Tag Archives: training

Campaign to ban Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer from Italian TV

Campaign to ban Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer from Italian TV

22 October 2009
Italy trying to ban Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer

Members of the APBC have provided information and resources to concerned pet behaviour counsellors in Italy following the broadcast of The Dog Whisperer featuring Cesar Millan on Italian TV.

 
The Italian pet behaviour counsellor Laura Borromeo contacted members of the APBC after just three episodes of the controversial show were aired. She is developing a campaign that aims to educate the public that there are alternatives to Cesar Millan’s methods.
 
 
The Italian ASETRA web site represents the Society for the Ethological Studies of the Relationship between Animals and Humans and it is denouncing Millan’s methods with dogs: http://www.asetra.it/?Comunicati_Asetra
 
The Italian veterinary web site ANMVI is warning vets and owners about how dangerous and abusive Millan’s approach is towards dogs. They announce that they are taking steps to stop the show from being broadcast: http://www.anmvioggi.it/10262/12-10-09/la-veterinaria-disapprova-il-metodo-millan
 
There has also been coverage in the local Italian newspapers too where the headline message is equally clear; “Stop Millan – the veterinarians say he is educating people in the wrong way.”
 
Laura Borromeo is taking advice from lawyers so that a strategy can lead to the program being prevented from being broadcast.
 
Dog owners, dog trainers, pet behaviour counsellors and vets all have a choice in how pets are treated. The APBC believes in promoting the best in pet behaviour and it is clear from experience and research that some of the methods used by Cesar Millan can lead to an increase in dog aggression and behaviour problems. That’s why the APBC chooses to use better ways to train pets. There is a choice.
 
Graham Thompson
APBC Provisional Member.

Copyright 2009 APBC

Vaccinations, dog boarding, and pet sitting, what is wrong with this picture?

Dogs having fun!

Dogs having fun!

 

Vaccinations, dog boarding, and pet sitting, what is wrong with this picture? 

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

September 15, 2009

http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2009/09/over-vaccination-is-bad-medicine.html  

The above blog is worth reading, especially if you are concerned and/or need additional information concerning vaccination requirements for your pet.  In many instances, boarding facilities arbitrarily require yearly vaccinations; however, this may be contrary to the real needs of your pet. 

Unfortunately, this is a very sensitive subject, and not just for pet owners aware of the issue; many of us may qualify our veterinarians based on this awareness.  However, many pet owners aren’t aware of the issue and perhaps blindly without question continue to vaccinate their dogs on a yearly schedule and/or do this out of need for boarding/kenneling mandates. 

I discuss this issue http://www.responsibledog.net/choose_a_kennel.html and recommend based on evaluating several key pieces of literature that suggest this requirement should be made on an individual basis, not arbitrarily and routinely, as has been the past.  When issues of boarding mandate your dog require specific vaccinations, you should consult with your veterinarian for advice.  However, at the same time, you should be armed with knowledge that enables you to discuss the matter openly so that you and your veterinarian make the best decision for your individual pet/s. 

Additional concerns might include when boarding includes socialization/play time.  You should want qualified staff actually educated in dog training and/or behavior overseeing the facility; in addition, you want to know how well supervision is provided.  Another issue of importance often ignored is cleaning up pet waste and why, this is covered in my paper referenced above.  Finally, one should evaluate the mental and physical needs of one’s dog.  This means understanding stress and exercise constraints.  Stress in dogs has been studied and analyzed and applies to boarding situations, here is an excerpt from the paper cited earlier. 

Is stress a consideration during boarding?

“Stress occurs when any demand is placed upon a dog that requires the dog to change or adjust” (Lindsay, 2000). For stress to occur events or situations do not have to be unpleasant, but rather any biological or psychological demand placed on an animal is capable of producing stress. There are certain amounts of healthy stress all animals are capable of adapting to, however chronic stress may lead to stress-related conditions. This is an important consideration when making your decision on how, where and under what conditions you will board your animals.

Stress-related hormonal changes occur during separation in a number of species. Tuber and colleagues (1996) studied dogs and found a “differential glucocorticoid (cortisol and corticosterone) response” occurs during five conditions of separation.

1. Alone in a novel environment

2. With a conspecific (another dog) in a novel environment

3. Alone in a familiar environment

4. With a human in a novel environment

5. With a conspecific (another dog) in a familiar environment.

The results of their study showed dogs left alone in novel environments had the highest level of cortisol output with the lowest level occurring in home kennels with a familiar conspecific. However, dogs tested in novel environments with a human companion had significantly lower cortisol levels when compared to dogs kept in the novel environment with a conspecific. These results lend support when considering your decision concerning your dog’s welfare when kenneling or boarding.

