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Behaviourists, trainers and competitors plus the control of aggression by castration

I hope you all had a very good Christmas and I expect by now you will be full of Christmas cheer with a dog that is rather heavier than it was last week. Now is the time for a long walk in order to loose those extra calories. During the Christmas festivities, if there are any balloons used as decorations they do inevitably go bang. I you have a dog that is a little frightened of bangs then blow up some to half-full and play with your dog letting him bit it to destruction giving loads of support when it goes bang. At that point, produce another from behind your back to show it is all a game. This way you will train your dog not to be startled at bangs and be prepared for the Spanish fireworks. It was also nice to see the story of the rescue of Beni and how he has prospered in the last year. Remember there are many similar dogs still out there.

Some weeks ago, a reader asked what is the difference between behaviourist and dog trainers assuming I am one of these when in fact there is a further category of Competitors. Trainers think they came first as they must have domesticated the first dogs. They believe that they are behaviourists because to teach handlers to train their dogs they best understand how the dogs react and must understand dog language. They also say it is they who specialise in dogs. Many trainers therefore call themselves behaviourists because of the level of their individual experience. Their view is experience is the most important criteria.

Behaviourists are in the main academics who study to degree level all animals behaviour be it your nutty parrot or your sulky dog. They will have spent many years in study and practical experience in one of the many collages that teach these degree subjects. Understanding animals has become very scientific now. We now have a book that describes and narrates every body stance of a dog. It is possible for us to say we now know the complete doggy language. Because of all their knowledge gained from studies and practical experience animal behaviours say only, they should help solve your animal problems.

With so many people, calling themselves behaviourists there is a view that some standardisation is necessary to ensure animals receives only the correct and appropriate treatment. Which category do you chose to solve your doggy problems is therefore not easy and can become very expensive. If you first go to your vet and they agree there is a problem that needs the help of a behaviourist then they will refer you to someone they trust will help. If you have medical insurance for your dog then you can recoup such costs because the behaviourist is working on behalf of your vet.

We also have those handlers who compete in the Kennel club Working Trails chasing excellent certificates and possibly winning tickets are in a different class. They must put all that instructors and behaviourists know into practice and make it all work. It is all this information and the handler’s experience that enables them to take their dogs to the limits if there are any.

There are many dog problems that any dog knowledgeable person maybe able to offer normal standard help that works. Even the Quack behaviourists may even help you but for the benefit of your dog in the more difficult cases and certainly with aggression you should first go to your vet and then if they cannot help and you agree they will nominate to you a behaviourist based on known and proven experience. Unfortunately, there are not too many around. With some problems, there can be a lot of time involved that could prove quite costly but if insured you can recoup these costs. It is these reasons why I recommend a visit to your vet as your first port of call.

It is therefore your choice if you ask for help from the academics or prefer to choose experience in order that you feel confident which one will successfully help your dog.

I hope we are improving the standard for dogs and one society I know had John Rogerson as a founder member is the Association of Pet Behaviour Counselors www.apbc.org.uk who only want to act on referrals from veterinary practitioners but they are now insisting that only behaviourists gaining a degree should act as behaviourists. I think they should not dismiss experience so easily. Many articles on this site are well worth a read. An excellent book to purchase is by David Appleby titled Ain’t Misbehaving. He is also the writer of the next guest article regarding the control of aggression by castration. (I said training without pain but this is pain by the vets).

The castration of dogs is an emotive issue which veterinary surgeons and behaviourists sometimes recommend to help cure certain behaviour problems. Sometimes the idea is met with resistance, particularly by some male owners, despite all the evidence and arguments raised in favour of the operation.

The subject of castration has to be dealt with rationally as there are definite circumstances where the surgical removal of a dog's testicles can help to improve problem behaviour. Indeed, castration can help prevent the development of some behavioural problems which in addition to the prevention of unwanted litters, is a good reason for the neutering policy adopted by many rescue organisations.

Sometimes owners are reluctant to neuter their dog because they know someone whose dog was castrated but its behaviour did not improve. Sadly there are occasions when this occurs, normally because the operation was not appropriate in the circumstances. For example, an owner may be led to believe that castration may stop the dog being aggressive to other people and dogs, but they will be disappointed if the aggression is motivated by fear, which is not a testosterone (male hormone) related problem. Accurate diagnosis is therefore essential to determine whether castration is appropriate.

