Doggone Etiquette â
By Bardi McLennan
A Word to the Dog:
Are some of your VIPeople kids? Do you think of them as small versions of their Mom and Dad, or any other VIPeople you know? Or do you sometimes get mixed up as to how these kids fit in your life. When youâre playing with them, be sure to treat them like real people, not puppies! When they wonât play the game your way, give them a little slack. Remember, you werenât perfect as a puppy â you just grew up faster! Older kids can be pretty darn smart when it comes to their concerns about you. They are great at asking questions like, âWhy does Rufus do that?â Itâs their way of trying to understand you better. Love them for it.
A Word to the Dogâs Owner:
You adults are not the only ones with questions and concerns about your dogs. The older kids also worry about âtheirâ dog â when the dog is not feeling well, or behaving in some strange way â and they come up with some very good questions.
A young girl told me her three year old Cairn Terrier is the sweetest dog imaginable, and does well in obedience â but, and hereâs the hard part. For no reason, he will suddenly chase shadows, and any patch of light that reflects off the ceiling, walls, or windows. No one in the family has been able to stop any of it and they find it very annoying.
Obviously, this is not normal behavior for any breed of dog, but it brings up just one example of research being conducted on animals that also benefits people. Dr Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts Universityâs Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, reported that the study of obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs is a valuable step in working with the disorder in humans. The genetic research is done using purebred dogs since their ancestry is easily traced through pedigrees. Environmental causes are also being researched. It is estimated that over five to six million dogs in America have this disorder, with males outnumbering females by three to one.
Chasing shadows (or lights, or flies) is only one form of this compulsive behavior. Other forms seen by many pet owners include fence-running, excessive chewing or licking at themselves, spinning in circles, or even what we refer to as âidiot barkingâ (incessant barking for no reason). All of these are known to be obsessive-compulsive-disorders and cannot be eliminated or corrected simply by training.
Your veterinarian may prescribe medication that can help in many cases to control the behavior to some extent, but not to eliminate it. A qualified behaviorist may need to be consulted if itâs necessary to determine whether there is any danger to the dog itself or to other dogs or people due to the specific activity. Most often, as the girl who brought up the subject said, it is only annoying to the family and has little or no detrimental effect on the dog.
In mild cases such as, say, biting at non-existent flies, or tail-chasing, the activity can be interrupted by using that good old obedience training method of âdistraction,â never to be confused with âcorrectionâ or âpunishment.â Use any diversion that is pleasant to the dog. You might show the dog a toy and toss it. Or, with a big smile, suggest something he likes such as a walk. This is not the time for a âstop itâ or âleave itâ command. You are only attempting to distract the dog from whatever compulsive behavior is underway. This may interrupt the action for the moment, but will in no way eliminate it. The possible annoyance to you will remain, but at least you will know that it is not a punishable offense or naughtiness on the part of your Rufus.
Until next time â BE GOOD!
Bardi McLennan bred, trained and showed Welsh Terriers for 30 years, during which time she wrote a monthly column on canine behavior in Dog Fancy Magazine. In addition to contributing to numerous dog publications, she has written 15 books on dogs, the latest being Rescue Me!, which received the ASPCA Humane Issues Award in 2008.