What exactly does my dog prefer?

According to these studies, dogs prefer the company of humans even in novel (unfamiliar) environments when compared to at home environments even with a familiar dog!  What this means, is you may need to consider your dogs stress levels when using a pet sitter who only drops by on occasion and compared to a kennel alternative that not only meets your dogs need for dog socialization but also benefits from more human contact.

I recently wrote Pet Sitting Personal Attention or Madame Running Prostitution Business! after hearing a terrible story about a dog left in the care of a pet sitter.  I had no idea dog owners were actually leaving dogs alone at home for 24-hour periods while paying a per visit charge, usually only 30 minutes.  It was always my understanding pet sitting provided working owners a service by providing walks for midday exercise and/or opportunities to potty and especially for owners raising new puppies.  It was my further understanding that pet sitting actually meant the pet sitter was actually staying at the owners home, what I require if it’s necessary for me to be out of town.  It seems the business has morphed into what it is today, a drive by business coupled with employees, supposedly screened and in most instances little to no education in dog training and/or behavior. 

This can create a serious welfare issue for dogs, leaving dogs locked up in kennels all day and night (to prevent destructive behavior) and/or leaving them loose seems neglectful considering individual dog needs (Tuber et al, 2006).  Returning to the issue of vaccinations, if this is one of the reasons for deciding on this type of service, one might want to rethink that decision, there are those of us that fully recognize your needs, your pets, and concerns regarding vaccinations and still provide a safe environment for your pet. 

Responsible Dog and Cat

Training and Behavior Solutions

Combining Art and Science for Training Animals

Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC

P.O. Box 15992

Sarasota, Florida 34277

941-966-1188

http://responsibledog.net 

http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/

https://k9psych.wordpress.com/

http://k9psych.blogspot.com/

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.  Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948

Copyright Responsible Dog & Cat  2009

 

Is the study of animal behavior being marginalized when used as a marketing tool?

Dog Behavior Counseling

Dog Behavior Counseling

I found a website yesterday, specializing in dog boarding. What alarmed me was they stated, “our camp counselors” are, “certified in dog behavior.” When I inquired, which I did, I was told they go through an in-house training program lasting a couple of weeks or less!

The problem I see with using the designation “certified in dog behavior” is, it makes the study of animal behavior, appear to be no more than friendly dog advice obtained from anyone, while marginalizing the very individuals who can and are educated to help the most. This is a disservice to the dog owner and the industry. 

This should be a concern for the public, as well as those who are degreed individuals, specializing in animal behavior.  Aside from the obvious differences, between those who actually studied behavior at universities, there are some of us who have spent a great deal of time studying on our own, taking courses on-line and/or using qualified mentors, that may include veterinarians who themselves specialize in behavior.

What I’m wondering, is will the careless and continued use, eventually inculcate the public, into thinking that understanding and treating behavior related problems, can be accomplished by anyone referring to themselves as a “behavior expert.” I can see it now; these “camp counselors” will be delivering advice on how to solve anxiety problems and aggression. This marginalizes those of us who are qualified, and it most definitely affects the welfare of dogs.  The alternative is referring owners to qualified individuals who really can help 

Given the fact that most dogs end up in shelters because of behavior problems I view this as a serious problem for the public.  If unqualified individuals continue providing uneducated advice, rather than referring dog owners to someone, who is qualified, through appropriate and acceptable training, we will continue to see more and more dogs in shelters.  

The alternative is our communities and dog related businesses, need to seek out qualified individuals and refer pet owners to them.  In turn, these professional behavior consultants will utilize dog day cares, dog walkers, and other dog trainers if they fit into the behavior modification program, designed by the behavior consultant, and fitting that individual dogs needs. 

The needs of the family and dog must be addressed first; this means the behavior consultant identifies the underlying problem/conflict as defined by the family. This means bringing the family together in agreement how best to solve the problem, then putting together a plan that works for the entire family, to solve the problem and/or conflict, as well as making sure the dogs needs are met as well. 

A good place to find qualified behavior experts are these organizations, the International Association of Behavior Consultants www.iaabc.org , the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists www.veterinarybehaviorists.org/ , the Animal Behavior Society www.animalbehavior.org.

When your business uses the right individuals, it creates a win-win situation for everyone, most of all you are ensuring the pet gets the best care possible.

Much of the problem is there are no regulations in the dog training, or dog behavior industry, so businesses are not required to seek out professional  behavior consultants.  So those of us who specialize in the behavior industry need to educate businesses about these differences, otherwise,  the continuing result will be, more and more dogs, will either be given up to shelters or euthanized out of frustration, and potential dog owners , will be less likely to purchase and/or adopt dogs in the future.

