Is Your Dog Addicted?

(Addictive behavior in dogs which can sever the bond with their family)

You may already be in trouble if you did not study the history and purpose of your purebred dog before you brought him home. Your failure to diligently manage your dog to prevent his characteristics from growing into dangerous obsessions could seal your dog's fate.

You may think you did everything you could to successfully raise your dog. Following well-meaning veterinary advice, you did not to take him out until he had all of his shots at four months of age. You had him neutered or her spayed. You went to obedience classes to teach the dog to respond to commands. Yesterday, your two-year-old rottweiler bit your neighbor when the guy reached over the fence to pat him. Your hound roared and snapped at you when you tried to pull him away from something interesting that he had found on the ground. Your border collie knocked a child off of a bike and now his parents are suing! Your husky ran away again. Your labrador retriever pulled your newly planted trees out of the ground and jumped into your neighbor's swimming pool the other day. Your advanced obedience titled german shepherd won't let strangers on your property. The neighborhood has drawn up a petition to make you get rid of your barking beagle. What is going wrong?

You, the owner, have a very important responsibility to be aware of the traits common in the breed you have chosen to live with.

Most domestic dogs were selectively bred to perform work. Breed books tell you of the common characteristics and tendencies of each breed. The missing link in the information chain is how to properly manage the upbringing and containment of the dog to avoid triggering problem behavior on which the dog can get hooked. Dogs actually derive pleasure, a charge, or a high from doing the task they were bred to do. With every opportunity to participate in the genetically built in desire/drive, the dog becomes more charged for the next opportunity. Doing the task for which the dog was selectively bred can be euphoric for the dog, an unrivaled high. The territorial dog gets a thrill from running people and animals off his property. With each successful effort, his enthusiasm for doing this increases. For example: The first time the territorial dog is aware of the mailman, the dog may bark. The mailman always goes away and the dog thinks his bark made that happen. As the situation repeats itself daily, the dog becomes more aggressive. The bark deepens, the dog may growl and jump at the door or the window, hair may stand up on the dog's neck, and the dog may stare strongly at the mailman. As a dog becomes mature, at about two years of age, he is more able to bring serious aggression to bear on intruders when he perceives a threat. The drug of his choice is territorial behavior.

The frustrated herding dog chases the lawnmower, the vacuum, the jogger, the car, etc. He looks forward to opportunities to chase something or someone. The herding dog was selected for breeding based on his skill at herding cattle or sheep. There is joy in the chase and without sheep or cattle, these other things will do. This behavior can also be done with some fervor, as the dogs sometimes bite the sheep or cattle if they do not move. The dog's ability to see things moving that he cannot chase often bring about hysterical barking. This dog's high comes from chasing.

The scent hound is turned on by scent of game. There is nothing better in this dog's life than the opportunity to follow scent trails. When hunting game, the dog's focus is totally on the sense of smell. Once the hound begins trailing rabbits, pheasant, etc., he is energized by the hunt. If you interfere with his work, he can become very aggressive. He will not hear or heed anyone's call while tuned in to the trail, until that trail is lost. Given the chance, he will learn how to dig, climb and get through any barriers in his way to the game. He gets his hit from scent.

The terriers are very attuned to small game and rodents. They were selectively chosen for their ability to root out and kill rats, fox, mink, snakes, etc. from their homes in the ground and rock ledges. While following the underground tunnels, they would bark, keeping their owners informed of their whereabouts. In their frustration if there is not game in the immediate area, they may stalk flies and spiders. They love to dig and locate creatures in the ground. If this behavior is triggered, they may become obsessed with digging and barking.

The sporting breed dog, like a lab, is full of energy, which is genetically programmed to keep him running in the field searching game. He may be obsessed with birds, snatching any birds he can catch. It is the job of many sporting breeds to retrieve the game to the hunter. For that reason, labs redirect to toys for retrieving and sometimes can be fanatical about it. (This is useful to the US Customs department when they use dogs for drug detection at airports.) The drive of these dogs to retrieve surpasses all other drives and dogs can do this all day long. As a family pet, he is continually stealing things and seems to always have something in his mouth. He may stalk the robin's nest in your backyard with intent to catch those birds or their young. His obsession is with flying creatures and retrieving.

The sled dogs are also fairly active and because their job requires them to look straight ahead and run, they are fairly independent and have a great desire to break out and run for the sheer joy of running. A sled dog that spends any time looking back to see his owner is a pretty poor choice for the team. These dogs, especially Siberian huskies, are very bright and can learn to open gates to facilitate their escape and their much-loved run. If confinement is insecure, dogs begin to learn all sorts of ways to get out (climbing, digging, twisting just right on their chains, opening simple latches on doors, pushing at doors and gates). If coming when called means capture and confinement, they will avoid coming at all costs. Escape, independence, and running are addictive and dogs seek out opportunities to go.