As a rule of thumb, castration is most likely to be curative when the problem behaviour is sexually dimorphic. In other words, it is specific to, or more common in, one sex than the other. Males exhibit behaviours which are influenced by testosterone, such as scent marking, roaming away from home to find potential mates, inappropriate sexual behaviour, aggression towards other males, and sometimes rank related aggression within the family which is its substitute pack.

Even when castration is relevant, there is only a percentage chance that it will work. This varies from 90% for some problems, such as roaming to find potential mates, down to 50% for others such as inappropriate scent marking. This is because the male brain is programmed to display male behaviour by testosterone even before birth. If the accurate diagnosis of a problem shows that castration is likely to help, the chances of success are greatly improved if the operation is done in conjunction with behaviour modification therapy, preferably carried out under the guidance of a pet behaviour counselor such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counselors.

One of the emotive arguments against castration is that it is unnatural. Well, yes it is, but we expect our dogs to live in an unnatural world. They are subjected to pressures they would not encounter if they were running wild like their cousin the wolf.

For example, it's natural for packs of wolves to attack any other wolves they encounter on their territory, whereas a dog, which still has many of the same instinctive drives, is expected to accept all the male dogs it meets in the park quite happily. It's natural for males to mark their territory with scent by leaving droplets of urine in prominent places, such as trees, but it's rather distressing if the dog develops the habit of anointing the furniture or the reverend's leg! It's also natural for dogs to compete with other pack members for the right to mate and pass on its genes. However, things can get difficult if this competition is directed at male dogs or male members of the family.

Understandably, dog owners are often concerned about removing their dog's reproductive drive and its potential to mate. However, breeding should not be undertaken lightly - there are enough unwanted dogs as it is. Certainly, mating should never be allowed in the hope that relieving the dog's frustrations will cure his behavioural problems. Once he has bitten that particular apple, his machismo and inclination to perform problem behaviours is likely to increase, not decrease. Perhaps the fact that most dogs are not allowed to mate for fear of creating unwanted puppies is the most convincing argument for the routine neutering of dogs. An unneutered male can lead a frustrated life, especially if he is likely to encounter the smell of bitches on heat. Surely it's better to save him that agony. After all, if he's never read Playdog, he won't know what he's missing!

A booklet entitled ‘The Behavioural Effects of Canine Castration’ by Hazel Palmer fully covers the appropriateness and pros and cons of neutering.

From the start of these articles, I have continually stressed the need for training dogs to be sociable with humans and other dogs. This is the now the most important part of any dog training programme. If there are any signs of canine aggression society is bringing increasing demands that they will no longer tolerate this problem.

On my return to England, I have been to see the owners of the Staffy type dog but they have decided not to proceed with David Olley as they think he seems very expensive and they are seeing success with the automatic Aboistop together with the muzzle and reinforcement training. The dog is much less aggressive towards other dogs and does not bark so much at people at the door. With the tension, easing the dog is no longer trembling as if it is in trouble for something all the time. Fouling of the bedroom seems also to have stopped and may well have been linked to this same feeling. You may recall that as this dog would attack any dog the vet’s opinion was that as the attacks had no sexual basis castration in this case would probably not help.

The change in the character of the Staffy may be in the way we feel towards our dogs that in most cases it is ourselves that dictates our dog’s attitude. This brings me back to asking you to think of Jolly hockey sticks or happy thoughts even though you may wish to go outside and kick the wall. Play-acting is very important if you do not wish to put your training back by many weeks.

How many of you have been to a training class and not had a lot of success at a particular exercise and the instructors have finally advised you to stop the next time your dog succeeds so you go home on a happy note. This is wrong as how many times had the dog failed prior to the successful one is the fault of the training and with so many failures to only have one final success will probably mean the next time the dog will fail again. You must have far more successes than any failures so you must train to succeed every time.

This means you must find the correct training procedure for the exercise you are trying to teach. Just because the method may work for one dog does not mean your dog will learn in quite the same way. If it is not working do not force your dog but try an alternative approach to look at a way your dog will succeed. You need to adapt to the learning ability of each individual dog to teach for success every time.

I wish you all a happy new year and as the sergeant said in Hill Street Blues ‘Lets be careful out there’.

Next week I will look at normal training within the modern training class. If you have any questions or queries please contact me.

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