In these uncertain economic times, I increasing get frustrated when I see dog organizations including shelters and rescues, dog boutiques, and large box pet stores, dog trainers and veterinarians not specializing in behavior, give little attention where they refer clients. 

This has an impact on the welfare of pets, your clients and/or customers.  Often owners are so frustrated over the unresolved problem they eventually give up and relinquish their pet. 

As a founding member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants www.iaabc.org , it has always been our goal to “assist and educate owners and handlers of companion animals to prevent problems and to interrupt the cycle of inappropriate punishment, rejection, and euthanasia of animals with behavior problems that are resolvable.”

I keep a complete resume posted on my website www.responsibledog.net .  It is a chronological compilation www.responsibledog.net/certifications.html   of my on-going training and behavior background. I publish and keep it updated so potential clients and/or others interested in my services, am apprised of my education and skill level. 

Many of the seminars, workshops, conferences and private/semi-private mentoring sessions I attend, commonly referred to, in all teaching environments, are continuing educational units (CEU’s). I am meeting minimum standards suggested by the Journal Veterinary Behavior (2006, 1, 47-52) for dog trainers.  So, if someone calling themselves a behavior specialist/behaviorist is unable to provide up to date certificates of continuing education, related to the field of behavior, then you should look elsewhere, not only for your own sake, but also for the pet you care so much about.

Responsible Dog & Cat

Training and Behavior Solutions

Combining Art and Science for Training Animals

Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC

P.O. Box 15992

Sarasota, Florida 34277

941-966-1188 ~ 941-587-2049

 

http://responsibledog.net

http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/

https://k9psych.wordpress.com/

http://k9psych.blogspot.com/

 

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948

Copyright Responsible Dog & Cat  2009

Cropping ears, docking tails, breed standards, and selective breeding…who’s really benefitting humans or dogs!

Doberman
Doberman

July 31, 2009

Cropping ears, docking tails, breed standards, and selective breeding…who’s really benefitting humans or dogs!

This week Banfield, The Pet Hospital®, “leading veterinary practice known for its focus on preventive care and experienced-based medicine” has issued a proclamation they will no longer “sanction” cropping of ears and docking of tails.  Excuse me if I do not get a warm fuzzy emotional charge like many who have opposed this practice! 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, they have attempted to persuade the AKC to change breed standards requiring ear cropping and tail docking since the 1970’s [1]!  According to AVMA, their attempts have been “resolved” in 1976 Policy, “suggested” in 1999 Policy and most recently “recommended” in their 2008 Policy.  So it seems the AVMA has made subtle attempts to change these procedures, but continue being thwarted by the AKC and at least one veterinary medical association (e.g. Utah Veterinary Medical Association) [2]. 

According to the JAVMA regarding AVMA policy on ear cropping and tail docking and consider revising their policy, this meeting took place in June 2009.  According to their report, resolution 4 “gives the HOD” [House of Delegates] an opportunity to consider revision to the AVMA’s policy amended in November 2008 stating it opposed these procedures “done solely for cosmetic purposes.”  The policy further encouraged eliminating the procedures from breed standards [2].

The Utah VMA says, “[s]ociety has mixed feelings about the procedures,” stating they are minor surgeries, relatively safe, causing little discomfort to animals and the public demand is high.  They further stated, “the issue for the AVMA is not to decide what surgery pet owners want or do not want for their pets” instead focus should be on the procedures being performed by licensed veterinarians using proper protocol and postoperative care.” 

Before I get to the real issue, I wanted to highlight exactly what has/is being done by the AVMA regardless of Banfield’s newest position; however, it would be interesting to know exactly why they made this decision.  Considering Banfield claims to be “known for its focus on preventative care,” seems hypocritical coming from a “leading veterinary practice” that chooses to waste the public’s time and attention on a matter that is significantly less important than how selective breeding practices affect pets welfare. 

There are currently numerous dog breeds with high rates of inheritable disorders, disease, physical deformities causing disability, behavior problems, pain, and suffering.  The authors of “Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern?”  suggest we as a society and segments of the veterinary community are ‘desensitis[z]ed to the welfare issues…the production of anatomically deformed dogs is neither shocking, nor considered abnormal.’

Some of the lowlights of this welfare problem follow.

1.)     A popular veterinary text book lists 150 pages of breed predispositions for specific disorders with some breeds predisposed to more than ninety different diseases.  One can expect a certain amount of genetic disorders in closed breeding populations, but the levels indicated here suggest cause for concern.

2.)     Breed clubs, societies, kennel clubs, breeding standards, and practices are ineffective in protecting the welfare of many breeds.

