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What goes inside your dog’s mind?

Have you ever thought what your dog thinks? Well, Alexandra Horowitz, Term Assistant Professor, Psychology from Barnard College, Columbia University has come up with an interesting book on the subject. Dogs & Pups interacted with her on how she came up with this wonderful idea. Excerpts.

D&P: Please tell us something about your book Inside Of A Dog.book review

Alexandra: This book is an attempt to use scientific results about dogs’ perceptual and cognitive capacities to imagine what the world looks like from a dog’s point of view: the dog’s perspective.

D&P: How did you conceive the idea of writing this book?

Alexandra: I study dog behaviour scientifically, and am also a dog owner. I found that the results of research scientists were performing were not being translated to the population of dog owners, and I thought it was high time that someone must do so. I was also interested in using some results of research in a creative way to answer the kinds of questions dog owners have about their pups – questions not explicitly asked by science, such as “Do dogs get bored?” “What does my dog know about me?” and so on.

D&P: What has been the response of the book so far?

Alexandra: The response has been very good, which is delightful. People here in the States seem very much interested in trying to understand what dogs know and understand – how they see the world.

D&P: What is the main aim of the book?

Alexandra: That is the aim: to begin to draw a picture of how the dog sees the world. By doing so, I think dog owners can start to forge a new relationship with their dogs: instead of anthropomorphizing (attributing human-like characteristics to their dogs), we can appreciate what dogs are really capable of. This, in turn, can lead to being less focussed on whether a dog is “misbehaving” and more interested in how to make the dog’s life a rich one.

D&P: Being a canine psychologist, please share a few things which every dog owner should keep in mind to keep their pooch happy?

Alexandra: Dogs are very responsive and attentive to human movement and behaviour. If we spent half as much time studying them as they do studying us, we would learn a lot.

D&P: How can a dog owner know his pooch needs attention?

Alexandra: Simply because dogs can sleep a lot doesn’t mean they don’t need attention or company. Dogs are social animals, and need lots of social time. Dogs have a lot of ways to tell you when they need attention: from barking, to walking restlessly near you, to putting their head on your lap, etc. Watch your dog, and see how he tries to get your attention – and reinforce the attention-getters you like.

D&P: How can we avoid behavioural problems in our pooches?

Alexandra: Spend a lot of time with your dog; form a good relationship early on, where the dog knows that you will be there for him; give him lots of exercise and care; allow him to interact with other dogs from early in his life.

Dog Training

Mind your manners!

Don’t blame your dog if he is not behaving right…his behaviour problems can stem from the environment he has been reared in, his socialisation and may be even because of your behaviour with him.

Observe and act… Dog behaviour is as complicated, or more, as human behaviour. Though they lack the

Dog Training

Mind your manners!

ability to talk, they manage to convey a lot through the display of various kinds of behaviour. As a dog owner, you may find it quite difficult in the beginning to understand certain kind of dog behaviours and what they mean, but with a little observation and with time, understanding dog behaviour will be a lot easier. There are also certain dog behavioural problems that you, as a pet parent, should know about, so that you can either prevent them from developing or modify the behaviour appropriately with the help of a canine behaviourist who would design a modification programme that combats your dog’s behaviour problem the best. Understanding and modifying dog behaviours will help you deepen your bond.

Training… a must… Training a dog for basic obedience is one way of making sure that your dog does not develop unwanted behaviours along the way. Physical force should never be used in dog training as it may turn a normally mild-mannered pooch in to a fearful or skittish dog who can become aggressive as well. Use positive reinforcers such as praise, toys or treats to train your dog in a manner that creates trust and a positive bond between you and your canine.

Reasons for behaviour issues…

Behaviour problems can be seen in dogs from all walks of life, these issues could very well arise due to change in our lifestyle or various other reasons such as:

  • Lack of socialization: From 3-14 weeks of age, puppies need to be safely exposed to as many different and new experiences as possible to prepare them for later life. Dogs who have no t had this early socialisation may grow to be fearful of people, things and places and this can lead to many problems including aggression.
  • Boredom: Dogs who are bored through lack of mental stimulation might amuse themselves with destructive behaviour.
  • Excess energy: A lack of physical exercise can also lead to ‘bad behaviour’, as a dog must find other ways to get rid of his pent-up energy.
  • Pet parents’ behaviour: Pet parents can train their dogs to behave ‘badly’ by accident, simply by giving attention at the wrong time.
  • Breed specific traits: Certain types and breeds of dog have been bred for hundreds of years for specific tasks, which might be incompatible with living in a typical family home.
  • Bad breeding practices: Unscrupulous breeders might have indiscriminately bred their dogs purely for money, without considering temperament.
  • Inadequate or incorrect training: Without proper training, dogs can be uncontrollable.