The water rescue or water retriever is very enthralled with water and pools. Once he has had the opportunity to swim, and knows where the water is, he will look for every opportunity to be in the water. That is what he was programmed through his genes to do. You may find him in your bath tub, the children's wading pool, the sprinkler, or breaking out to go to the nearby creek or pond for a swim.

Fighting dogs are predisposed to challenge and wrestle with other dogs and animals. As they are wrestling to control and not to make others go away, their biting behavior is not defensive. The bites are not just a nip, but rather a grasp and hold. Once fighting dogs are given the opportunity to fight, they may look forward to the next opportunity with great anticipation. Dogs that fight are often eager to mix it up with another dog. This too, is addictive to the dog.

Many dogs are prey driven. Prey driven dogs tend to chase things that move fast. They may be seen stalking the object of their interests. When they grasp the object, they often shake it, which would serve to kill game, as the dog's wild ancestors did. It is often assumed that the game pit fighting dogs are motivated by prey behavior. They can really get hooked on it, if given the chance.

Defense driven dogs are those who are suspicious of anything abnormal around them. They are often quick to stiffen, raise their tails, bark, stare, hackle up, show teeth, and growl to make threats go away. These dogs trigger on people who move toward them, stare at them, stand or reach over them, speak in a gruff voice to them, etc. Prior to maturity, these dogs will try to bluff to get people to stay away. After maturity, they will be more willing to approach and carry out a bite to make people go away. These are not fear biters that engage in this behavior only when there is no other option. They get a charge out of challenging and overcoming others.

The whole purpose of this article is to persuade you to take preventative action to protect your dog(s) from potentially disastrous inherited characteristics. The unfortunate mismanaged dog acts out behaviors that make him unwanted or very difficult to keep as a pet. It would be very unwise to take a highly territorial breed and keep it in a fenced yard on a corner lot in an urban area as it grows up unsupervised. As neighbors attempt to quiet the unacceptable barking by shouting, throwing things, and menacing the dog, the behavior mushrooms. The precious temperament of the dog can be damaged irreparably by inappropriate actions from passers by, mail personnel and delivery people, as well as neighbors. All in all, it is not the intruder's fault. It is the fault of the your failure to manage the dog properly.

It is sad and frustrating to hear from people who did not properly socialize, confine, and supervise their dogs after the dog has bitten or injured people, or attacked and seriously injured/killed other dogs or livestock.

Puppy classes, taught by qualified people, can be a step in the right direction. The critical socialization period for domestic dogs has been established in the literature as the ages from four weeks to twelve weeks. After socialization in the litter and with mom up until 7-8 weeks of age, the socialization must continue with the rest of the puppy's world. It is at this age that puppies need to be exposed to the activities that puppy may be required to deal with as an adult. Make sure he has been vaccinated for his protection. The puppy needs positive experiences with safe dogs, people of all ages and types, different environments and floor surfaces, and the noises of life, be it noisy city, or quiet country. He needs to ride in the car and learn to play and interact with people with acceptable toys and behavior.

If your dog is never given the opportunity to engage in inappropriate behavior, and the natural drives and energy of the dog are depleted through interaction with you by way of games and exercise on a regular basis, you can prevent your dog from becoming a liability. Study the breeds, talk to breeders, make the right choice based on your home and family and time you have to spend on the dog. Take the pup to puppy classes, have it spayed or neutered, train it to respond to basic commands, and confine it securely when you can't be present to supervise it directly. Do not leave your adolescent dog outdoors when you are not home or able to watch it. Supervise its interactions with people, and other dogs, and animals. Don't give it the chance to become a livestock killer, a car chaser, a fence jumper, or a biter. Manage your dog to prevent life-threatening addictive behavior. Dog pounds and shelters are full of adolescent dogs whose unenlightened owners have failed them due to mismanagement. The first two years of a dog's life are often the most trying, but good management will result in a pet you can enjoy for many years and be proud of.


Karla Gardner Hamlin
14028 Self Road
Bowling Green, OH 43402 9225

The author is pound manager for the Lucas County Dog Warden Department in Toledo, Ohio, and owns and teaches classes at Gardner Dog Training in Sylvania, Ohio. She also has trained and titled her own dogs since 1972, is a member of The International Association of Canine Professionals, APDT, and NADOI.



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