3.)     Large populations of dogs are affected, it is an international problem

4.)     The effects are perpetuated from generation to generation

5.)     Quality of life issues affect many of these breeds

6.)     The effects are often long lasting, some the entire dogs life

Now considering the two issues, do you still feel compelled to put your time and energy toward worrying about cosmetic surgery on dogs or breeding problems that affect their quality of life and welfare? 

Does anyone think the public might be interested in knowing about these issues when considering a dog breed?  Instead, we allow them to focus on cosmetic qualities or myriad of other misinformed decisions, including increasing one’s status.  I consider it part of my ethical responsibility if someone inquires about a breed consideration; we all want to help owners in many different ways, but the most important still remains education. 

References

1.)     History of Policy on Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs, American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/tail_docking_history.pdf , retrieved 08.01.09

2.)     AVMA Web site (www.avma.org) in the About the AVMA section under House of Delegates 2009 Annual Session Agenda Items, retrieved 08.01.09.

3.)     Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern? by Dr. Nicola Rooney and Dr. David Sargan, contributions from Dr. Matthew Pead, Dr. Carrie Westgarth, Dr. Emma Creighton and Dr. Nick Branson, February 2009, retrieved from www.rspca.org/uk/pedigreedogs .

 

Responsible Dog & Cat

Training & Behavior Solutions

Combining the Art & Science to Training Responsibly

Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC

Sarasota, Florida

http://responsibledog.net   

http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/

https://k9psych.wordpress.com/ 

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.  Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948

Copyright    Responsible Dog Ownership 2004 – 2009

Pet Sitting Personal Attention or Madame Running Prostitution Business!

Pet Sitting Personal Attention or Madame Running Prostitution Business!

This connection actually entered my always-questioning mind some time ago, but recently a client brought something to my attention causing me to investigate this type of service.  Being naïve, thinking pet sitters gave “personal attention” to their charges you can understand how shocked I was when I put paw and paw together and realized these businesses do not offer personal attention for your pet at all.  Not really. 

If you consider hiring what may be unskilled, minimum hourly wage individuals, just because they love dogs, supposedly are qualified and passed background checks, then you’re just as naïve as me, if you think this constitutes personal attention then you and I surely don’t think about our pets in the same way. 

In fact, some of these pet sitting services are growing franchises and/or large personally managed businesses operating as pet sitters, but actually, who is doing the pet sitting!  You and your pets are being assigned individuals who may not even meet you personally, you are dependent on the Madame, oops, I mean pet sitting owner to “assign” individuals to your job!  Your pet’s needs are being relegated to a job, performed by individuals you won’t even personally know!

Oh I know, I know, other businesses use subcontractors too, but this is a very personal business involving peoples pets, whose owners often refer to as children!  I am not sure, but I do not think the human nanny business is managed in such a carefree manner and maybe even carelessly! 

The care of dogs is a welfare issue, that’s why I happen to be quite knowledgeable about dog care, housing needs, socialization, behavior, training, breeding practices,  raising behaviorally healthy as well as physically healthy dogs, medical issues related to behavior and how behavior and stress often cause medical problems and medical problems often cause stress, behavior problems and anxiety.  The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote, the complete article is on my website www.responsibledog.net and blog https://k9psych.wordpress.com/


What you should consider when boarding, using a pet sitter or that swanky spa!

When boarding includes socialization privileges

A well-socialized dog could be characterized by how readily it interacts and plays with other dogs.  However, dogs will be dogs! In most cases, if there are altercations, they are often minor, but one cannot be careful enough when allowing a group of dogs to interact.  If you decide to board your pet in this type of environment, make sure the staff have good working knowledge how dogs communicate, meaning they can read dogs well and have the ability to handle multiple dogs while keeping every one safe.

Often these kinds of businesses include behavior assessments, however, future behavior is not always predictable, and there is always a chance that dogs may not get along with specific dogs.  It’s best in these environments that numbers be limited by the effectiveness of staff, and sometimes alternating dogs in smaller groups, giving consideration to size, breed and personality can help provide safety while still providing interaction and socialization opportunity.

It is your responsibility to make sure your dog is safe so your decision should include evaluating the level of expertise concerning animal behavior when boarding your pet in these types of environments.  If the staff is not sufficiently educated in normal dog or cat behavior, and specifically aggression, how to manage it, recognize it and modify it, then you should be concerned about your dog’s welfare.

Is stress a consideration during boarding?

