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
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Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

< A version of this article was published in the July 2021 issue of Barks from the Guild, a publication of the Pet Professional Guild>

< Updated 28JUL21 >

< A short link for this page – http://bit.ly/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. 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 related to one or more stressors in the animal’s life. It is a well-established fact that chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our behavior, health, and overall well-being. If we want our dogs to have long and healthy lives, in my opinion, we also 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.

“Good” Stress versus “Bad” Stress

Certain levels of stress are normal and even necessary for survival and the development of gray matter in the brain. Often when people hear the word “stress,” they immediately start thinking about “distress” and the harm it can do. Distress is associated with negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness. Negative emotions are those that most of us avoid if given the opportunity. They are undesirable because they make us feel bad. The brain remembers these bad things in one trial, thereby learning to prevent suffering in the future. However, while limited amounts of distress can be good for us, 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. Distress can start as an acute incident and rapidly become chronic until an organism collapses in exhaustion or self-destructs.

Yet, people do not always consider the positive aspects of stress. They may, therefore, not be familiar with the term eustress. Eustress allows an organism to utilize energy positively and assists in the development of new capabilities. A positive emotion associated with eustress is happiness. Positive emotions are those that most of us enjoy experiencing because they are pleasant. Eustress, in appropriate quantities, is essential to normal growth. However, as with most things in life, too much of anything can be detrimental.

Both eustress and distress occur over a continuum, as illustrated in the graphic “Understanding Canine Stress.”

Whether stress is “distress” or “eustress,” physiologically, the manifestation of stress in dogs is similar to that in humans, with the same negative and positive effects. Stress can make an individual ill, suppress the immune system, cause behaviors that damage relationships with others, and increase arousal. Furthermore, this increase in arousal dramatically increases the probability of inappropriate and even aggressive behavior.

Eustress can range from contentment to excitement to hyper-excitement. Distress can begin with worry, transform to fear, and end in terror. Likewise, frustration can lead to anger and then rage. As the intensity of the emotion increases, an organism reaches a tipping point where it goes into a classic “fight or flight” response.

Physiological Effects of Stress

When something stressful happens, we (or animals) are startled or frightened, experience physical pain, or are at a high state of emotional arousal due to distress or eustress; our body falls under the control of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (SANS), which is responsible for controlling the fight or flight response. This occurs when our bodies go on autopilot to protect us from the perceived threat.

The SANS is closely associated with the limbic system, 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. Remember, the brain is hard-wired to always remember negative emotional responses to help ensure our future safety.

When the limbic system (emotional autopilot) is activated, the cerebral cortex is suppressed. This is why one does not typically behave rationally when in a highly charged emotional state. It is also 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.

During a stressful situation, the release of various neurotransmitters and stress hormones triggers a plethora of reactions within the body that shuts down all the systems not necessary for survival. For example, adrenaline levels, a neurotransmitter, become elevated, increasing pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and dilation of bronchial tubes and pupils, preparing the body for the surge of energy necessary for the fight or flight response. Cortisol production also increases, suppressing the immune system and other systems not essential for our short-term survival. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

After the stressful situation has passed, the body’s stress response is supposed to “turn off,” and neurotransmitters and stress hormones should return to normal levels. However, these changes do not “turn off” instantly but can 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.  This can place the individual in a chronic state of stress. For example, think of the dog that aggressively reacts to the mail carrier Monday through Saturday of every week. That dog’s stress levels may never get a chance to return to normal. The same can happen with the dog that demands to play fetch every day. While fetching the ball is a positive emotional event for most dogs, for some, it can cause such a state of euphoria that they can become obsessive about it. This positive emotional response turns into the negative emotion of frustration. Frustration may cause the dog to start demand barking and become aggressive when the person no longer plays the game. That can also lead to chronic stress and its debilitating effects on the body. Sometimes when an individual is subjected to chronic stress, the mechanisms that are supposed to turn off the production of stress hormones cease to function, so ‘within a few days, four times as much cortisol as normal is present, (Scholz & von Reinhardt, 2007) potentially creating a critical mental and physical health crisis.

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 most significant difference between the two types of stress is our perception of how we feel.

We have all experienced both eustress and distress at some point in our lives. Fortunately, not all of us have experienced extreme eustress or distress. Some medications can cause the same physiological effect as distress. One such medication is Prednisone.

Prednisone is a manufactured corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation. It is used to treat autoimmune disorders, asthma, lupus, colitis, Bell’s palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. Prednisone mimics cortisol, a stress hormone. Therefore, the side effects of prednisone can be similar to those of an organism experiencing extreme stress. These side effects include; insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability, and even psychotic behavior. As an asthmatic, I have been prescribed a course of 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. I often share this experience with my clients because they have a greater appreciation for how their dog feels under extreme stress if they have ever taken prednisone.

