Carrie and I spent last week in our old stomping grounds at Sydney University. Over five full days of lectures we learnt how behavioural medicine is now an accepted and integrated part of veterinary medicine. Australian specialist veterinary behaviourists, Kersti Seksel and Jacqui Ley were joined by the UK’s Sarah Heath.
The Take Home
We learnt the importance of both context [the circumstances that form a setting for] and the emotional state of the animal when a wanted or unwanted behaviour is expressed. If owners want to raise sociable, adaptable and obedient dogs they must learn how to read their pets’ body language and how to respond appropriately. They reiterated that owners must seek advice from trainers who use only positive reinforcement [eg Delta Society trained] and who do not use fear/punishment or outdated and disproven concepts of dominance.
The Dominance Myth
If a trainer ever tells you that your dog is misbehaving because “It thinks it is higher up in the pack” or “that you are simply not showing them who is the boss” [eg Cesar Milan et al] then they are basing their training on punishment based inhibitory theory or the “dominance myth”. The original researcher Dr David Mech, who developed the “pack theory”, has completely retracted his findings from research done on wolves [not dogs] in the 1970s. Dogs are actually socially obligate and live in mutually beneficial family like groups with cooperative survival the desired outcome.
Avoid rewarding “needy” attention seeking whining, nudging or “appeasement” like behaviour. Instead positively reward calm independent behaviour such as sleeping calmly on their bed and doubly reward spontaneous good decision making. Pups need consistency across the entire household and owners must ensure socialisation occurs from an early age but to ensure their pup is in a positive emotional state when this learning occurs.
Needlessly over washing pups when they are young predisposes them to allergic based skin disease later in life.
Prepubertal desexing in cats is good as it keeps them in a kitten like emotional mindset but may not be ideal for dogs. Testosterone is not the evil hormone we were led to believe and is actually prosocial. Anxious young male dogs may actually benefit from puberty. Females should be desexed in anestrus ie before puberty or at least 6-8 weeks after a heat.