“Stress occurs when any demand is placed upon a dog that requires the dog to change or adjust” (Lindsay, 2000).  For stress to occur events or situations do not have to be unpleasant, but rather any biological or psychological demand placed on an animal is capable of producing stress.  There are certain amounts of healthy stress all animals are capable of adapting to, however chronic stress may lead to stress-related conditions.  This is an important consideration when making your decision on how, where and under what conditions you will board your animals.

Stress-related hormonal changes occur during separation in a number of species.  Tuber and colleagues (1996) studied dogs and found a “differential glucocorticoid (cortisol and corticosterone) response” occurs during five conditions of separation.

1. Alone in a novel environment
2. With a conspecific (another dog) in a novel environment
3. Alone in a familiar environment
4. With a human in a novel environment
5. With a conspecific (another dog) in a familiar environment.

The results of their study showed dogs left alone in novel environments had the highest level of cortisol output with the lowest level occurring in home kennels with a familiar conspecific.  However, dogs tested in novel environments with a human companion had significantly lower cortisol levels when compared to dogs kept in the novel environment with a conspecific.  These results lend support when considering your decision concerning your dog’s welfare when kenneling or boarding.

What exactly does my dog prefer?

According to these studies, dogs prefer the company of humans even in novel (unfamiliar) environments when compared to dogs kenneled in home environments with a familiar dog! What this means, is you may need to consider your dogs stress levels when using a pet sitter who only drops by on occasion compared to a kennel alternative that not only meets your dogs need for dog socialization but also benefits from more human contact.


 

You should pay close attention to the study’s conclusions, the conditions offering the least amount of stress.  The results do not lend credibility to pet sitting but rather in-home kenneling and/or traditional kenneling that at minimum offers some socialization but most of all more human attention and supervision. 

 

Pet sitters suggest in their marketing materials that in-home boarding and/or other similar larger facilities do not provide enough attention or contact with your pet.  This is simply a grossly over exaggerated generalized statement.  This is why you need to thoroughly check out the facility you choose, not all boarding facilities are managed the same, nor do the owners of these facilities have the same knowledge level.  Many offer very little other than caged conditions all or most of the day, you need to process the marketing materials you are reading more critically, do not assume anything they say as being true. 

 

What is so odd about this practice is the cost for using pet sitters actually exceeds the cost of leaving your dog at a kennel and/or in-home boarding facility.  In my opinion, these businesses are predatory type businesses; they market their services focusing on human emotions, not what is really best for dogs! 

 

When are we going to grow up and start treating our dogs like dogs, it is the most mature thing we humans can do to help our dogs.  Stop listening to people who do not know anything about normal dog behavior, stop watching television dog trainers, get off the couch and find individuals with the best qualifications that meet your dog’s specific needs.  The things that should matter most to you and your dog are the following:

 

  • Do you first know how to select the best dog for you?
  • Do you know how to raise and train a puppy correctly?
  • What are really the best care options for my dog/s?
  • How much experience does the kennel owner have?
  • How much experience does the dog trainer have?
  • What credentials does the behavior specialist have? 

 

Buying cutesy cloths, collars, bowls, beds are all luxuries, they do not make your dog any better, it makes you feel better.  My dogs have these things (material objects), but most of all they have someone who truly understands what they really need!

 

So that you understand the seriousness of this choice, I have been rather light on you so far, I am going to include a recent example of what I am talking about.  A potential client contacted me concerning some dog behavior problems.  The dog ate nearly an entire bath towel causing a serious digestive problem; luckily, there was no blockage.  It took over a week of antibiotics and recovery time before the dog felt normal.  This occurred during the “careful” watch (?) of a pet sitter!  I am sorry, but based on this dogs history, this would not have occurred under my watch, so pet owners beware who you leave your pets in the care of, it may end up costing you more than you bargained for. 

 

Pets under my care do get individual care, they get sufficient and supervised play time, and it’s all provided by someone with a background in professional dog training and certified in dog behavior ( www.iaabc.org ).  Yes, there is a difference; the difference is who is actually taking care of your pets and that individual’s qualifications. 

 

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Responsible Dog & Cat

Training and Behavior Solutions

In-Home Pet Boarding

www.responsibledog.net

https://k9psych.wordpress.com/

http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/

Teaching Relaxed Sit

Boudicca Relaxed Sit

Boudicca Relaxed Sit

 

Relaxed Sit

The purpose of teaching a relaxed sit is training calm behavior.  A dog that has learned to sit calmly is easier to train and accepts distractions in their environment.  It’s absolutely necessary to teach a reactively aggressive or anxious dog this behavior.  The ideal dog is relaxed and under no obvious distress.  A distressed dog indicates the same level of physiological distress that accompanies emotional distress.  A dog in constant emotional distress will be unable to cope with his environment and unable to learn new behavior.