Causes of Stress in Dogs

Brambell’s Five Freedoms

An animal typically experiences distress when its most basic needs are not 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 wrote a document 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 dog is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple — provide your dog with food and water, and you have complied with this first freedom. 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 straightforward — 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. For example, if they have long hair, they may be unable to groom themselves adequately. If that is the case, their guardian must groom them regularly 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 essential to monitor how much we feed our dogs so they do not become overweight.

Lastly, like humans, dogs are social animals. They may depend on interactions with others, particularly of their species, to be comfortable. However, if they do not feel safe around other dogs, being compelled to live with another dog may cause discomfort. Therefore, knowing and responding correctly to your dog’s social needs is critical, as is putting their needs above our own where necessary.

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

You can easily meet the requirements of this freedom by ensuring that your pet receives routine veterinary care. In addition, a weekly body check by you 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 again 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 both cause pain.

Since the use of aversives in training are specifically designed to cause an animal emotional or physical discomfort, we must ensure such methods and tools are never used with our dogs.

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

To meet this requirement, you first need to know and understand what constitutes normal and abnormal canine behavior. Unfortunately, this can be difficult because there is so much incorrect information about canine behavior circulating as myths and perpetuated in outdated books and inaccurate websites.

What we know about canine behavior today has changed dramatically since the 1970s. Many of the old “truths” are false. Statements such as “Dogs are like wolves,” “Dogs are pack animals,” “You must be ‘dominant’ or ‘alpha’ over your dog,” and “Dogs need to be trained with choke collars, shock collars, and alpha wolf rollovers, and other types of intimidation” are both false and harmful. While some might maintain that such statements are supported by scientific research, this is not the case. Managing and training a dog with aversives is highly likely to cause unnecessary and extreme distress for both parties. Indeed, based on what we know about distress, if either the dog or the handler is in a negative emotional state, they are more likely to be irritable, irrational, potentially aggressive, and less likely to be able to learn. This is no way to build or maintain a relationship. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have been instrumental in refuting the many myths about canine behavior and training. If you wish to learn more, I encourage you to read the PPG’s many position statements at https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Position-Statements, where you can also find citations to the peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting what we know about canine behavior.

Another excellent resource, especially for veterinarians, is the AAHA’s 2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. Every veterinarian should be thoroughly familiar with this document. You read the guidelines at https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/behavior-management/behavior-management-home/

In my 26 plus years of experience, the freedom to express normal behaviors is the freedom that pet parents most often overlook.  Many are unaware of the vast repertoire of normal dog behaviors. Because they find some of these behaviors undesirable from a human perspective, such as “butt sniffing,” they categorize them as” abnormal.” It is imperative that a pet parent the times to learn what constitutes normal behavior for a dog. The best way for them to do so is to enroll in a dog training class taught by an individual who has been certified by either the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Minimally, they want to make sure their trainer is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Your dog needs adequate space to explore and an enriched environment to stimulate their minds and bodies to express normal behaviors. The ability to sniff and explore the world is key to a dog’s life. Dog walks are more important for opportunities to sniff than they are for physical exercise. If you are a power-walker who likes to walk the same route as fast as you can, your dog will probably be happier at home.

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 other dogs and us, and perhaps even other companion animals, depending on the dog.

Playing with your dog is good for establishing and maintaining a lifelong bond. It is also an excellent 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. Therefore, play should be frequently interrupted, and as soon as the dog has calmly settled, they 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. For the safety of others, as well as yourself, nipping must  ALWAYS be discouraged. The best way to prevent such play is to stop playing when it occurs immediately. To do so effectively, guardians need to learn to recognize the signs that indicate their dog’s level of arousal is increasing so that they can stop play before any mouthing occurs.

While our dogs, hopefully, enjoy our companionship, many of them 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 benefit from having some suitable doggie friends in the neighborhood or at doggie daycare. However, ideally, these friends must be of a similar temperament, age, size, and playstyle as much as possible. In addition, the interactions must be enjoyable for all parties.

Lastly, not all dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, just as many people do not particularly appreciate interacting with other people. In this case, it is essential 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 genuinely 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 can undoubtedly cause a great deal of fear and distress in our canine companions. As a behavior consultant, I see many dogs for “aggression” that is almost always based on stress-related fear.

Puppy Socialization

Preventing future fear in a puppy starts during their critical period, when we first typically bring them into our lives at 8-weeks of age. Unfortunately, this is a short amount of time, as this period ends between 12 and 16 weeks of age.

