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We aren’t dogs, so it’s silly to try and be a dogs’ ‘pack leader’!

Congratulations to Alfie, Darwin, Jazz, Milo, Tara, Ruby, Sampson, Crumbs, Eddie, Fred & Humphrey on completing their Puppy Foundation course. I’m very much looking forward to seeing them all again on April 3rd & April 7th for the start of their progression course.

One of the most asked questions in puppy and junior classes are around mouthing, the reasons behind it and how to stop it. When your pup is about 4 weeks old, his puppy teeth will start to come through and these teeth tend to fall out when the pup is between 13 and 30 weeks old. Losing 28 puppy teeth and gaining 42 adult teeth can be a tough time for some pups and some pups may eat less food but chew and/ or mouth more. Hard rubber dog toys, stag antlers and (my personal favourite!) frozen carrots are excellent to use to help to prevent damage to your house, furniture, hands etc .. Frozen carrots are my favourite as they’re low in calories, the coldness of the carrot helps sooth sore gums and the hardness helps to dislodge any loose teeth which may need a little encouragement to drop out plus, they’re cheaper than toys and antlers! Puppies learn that they have sharp teeth whilst they are still with their mother and litter mates. If they bite on their mothers teats too hard she may give a growl and stand up which will result in the pup getting no milk. If the pup was playing with a litter mate and bit down too hard the litter mate would yelp and the game would be finished. They will learn that while gentle bites might be tolerated, hard bites will stop the play session. the pup is at home with you it is up to you to continue to teach him. Although bite inhibition can be taught to a dog later in life it is more difficult and time consuming and potentially dangerous. If your pup starts to mouth you it’s important to remember not make your response sound like wincing or whining as the pup may think that it’s part of the game and he needs to learn that fun stops when he bites! Distraction is a good method to stop it, give him something else to chew on instead of your hands or clothing and, if he doesn’t take the toy and nips again, you must stop interaction. Don’t tease your pup or dog by flapping your hands around or tapping his face as this could scare or startle him, but, as the bite inhibition training continues, gradually incorporate some sudden movements into play so he learns to be less spooked by human movement. It is very important that everyone in the household handles the pup in the same way so as not to confuse him and give mixed messages. You have to remember that your pup is NOT trying to assert its dominance over you, he’s merely uncomfortable and frustrated and, possibly, lacking in social skills!

The dominance theory is still very much around, more’s the pity, and needs to change from ‘theory’ to ‘myth’! A number of people ask if their pup needs to learn where he is in the pack, as wolves do, and the simple answer to this is NO! It is mostly thought that dogs were the 1st animals to become domesticated and are closely related to the wolf. Genetically, dogs are almost identical to wolves but they are very distinct and different creatures and it is easy to see some similarities between the two groups. The most definable and important difference between dogs and wolves is that dogs are domesticated animals and wolves are wild. A wild animal has evolved behaviours and adaptions that allow them to thrive in a non-human environment. They’re unaltered by human intervention and aren’t naturally responsive to human control. A wolf might become tame enough to put up with the presence of a human, but genetically it is still wild and maintains its natural instincts. The process from wolf to domestic dog has a 3rd involvement, the village dog. It is believed that this started when wolves learnt that the waste humans left behind as they travelled was an easy to obtain food source and the wolves started to follow the travellers around rather than wasting energy going out hunting for their food. This altered the development patterns of a certain subgroup of wolves who found it beneficial to live near humans. The wolves who interacted regularly with humans ended up living with different environmental pressures to the wolves who didn’t, as humans provided food and some protection from predators and with this, the human tolerant wolf started to change. The wolves became smaller and their brains also became smaller. Their behaviours altered too, with the biggest being that the wolves that lived near people, genetically became less feared of humans. Domesticated dogs are reliant on humans and have lost the instincts needed to live, and survive, in the wild. Every breed of domestic dog that we have today, from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane, is a descendent of the wolf and it is the selective breeding of dogs that has created notable differences between the wolf and the dog. So, whilst wolves and dogs display many of the same behavioural characteristics, they are not, in reality, the same animal! Wolves are wild animals. They can be tamed and socialized, but they cannot be domesticated. Dogs, however, are domesticated and, in many cases, this means the retention of juvenile traits such as the short snouts and floppy ears that are seen on wolf pups!

To hear people talk of their dog needing to know who the pack leader is, as wolves do, is still a frightfully common statement to hear. Wolves in the wild do form packs, but they are largely peaceful and cooperative family units. But, as just outlined, due to selective breeding, many of the behaviours and drives that wolves live by have virtually disappeared from domestic dogs. Poorly trained or under-socialized dogs may engage in certain behaviours such as resource guarding (food, toys) and these are problems that can be brought under control by training and management and won’t be solved by owners trying to enforce their ‘dominance’ over the dog. Many of the training or “pack rules” associated with those who encourage you to dominate your dog have no basis in reality in terms of wolf behaviours and may be harmful to your dog. It’s too easy to label a dog as ‘dominant’ when in actual fact it’s the behavioural issue of a troubled hound! If your dog wants to sit on the sofa, on your lap or on your bed, it’s because it’s comfortable up there and he feels safe! If he rushes past you through a door, he’s just super excited, and possibly lacking in impulse control, to see what, or who, is on the other side! He’s not trying to be dominant, he’s trying to be a dog!

A very good and clear explanation can be found in this super little book ‘DOMINANCE IN DOGS - FACT OR FICTION? by Barry Eaton’

On that note, I’ll wish you all a lovely Easter (remember to keep your chocolate eggs away from your darling dogs as chocolate is poisonous to them) and I’ll go and enjoy being with my boys before I jet off to Dubai for some sunshine and a wedding (not mine!) and leave you in the more than capable hands of Charlotte!


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