Your goal

 

  • The dog will sit on verbal or hand signal when asked and remain until released.

 

  • Sitting is an impulse control exercise and reflects a submissive and calming position and emotional state.

 

  • This calm state can diffuse other dogs’ intentions.

 

  • This exercise is mandatory behavior for all dogs whose owners expect to take them out into public.

Prerequisites

  1. 4-6” lead to prevent dog from wondering away.
  2. Training treats- the smaller the better
  3. Reward marker – good or yes
  4. No reward marker – wrong, oops or sorry
  5. Schedule of reinforcement – beginning with a fixed (continuous) schedule of reinforcement changing to a variable schedule once the dog is reliably offering the correct response in at least 3-4 different locations 

A dog still vibrating while sitting does not indicate a calm dog, if this describes your dog,  you will need to learn how to shape calm behavior.   

Responsible Dog & Cat

Training & Behavior Solutions

Joyce D. Kesling

P.O. Box 15992

Sarasota, Florida 34277

941-966-1188 ~ 941-587-2049

www.responsibledog.net

http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/

https://k9psych.wordpress.com/  

 

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948

Copyright       Responsible Dog and Cat Rev A 2004-2009

Dog Barking ~ Canine Communication

Barking is a form of communication for dogs. Communication is described as a transmission of information between one animal and another or between groups of animals with the intent to affect behavior. Typically, communication takes place-using signals that may include verbal, tactile, odors (pheromones), facial expressions and body movements. The communication exchange will usually have three components. These components consist of 1.) the animal sending the message, 2.) the animal receiving the message and 3.) the communication signal. The purpose of the message is to change the attitude, mood or behavior of the recipient. The receivers’ response indicates whether the senders’ message, the function of the behavior has served its purpose.

Communication can take place between the same species (intraspecific) or with another species (interspecific). In the case of dogs, Canis lupus familiaris communication is common in both situations.

According to Lindsay (2000), “…expressive social behavior…exercises an important modulatory effect over emotion and mood.” Communication is a behavior, says Horowitz (2001), having a “goal and function” and communication in higher organisms serves to “regulate social interaction” among members of the group and its purpose to facilitate “cooperative behavior,” according to Lindsay (2000), which is vital to a groups survival.

The importance of understanding how dogs communicate

Understanding how to communicate with dogs can partly be achieved by understanding how dogs developed under domestication, as well as how they adapted to their ever-changing environment. Another reason why is partly founded in one’s acceptance or non-acceptance that “animals are endowed with a private experience or self-awareness comparable to our own” which presents a “moral crisis” according to Lindsay (2000) that “would revolutionize how we view and treat animals under our care.” Temple Grandin (1995), suggests dogs are “…akin to the thinking style of artists or musicians” considering things in “…terms of their immediate sensory significance, relevance to the animal’s current motivation state and associated memories” added into the context or situation (Lindsay, 2000).

Lindsay (2000) sums this up saying “meaningful communication would appear to require an internally represented and empathetic experience of the other.”

The subtle social communication occurring between humans and dogs seems to imply that
there exists a shared cognitive or empathetic substrate mediating, assessing, and evaluating
mutual intentions and meaning, as well as deliberating on different possible courses of action
based on parallel appraisals and emotions experienced by the affected communicators.

Understanding how our dogs communicate is essential in helping owners resolve behavior problems related to barking. Communication lacking clear understanding can influence behavior, so establishing clear communication with our dogs should be considered an essential part of ownership.

When does vocalization behavior begin?

Canine vocalization patterns begin during the neonatal stage of development and gradually develop until adulthood. Young puppies’ first sounds consist of whines and yelps, called distress vocalizations, and function to reunite the pup with its mother. These behaviors are replaced gradually with sounds associated with relief of stress or discomfort, contact comfort with siblings, mother and warmth, and by 4 weeks of age a more “adult-like phase of vocal communication begins” (Beaver, 1999).

Barking usually begins during the first 2-4 weeks, occurring in most cases during play-solicitation and is not associated with aggression until after 8 weeks, which usually occurs in response to a growl associated with weaning from the mother. The intent of the aggressive bark gradually increases and changes according to context and is most often associated with food defense or directed toward strange dogs.

The tone usually indicates the purpose with higher tones indicating excitability, play and greeting behavior and lower tones indicating threat or distancing behavior. The function of barking includes greeting, play, alarm, hunting, tracking, herding, vocal alerting, defense, threat, care seeking, distress, contact seeking, and group vocalization and the specific function can be determined based on the contextual situation combined with the dog’s observed body language (Beaver, 1999).

Why do modern dogs bark?

In Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) he says, “[c]an it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of years?” He suggests, “…individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind.”