During this time, most puppies accept new environments, people, and situations. However, it is essential to plan those interactions, so they are a positive experience. A socialization event that a puppy finds distressing can be a significant setback. This is where working with a properly credentialed professional trainer can be helpful. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Although a dog’s critical period ends by 16-weeks of age, you should never stop exposing your dog to new things while associating the experience with a high-value reward. This should continue throughout the pet’s life. Of course, a dog can be desensitized after 12 to 16 weeks of age, but I recommend that guardians work with a certified dog behavior consultant to help them develop a remedial socialization program that will be beneficial and not risk causing 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 regularly. A dog that does not get adequate physical and mental enrichment may become bored and frustrated and start exhibiting behaviors guardians may find undesirable. On the other hand, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Throwing the ball 20 to 50 times daily and daily visits to the dog park or a doggie daycare are often counter-productive and unhealthy as they can also lead to chronic stress. Activities need to be well balanced with ample opportunities for rest. Remember, a dog typically sleeps 17 hours per day.

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

We also need to actively protect our dogs by avoiding stressful situations until they have had adequate socialization and training. As guardians, we must take responsibility for managing their interactions with the environment and other living things.

Lastly, understand that dogs are exceptionally good at reading human emotional states,  especially those that live with them. They do it by observing our body language and facial expression, our behavior, the tone of our voice, and even our scent. Unfortunately, they are not as good at knowing why we are emotionally upset. If we are angry with our spouse or kids, frightened because a car almost hit us, grieving at the loss of a family member, or ecstatic because we just won the lottery, our dogs do not know why. Because they do not understand why we are upset, they may change their behavior towards us.

Fear Responses

What does an animal do when they are afraid? Animals, humans included, have four typical responses when they are scared; Flee, Fight, Freeze, and Fidget About (see the image below).

Flee: This is self-explanatory and is all about the fight or flight response. It is essential to understand that when a dog is on a leash, they know that they cannot run away from what is scaring them. The inability to flee is why a dog may be more reactive when they are on a leash. Instead, they desperately try to scare whatever they are afraid of, such as another dog, a person, a cyclist, etc. This is not, however,  an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash. A known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular 6-ft leash or inside a securely fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep them out of situations where they react like this. Every time such a reaction occurs, it becomes more likely to happen again. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Fight: Becoming aggressive is also part of the fight or flight response.  Allowing a dog to react in this manner can be a liability risk and a safety risk for the dog’s handler and others. Dogs can do an incredible amount of severe damage in a very short amount of time. It is a dog’s guardian’s responsibility to prevent this type of behavior. As explained with fleeing, a dog on a leash comprehends that the leash will restrain them from fighting effectively. It can also worsen if two dogs on leash are fighting and the leashes become entangled. Separating dogs in this scenario is complex and risky. Again, none of this is an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash.

It is essential to keep dogs who may behave aggressively out of situations and environments where they could attack another person or animal because there is always a risk of severe injury or even death. Every time such a reaction occurs, it becomes more likely to happen again. Dogs that have attacked other dogs should never be taken to a dog park or a doggie daycare.

Freeze: This involves becoming totally rigid and immobile. It is essentially the absence of any behavior that the dog feels could be provocative. Freezing often occurs when the dog’s emotional state has moved from being afraid to being terrified. Dog guardians often misunderstand freezing. Since their dog is non-reactive (not vocalizing or moving), guardians assume the dog is “fine,” when in reality, they are terrified. A terrifying incident of this nature is unlikely to be forgotten. When a dog freezes in fear, it is incumbent upon its guardian to carefully and quietly remove them from that situation as quickly as possible.

Fidget About: This is essentially the dog exhibiting a normal behavior in an abnormal context, aka a displacement behavior. This 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 threatening with the hope that the threat will ignore them and go away.

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

Identifying Stress in Canines

Dogs express themselves and communicate with vocalizations, body language, 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 our dogs are feeling.

As described by Norwegian ethologist and dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas (2013), calming signals are very subtle changes in a dog’s body that suggest building stress. These signals are used in an attempt to diffuse conflict before it happens. A calming signal is a polite request to another dog to change its behavior and, therefore, prevent any dispute from occurring. Dogs use calming signals to communicate with us as well.

Two of the calming signals we see frequently are yawning and licking of the nose. The dog in the picture demonstrates both “averting of the eyes” and a “nose lick.” Other signs that can be calming signals are: the turn away, a softening of the eyes (squinting), averting the eyes, freezing, play bow, sitting down, lying down, sniffing, scratching, and splitting. I recommend that every pet parent and every pet care professional read at least one book on canine body language (See Recommended Resources for more information).

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) and negative stress (distress). Remember, it can take 24 to 72 hours for those levels to return to normal. A dog that is ramped up and highly aroused in play is also more likely to bite and lose its bite inhibition.

The image to the right reflects my interpretation of the Stress Escalation Ladder first described by Turid Rugaas. It 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. I encourage every pet parent to recognize the signals that occur in the green zone, so they help their dog by getting them out of a stressful situation before it gets out of control.

