In this week’s thought provoking podcast Joanne Perrot (founder of the Ladies Working Dog Group) is joined by LWDG Group Experts Samantha Thorneycroft-Taylor (Languedoc Gundogs) and Claire Denyer (Family Dog Services) as they discuss whether your dog has been correctly labelled a “bad dog” or whether there has been a miscommunication in it’s education.
What is a “bad dog”?
Any dog can be called a “bad dog” and in fact most of them probably hear the words ‘you bad dog’ at some point in their life – when it took the opportunity to eat the unattended sandwich on the kitchen side, after he’s traipsed muddy paw prints across the living room carpet, or when she’s rolled in something unpleasant on her afternoon walk. More often than not, the above phrase is used simply as a passing comment to show interim displeasure.
Some dogs, however, become termed a “bad dog” with more longevity; perhaps you’re struggling with a recall every day in the stubble fields as the pigeon’s take your dogs’ focus, or maybe your dog continually lunges at passing cars as you attempt to walk along the pavement.
Being the owner of an unmannered pooch is exhausting, frustrating, and embarrassing in pretty equal measures. But especially so if you’ve no idea which way to turn, how to get help, or how to turn those scathing looks from passers-by into friendly compliments.
Looking at Your Dogs Genetic Makeup.
When we bring our cute puppy home for the first time, we hopefully have some idea of what our chosen breed is like but that’s not always the case.
It is super important to understand that all dogs need a ‘job role’ of some description, and ideally one that comes naturally to them; Spaniels have an exceptional nose, Collies enthuse drive and determination, Schnauzer’s are phenomenally loyal guardians so we can utilise their natural behaviours when working along their training journey.
Whether your dogs’ parents worked within the job ‘industry’ that they were bred for doesn’t mean that the drive will necessarily have been dampened – if we look at four generations of the same human family for a moment, we will often see recognisable features between a great grandmother and their great granddaughter, as well as the mother and grandmother in between. That’s four whole generations in which specific genetic appearances are the same, and you can almost guarantee that there will be actions, emotions and habits that carry through the family tree as well.
So going back to our beloved canine companions, their breeding was honed over several years and many generations to enhance the behaviours, and the looks, that we required for the work we needed them to do. It’s highly unlikely that within just a few generations of breeding that those genetic, inbuilt behaviours will have diminished, though of course there may be the odd puppy that shows less enthusiasm or drive than their siblings.
Not only is it desirable to know what your chosen breed of dogs is ‘designed’ to do, it’s also worth noting that specific bloodlines within a breed can carry certain traits; some desirable, others not-so, but having knowledge of these bloodlines is extremely beneficial when searching for, and choosing, your next pup.
Double duck dude!
Our own LWDG Expert Claire Denyer’s dog, Dude, earned himself the nickname of “Double Duck Dude” on his local shoot due to the fact that he would always return with two ducks at a time on the duck drive (well done Dude; great conservation of energy).
It transpires that Dude’s grand sire used to display the exact same behaviour when working so Dude’s ability to problem solve and to realise he could do this was passed down the generations to him.
Is Your Dog Misunderstood?
Should you be tearing your hair out about your dog and wondering where it all went wrong, what turned your dog into a “bad dog”, rest assured you are not alone!
Key questions to ask yourself would be;
Is my dog actually displaying a version of their natural behaviour?
Does my dog understand the rules and boundaries within our family household?
Am I providing my dog with an outlet to perform those natural behaviours?
Sometimes, when we take a dog away from their ‘natural environment’ (think Collie in a field of sheep, or Spaniel hunting a woodland), and place them in an unnatural environment, we have to realise that their innate behaviours need an outlet – the dog must be given opportunities in which to use it’s natural instincts.
If we don’t provide the dog with an outlet in which to perform those instinctual behaviours, the dog will likely become frustrated and over time will probably start to display undesirable behaviours.
In other words, the dog becomes frustrated, and that frustration has to come out somewhere – be that through barking, chewing, chasing, nipping/biting.. All of these are deemed as problem behaviours and sadly earns the dog the title of “bad dog”… But is it truly the dogs fault?
It can become second nature to say ‘no you can’t do that, no you can’t do that either, no that’s off the table’, but we should ensure the dog is given an activity that they can do in its place; don’t chase the cats but play retrieve with me and this ball instead, don’t bark at the window but lay quietly on your bed instead. The replacement behaviour provides us with ample opportunity to reward the dog for doing something right.
With Reward Comes Repetition.
It sounds obvious, when we want a behaviour to be repeated it should be rewarded, when given an appropriate reward the dog is more likely to repeat the behaviour that gained them the reward.
This is absolutely true!
But, is the reward coming from you or is your dog rewarding themself? If your dog finds barking at the window extremely pleasing, they’re self rewarding and are likely to repeat the behaviour of barking at the window over and over again.
Is your dog rewarding itself for displaying a behaviour that you find undesirable?
Ensure your dog has clear, consistent boundaries, that he knows what they are, and that he is rewarded appropriately for adhering to the rules.
Don’t just distract your dog to ‘manage’ the situation – provide clarity to your dog, teach them what is and what isn’t acceptable, and ensure that when telling your dog “you can’t do that” that you fill that void with something they can do instead, then reward them for completing the replacement, desirable, behaviour.
Written By LWDG Group expert Samantha Thorneycroft-Taylor
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