According to archeological evidence, dogs have been living in close proximity to humans dating back as much as 14,000 years and some speculate even longer. The relationship between early man and dog was probably a commensal type and as dogs became more domesticated, the relationship changed to a more symbiotic type. The most compelling reason for early dogs’ ease of domestication was their willingness to live in close proximity to humans. This advantage not only provided mutual protection for early man but early prototype dogs as well. The early dogs unlike their wolf predecessors barked more, had lower thresholds for fear, and infantile facial features that stimulated human care giving instincts, factors contributing to our future interspecific-bonding process.

Barking Classifications

Alarm barking

Probably one of the earliest advantages dogs provided was alarm barking, providing early dogs selective advantages over their wolf counterparts. Alarm barking not only functioned to serve notice to other predator intruders of their location but also in turn provided warnings for early man. These early alarm barks did not distinguish friend from foe, but most likely functioned as an alarm announcing the presence of a strange animal or person.

Understanding pitch, duration and the context of barking and quite possibly breed contributions will be helpful in identifying the motivation behind the dogs barking. This understanding will contribute to treating a barking problem indicating the dog is simply over-reactive to his environment

Territorial barking

Territorial barking originated as a function for communicating long distance with other members of their group or functioning to establish their presence and location to other neighboring competitors. Contrary to this environment, modern dogs do not need this form of communication but this behavior seems to have persisted.

Howling is often the precursor to the beginning of a neighborhood bark fest, and according to Dodman (1999), “the stimulus for howling is certain tones and frequencies of sound” acting as a releasing stimuli for this underlying drive. Fire alarms seem to be a common releasing stimulus for dogs to perform this behavior.

Excitement barking

Dodman (1999) cites an interesting observation using “inhalation anesthetic” saying, “…each species goes through a stage of supposedly unconscious involuntary excitement” consisting of “species-typical disinhibition of reflexive behavior.” The most common behavior he observed was paddling their limbs along and that “all species vocalize.” The point, “if dogs vocalize when disinhibited, when excitatory systems discharge unchecked, barking must be a reflexive behavior triggered by excitement” even in a fully conscious state.

Just as we can become overly excited over certain events, dogs it seems are capable of the same inability to control their own actions, i.e. dogs who get overly excited at chasing squirrels, playing games or meeting other dogs and people.

Owner reinforcement

Since we all know dogs bark rather easily in many contexts and with significant triggering stimuli, preventing unwanted barking in the future makes sense and can easily be accomplished by well-informed owners who understand how dogs learn. Dogs learn from barking they can get what they want or when ignored dogs learn that barking is unsuccessful and cease using it as a means of reinforcement.

A good example I saw of owner reinforcement for barking was an Animal Planet show featuring the Bouvier des Flandres and even though classified by the AKC in the herding group, they are considered a working dog first serving as a police, defense, or army dog in Belgium where they originated.

Bouvier’s are considered excellent watchdogs probably needing little encouragement to bark at intruders or even guests. This subject came up during the Animal Planet program with the owner demonstrating by encouraging the dog to bark at an approaching person on the street. The dog responded with a fierce response. In this case, the owner clearly prompted the dogs barking response-facilitating learning to bark in that context. I might question this practice unless the situation is fully thought out and taking into consideration owner absence.

We often forget while raising puppies that what we might consider cute during this period of development may become what we consider a behavior problem later when the dog is no longer the innocent and cute puppy. So if we are going to teach our dogs to respond to certain stimuli, we should be equally prepared to teach the dog appropriate responses to inhibit the response. A reminder might be “Be careful what you reinforce.”

Fear related territorial barking versus confident dog

Often we find that dogs use barking in relation to fear related issues and in some instances because they are confident. In both situations, context and body language can offer the owner clues to the meaning for the dogs barking response.

The fearful dog is often evidenced by the owners’ initial inability to quiet the dog and once the dog does quiet, they retreat to safe locations waiting for the next opportunity to bark at what this dog perceives as a threatening target. Often these dogs bark at service people i.e. the mail carrier, delivery people and often-household guests. Their behavior is continually reinforced every instance a delivery person or guest leaves the house. These dogs learn they can intimidate and remove unwanted people simply by the reinforcing qualities this brings the dog.

The fearful dog will need counter-conditioning and desensitization to help them over their fears and anxieties in those contexts where the dog is uncomfortable about accepting strangers, this may even include other dogs.

