Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Why Good Dogs go Bad" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Why Good Dogs go Bad

by Charlotte Peltz

It is a very good idea to avoid words such as "good" and "bad," where dogs are concerned, because such labels suggest that dogs have the ability to decide on specific behavior with the intention of causing some effect. Countless studies of behavior make it clear that that is not the case. While there are surely examples of dogs entering this world damaged in such a way that they will not make good companion animals, it is safe to say that, almost without exception, dogs are born as domesticated animals and if they do not develop properly, humans who handled them are at fault.

There are the simple issues of being kenneled or otherwise confined during those oh-so-important early months, treated abusively such as we do see all too often, being prevented from developing properly because the owners do not understand the dog's needs, etc. But, what about the loving canine companion that "suddenly" seems to change to a growling, menacing animal?

The first thing that has to be done is to see the vet and rule out medical reasons for the behavior change. Dogs in pain from something as simple as an ear infection, broken tooth or arthritic conditions may well be cranky and growl to prevent one from touching them. There are many other medical possibilities and they must be ruled out before progressing.

So, let's say all medical issues are put to rest and we are dealing with behavior problems. How could such things "suddenly" happen? Frankly, I seriously doubt that they are sudden at all. For example, let's say Suzie has always been allowed on the sofa, but recently shows her teeth when asked to move. My guess is that along the way there have been many instances when Suzie seemed so comfy that her loving owner decided not to disturb her after asking her to get off and getting no response. Add to that the suggestion to one and all not to bother Suzie when she has a (you name it) bone, ball, her dinner, or even her warm spot in the sun. Tippy-toeing around Suzie gives her the clear picture that she is in charge of the situation, and she begins to add some new twists to her concepts of how the world is to be run.

While my recent studies have made me change from thinking about being alpha, there is no question about the importance of being a leader! There is no room in that picture for force or dominance, but there is a lot of room for making it clear that nothing in life is free and "ya gotta give if you wanna get." So, for example, with the sofa scenario, no longer would I even suggest getting forceful with Suzie, but she would be off that sofa nevertheless. For starters, I would offer her something she really likes -- a food treat or maybe the toss of a favorite toy. She gets off the sofa and gets lots of praise. By being praised for "good" behavior she will be more willing to offer it in the future, and there is zip chance of escalating aggression as a result of using force. Very often even the sweetest of dogs will bite if forced into a position from which there is no escape -- don't go there.

In addition to the specific sofa issue, Suzie needs to begin to work for a living. She is to sit before getting the strokes she so delights in receiving. She is to sit and wait, quietly, while her meals are prepared. No cooperation, no dinner. That is a very simple equation. Suzie is to get a lot more exercise so that she uses up excess energy in a healthy fashion. She is to begin to look to her owner for direction rather than feeling that she is in charge of the world.

Be smart, humane and a good leader. It works!

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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