ph.D., DogPsych, 2005

The dog’s brain — a simple guide, Val Strong, Alpha Publishing, 1999

 

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