Problems Versus Behaviour

© copyright Jenny Hawthorn 2002

What wonderful names we have for all these behaviour problems.

However .... are they really behaviour problems?

My argument is that they are not. They are simply dogs acting like dogs. Yes sometimes they DO chase (and even kill) other animals. So do we ..... but we have formalised it and now call it farming or hunting.

Yes they do vie for possession of food & resources. So do we .. we call it promotion.

Some do appear to get snarky with those below them when they get told off. Have you never taken your anger out on someone other than the one you were angry at simply because you know that it will just make it worse to take it out on the one you are really angry with. And then again .. just because it sounds growly and ferocious to us ... is it sounding that bad to the other dog? Often I think not. Maybe it is simply communicating normal pack structure reinforcement.

What we call behavioural problems in dogs .. is often simply dogs being dogs.

The problem is NOT in the behaviour of the dog. The problem is the we expect them to make all the compromises to fit into a HUMAN world and live their life by our values rather than theirs. And sometimes this does not happen ... and we call it a behaviour problem.

Yes there are activities that HUMAN society says are not acceptable from another species living so closely with us. And so we need to look at ways to change how the animal acts (manage the dogs behaviour). However if we stopped looking at it as a behaviour problem issue and started looking at it as a co-existing with other species issue we may sometimes treat things differently.

When my eldest bitch gets 'growled' by me .. she turns around and 'growls' whoever is handy. I am not going into worries about displaced or redirected aggression. No-one gets hurt. Sometimes the next one down will scream (what appears to me to be doggy talk for "Hey look out, that's too hard") but even then I do not find blood. I assume (because I cannot know ..... I cannot read my dogs' minds) that my bitch is reasserting her place ("Mum may be MY boss .. but YOU aren't!!!!!") and so leave them to get on with it.

I do not expect my dogs to love every small critter it meets .. I do expect them to live in harmony with my cats so have done lots to socialise them. Any other cat ... well it is up to me to ensure my dogs are securely fenced in or under control from getting at others cats outside my property and (imo) up to others to keep their cats from coming to my place and upsetting my dogs.

I happily let my dogs chase rabbits, possums and even the neighbours dogs if they wander over to our property. I would be less happy if they failed to respond to my whistle to return to me. The dog chasing and critter chasing appear to be different to the dogs. One is a territory thing (and again they are just dogs being dogs .. "Buzz off you lot; this is OUR packs territory") and they do simply 'see them off the premises' then turn and return. The other is a joyous and deadly attempt to do what a dog was born to do ... hunt and kill it's own food.

My dogs bicker and gripe with each other at times .. I leave them to it. They do not cause each other injury so therefore they can sort out their own problems.

My older dogs tell new arrivals (visiting dogs) "Please note: This is OUR place ... and we are the bosses among the dogs here". Again I leave them to it. Sometimes it looks and sounds awful TO HUMANS but to the dogs, it is simply communication. If it looked like getting out of hand (i.e. cause injury) I would step in. But that does not happen.

My dogs play loud and rough ... play often looks worse than non play. Regularly 3 will play together (the three younger ones .. the two older 'ladies' usually feel beyond this) and 2 will 'gang up' on the third (they vary who is the chasers and the chasee). They chase, attack, grab legs, neck, whatever is handy. They growl, bark and sound like a massive dog fight is happening. They are in fact playing ... again I leave them to it.

We interfere too often in basic dog communication and then label it a behaviour problem.


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