Behaviour is a range of actions shown by an animal. The way an animal acts or behaves is influenced by a range of factors including genetics, prenatal environmental factors, socialisation, learning experiences and the current situation. For example, every dog is genetically different as are humans (identical twins being the exception). This means that they will likely have different interests, will be motivated by different things, have predispositions towards certain medical conditions or be more or less reactive/anxious. Dogs who have seen more or the world (ie, have been better socialised) may adapt more easily to change and accept new things more readily. Individual dogs may also behave differently in different situations and they may respond differently to different people or animals. This is what makes our dogs special and individual. It is why we love them. However, all these variations and differences are also what prevents a ‘one size fits all’ approach changing behaviour.
We often catagorise actions or behaviours as:
• “normal” or “abnormal”
• “appropriate” or “inappropriate”
• “adaptive” or “maladaptive”.
The irony is that some perfectly “normal” behaviours are “inappropriate” in our society or for our lifestyles. For example, sight hounds have been bred (and so are genetically predisposed or inclined) to look for and chase things that move. It is a perfectly “normal” behaviour. However it is “inappropriate” in our communities as chasing and catching other animals is not only unnecessary, but also very socially acceptable. It is also maladaptive as sight hounds that are chasing will often become fixated and don’t realise that cars make running across roads very risky!
The other misconception is that behavioural and training problems are one and the same. Alas it is not that simple! A training problem is an issue where a dog doesn’t know or misunderstands what is being asked or expected (or chooses not to understand). A behaviour problem is one which the dog simply can’t help! This may be due to fear/anxiety/nerves or genetic hard wiring. In situations where behaviour problems exist, medical treatment (for nerves and anxiety) and management strategies are recommended. Management strategies might include keeping greyhounds leashed and/or muzzled in certain situations to prevent accidents happening or it may be crating them or closing doors depending on the situation. Such management strategies are also helping in preventing dogs from making the ‘wrong decision’ – especially when being introduced into a new home.
Behaviour and training fact sheets coming soon.