Reducing Stress in Dogs

To reduce our dogs’ stress, we first need to understand it. Then, 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 or veterinary behaviorist to help the dog live in this context without experiencing stress. Behavioral medications may be necessary. Few people successfully resolve serious behavior issues on their own and, in my professional opinion, often make the problem worse. A dog chronically experiencing high levels of eustress or distress is not healthy and may be suffering. My recommendation is that such dogs need to be seen by a veterinary behaviorist.

A non-veterinary professional behavior consultant will always recommend that guardians discuss their dog’s behavioral issues with their veterinarian. Pain and other medical conditions can cause behavioral problems, and they need to be addressed first. In addition, in many parts of the world, tick-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent. These can cause behavioral/mental health symptoms in people (altered mental states, anorexia, anxiety, confusion, depression, fatigue, malaise, etc. ). Therefore, dogs with behavioral issues and tick-borne diseases may require treatment for those diseases as the initial step.

A behavior consultant will consider several methods to help your dog deal with their stress. Typically this will almost always include a behavior modification protocol (i.e., a specialized program for the dog’s specific situation) and management strategies to keep the dog out of stressful situations.

For many reasons, a training class is seldom recommended for a dog with stress-based issues such as anxiety or aggression. Behavior issues are often the result of an extreme emotional response. During such a response, the dog’s brain is not open to learning, and training does not change a dog’s emotions.

Teaching a dog to sit, down, stay, etc., will not change the way they feel. Asking a dog to sit in the presence of something that causes them to react may make them more fearful. Lastly, if a dog is reactive towards other dogs or people, putting them in a class where they will encounter those triggers would be highly counter-productive. A behavior modification program is all about changing a dog’s emotional response to what makes them fearful or angry. (Note: A veterinary behaviorist may also determine whether drug therapy is necessary.)

Stress can make us feel miserable, and it can have the same effect on our dogs. For guardians who have a dog living under stress, I recommend they take steps to help them as soon as possible.

Take time to relax and destress with your dog. You will both benefit.

 

 

Recommended Resources

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

 

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://bit.ly/Brambells-APDT2014

Do I Need a Dog Trainer or a “Behaviorist”? – http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist

Dominance: Reality or Mythhttp://bit.ly/Dominance-RealityorMyth

Helping Your Dog Thrive with Brambell’s Five Freedomshttp://bit.ly/Brambell-1thru5-PDF

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do? – WWM – APR2017 – http://bit.ly/HelpDogAggx

How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful? – http://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear

How to Choose a Dog Trainerhttp://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer

Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://bit.ly/CanineComm

Understanding Behavior; Why It Mattershttp://bit.ly/AnimalWelfare-Behavior

Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Doghttp://bit.ly/BhxManagement

Puppy Socialization and Habituation – http://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy

Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? – http://bit.ly/WhatIsPetBhxConsulting

What Is Dog Traininghttp://bit.ly/WhatIsDogTraining

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being: The New AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttp://bit.ly/WWM_AAHA_Bhx

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

 Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts – http://bit.ly/WfMwK9Bhx-26MAR16

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutierhttp://bit.ly/WfMw-AAHA-Guidelines-13MAR16

The Dominance and Alpha Myth (2010) – http://bit.ly/WfMw-Dominance-2010

Other Online Resources

American Animal Hospital Association (2015.) AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/behavior-management/behavior-management-home/

BCSPCA. (2016, June 28). Tip Tuesday: Tips for dealing with dog reactivity – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1J8uuJi0Ys

 Garrod, D. (2019, November). Stress Matters. BARKS from the Guild (39) 36-39https://issuu.com/petprofessionalguild/docs/bftg_november_2019_online_edition_x_opt/36

Pet Professional Guild Finding A Professional (2020) – https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

Pet Professional Guild Guiding Principles (2012)  – https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Guiding-Principles

Pet Professional Guild Position Statements (2012-2019)https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Position-Statements

Turid Rugaas – Calming Signals – The Art of Survival (2013)  – http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals—the-art-of-survival.html

Books

Brambell, R. (1965). Report of the technical committee to enquire into the welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock husbandry systems. London, UK: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Chin, L. (2020). Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend. Chichester, UK: Summersdale Publishers

O’Heare, J. (2005). Canine Neuropsychology, 3rd edn. Ottawa, ON: DogPsych

Rugaas, T. (2005). On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, 2nd edn. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise

Strong, V. (1999). The Dog’s Brain — A Simple Guide. Windsor, UK: Alpha Publishing

Tudge, N. (2017). A Kids’ Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog! n.p.: Doggone Safe

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don 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 is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Don serves on the PPG Board of Directors and Steering Committee. In addition, he chairs the Advocacy Committee and The Shock-Free Coalition ( shockfree.org ). Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://bit.ly/AM620-WZON every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

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