Contrary to this, the confident dog will alert owners to the presence of intruders but will quiet when they accept the owners’ decision to introduce guests and strangers. In cases where territory is not the issue, an assertive confident dog can be truly dangerous. These dogs are known to stand their ground perhaps even walk toward you as if daring you to come any closer. Their body postures may not be easy to read due to conflicting emotional states. It would be unwise for one to continue approaching a dog who is advancing while continuing to emit warning barks, thus causing this type of dog to further escalate his warnings to stay away. These dogs also learn their threatening behavior keeps people and strange dogs away and if this behavior causes an owner problems counter-conditioning and desensitization can be effective in changing their perspective and response.

Distress vocalization related most often to separation anxiety and frustration

One of the saddest forms of excessive vocalization is with cases of separation anxiety. These dogs often have other signs indicating an anxious state when faced with being left alone, but the most common is barking.

According to Lindsay (2000), MacLean (1985) “…has proposed that the neural substrates mediating separation distress, maternal care, and play belong to the same paleomammalian portion of the limbic system” and these “socially directed vocalization patterns may have originally evolved to maintain close contact” between the mammalian mother and offspring. In addition, Panksepp (1982) “views distress vocalization as stemming from a primal mammalian emotional system…specifically originating in those areas of the brain that mediate panic and explosive behavior” and further says, “…the major adaptive function…is to sustain social cohesion among organisms whose survival depends on reciprocity of care-soliciting and care-giving behaviors” (Lindsay, 2000).

When dogs are confronted with differing stimuli associated with owner presence and absence these areas of the brain and interconnecting circuits are activated resulting in signs of distress and panic in the dog (Lindsay, 2000).

This type of behavior problem can be complicated and if one suspects their dogs excessive barking is related to issues associated with separation distress I recommend either consulting with a certified veterinary behaviorist or qualified behavior consultant.

Play solicitation

According to Lindsay (2000), this same emotional system has evolved to include vocalization behavior functioning to “facilitate social harmony” among conspecifics and is first experienced with littermates and as they mature they continue to use barking as part of their social play repertoire.

One should be familiar with play behavior between dogs, as it is important to recognize any escalation between playing individuals. Oftentimes play behavior can result in serious fights. According to Lindsay (2001), [p]lay is relatively incompatible with aggression and fear” however “under the influence of escalating frustration or threat” often exhibited by barking “play may slip over into overt aggression.”

Genetics and rearing practices

Lest we forget that dogs have been selectively breed for specific purposes that include barking as part of their repertoire.

Often dogs will exhibit over-reactive personalities often attributed to genetics but one should also consider the environment where the dog was raised. Often dogs raised by over-reactive parents and sterile environments lacking novelty grow up to be hyperactive, over-reactive dogs. The result often includes common behavior problems i.e. attention-seeking behaviors related to jumping, mouthing and barking.

Finally, according to Dodman (1999), “it is always helpful for owners to understand the roots of a problem if they are going to invest time trying to correct it” rather than simply offering “mindless retraining exercises.” However, offering an explanation may not always be possible especially in cases of rescue dogs whose behavioral history may not provide sufficient information to draw definitive conclusions. In these cases, the behavior consultant and perhaps even the certified veterinary behaviorist may simply treat the reinforcing consequences of the behavior taking into consideration any precipitating stimuli that may be causing the barking. Often barking cases require assistance from qualified behavior consultants that may be helpful in finding out precipitating causes that may be contributing to the overall problem and often owners are unaware.

Is punishment appropriate for barking?

Barking is a normal communicative method for dogs and punishment has no place in treating barking problems, in fact, dogs often will bark for attention especially when bored or living in socially deficient environments. A trainer with sufficient knowledge in scientifically grounded positive training principles and canine behavior should be capable of offering a multitude of training options along with management strategies depending on the context of the barking for the average owner and without a more serious problem.

References

Beaver, Bonnie V. Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians

PA: Saunders. 1999.

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: a new understanding of canine origin,

behavior and evolution. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2001.

Darwin, Charles Robert. The origin of species by means of natural selection.

New York: Gramercy, 1979.

Dodman, Nicholas H., Dogs behaving badly: an A-to-Z guide to understanding and curing

behavioral problems in dogs. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

Horwitz, Debra F. (2001). Canine Communication.

Retrieved from http://www.vin.com/VINDBPub/searchPB/Proceedings/PR05000/PR00469.htm .

Lindsay, Steven R. Handbook of applied dog behavior and training. 2 Vols.

Iowa: Iowa SP. 2000. Vol. 1.

Lindsay, Steven R. Handbook of applied dog behavior and training. 2 Vols.

Iowa: Iowa SP. 2001. Vol. 2.

Thompson, Nicky (Ed.). (1995). The international encyclopedia of dogs/Anne Rogers Clark,

Andrew H. Brace . New York: Simon & Schuster.

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