Common behaviour issues…

Some of the common dog behaviour problems are:

  • Barking: Most dogs bark, howl and whine to some degree. Excessive barking is considered a behaviour problem. Before you can correct barking, determine why your dog is vocalizing in the first place. Also teaching your dog to be “quiet” can be very useful at such times.
  • Chewing: Chewing is a natural action for all dogs. However, chewing can quickly become a behaviour problem if your dog causes destruction. When you are not home, keep your dog in an area where he is safe and busy with the chew toys that you have left behind. Another important thing to do is to make sure that he gets plenty of exercise before you head out.
  • Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is one of the most commonly discussed dog behaviour problems. Manifestations include vocalization, chewing, inappropriate urination and defecation, and other forms of destruction that occur when a dog is separated from his pet parent. True separation anxiety requires dedicated training, behaviour modification and desensitization exercises. Medication may be recommended in extreme cases, but this should be a last resort.
  • Inappropriate elimination: Inappropriate urination and defecation are among the most frustrating dog behaviours. They can damage areas of your home and make your dog unwelcome in public places or at the homes of others. It is most important that you discuss this behaviour with your veterinarian first to rule out health problems. Inappropriate elimination is unavoidable in puppies, especially before 12 weeks of age. Older dogs are another story – many require serious behaviour modification to rid them of the habit.
  • Begging: Begging is a bad habit, but many dog owners unfortunately encourage it. This can lead to digestive problems and obesity. Dogs beg because they love food – but table scraps are not treats, and food is not love! Yes, it is hard to resist that longing look, but giving in “just this once” creates a problem in the long run. In a pack setting, a subordinate would never beg from alpha dogs without reprimand. When you teach your dog that begging is permitted, you jeopardize your role as pack leader. Before you sit down to eat, tell your dog to stay, preferably where he will not be able to stare at you. If necessary, confine him to another room. If he behaves, give him a special treat only after you and your family are completely finished eating.
  • Chasing: A dog’s desire to chase moving things is simply a display of predatory instinct. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars. All of these can lead to dangerous and devastating outcomes! While you may not be able to stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster. Your best chance at success is to keep the chase from getting out of control. Dedicated training over the course of your dog’s life by teaching him to come while being called is the best solution.
  • Jumping up: Puppies jump up to reach and greet their mothers. Later, they may jump up when greeting people. Dogs may also jump up to exert dominance. A jumping dog can be annoying and even dangerous. There are many methods to stop a dog’s jumping, but not all will be successful. Lifting a knee, grabbing the paws, or pushing the dog away might work for some, but for most dogs this sends the wrong message. Jumping up is often attention-seeking behaviour, so any acknowledgment of your dog’s actions provide a reward! The best method: simply turn away and ignore your dog. Do not make eye contact, speak, or touch your dog. Go about your business. When he relaxes and remains still, calmly reward him. It won’t take long before your dog gets the message.
  • Aggression: Dog aggression is exhibited by growling, snarling, showing teeth, lunging and biting. It is important to know that any dog has the potential to become aggressive, regardless of breed or history. However, dogs with violent or abusive histories and those bred from dogs with aggressive tendencies are much more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour towards people or other dogs. Canine aggression is a serious problem. If your dog has aggressive tendencies, consult your vet first – it may stem from a health problem. Then, seek the help of an experienced dog trainer. Serious measures should be taken to keep others safe from aggressive dogs!
  • Fears and phobias: Dogs can harbour fears and phobias just like we do, though often to a greater extent. Common phobias often include vacuum cleaners, dryers, thunderstorms, fire crackers, etc. As a puppy is growing up he will naturally come across a wide range of new and potentially frightening, even terrifying, situations. But with the reassuring presence of his mother, brothers, sisters, and eventually his pet parents, the young dog can get used to dealing with them. Any dog’s future depends on his early experiences and training, as does his capacity to assess situations more or less likely to cause fear or distress.

Another factor is where and how the puppy has been raised. If reared in a quiet, remote area where he is unaccustomed to everyday noises, then he will of course become immediately suspicious or fearful if re-homed to a noisy environment.

Equally, if adult dogs develop a fear then this could rub off onto a litter. It is important to introduce any puppy to as many different noises and places as possible whilst he is young enough to decrease the chance of such phobias arising later in life.

Even if an adult dog finds certain situations terrifying, it is never too late to take remedial action. There are a number of ways of lowering the dog’s level of sensitivity to anxiety-causing stimuli by following a de-sensitisation programme designed by a canine behaviourist one step at a time can relieve him of his fear.

(Malaika Fernandes is a canine behaviourist, trainer and groomer based in Mumbai).

Dog Training

Pettiquettes : Mind her manners!

Since Shih Tzus are dense coated, long-haired breeds, they need to be regularly and thoroughly groomed. If they are not brushed daily, their hair gets matted and fused, and tugging and combing only gives more pain than relief. Here’s how to home groom your Shih Tzu.

Obedience training is a must for each pet. Training is all about setting up a daily routine for your pet and teaching her certain habits and this routine should be followed by all family members. Here are a few training tips towards your well behaved pooch:

Teaching ‘sit’ command…

Dog TrainingYou can teach this simple command by using treats or toys to start with. Once the pet starts responding, praise her and offer a reward in the form of treats, toys or your attention. Most of the pet parents make a mistake of withdrawing the rewards (treats/praise/toys), once the pet knows the command. This really affects your pet’s enthusiasm and interest to obey you and then obeying commands becomes a bribe game, in which the pet will respond only when you have a treat/toy in hand. Pet parents must understand that along with food rewards, praising your pet using positive body language, cheerful tone of voice and your enthusiasm is also equally important.

Good table manners…

Entire family should contribute to teaching good food habits to their pets, right from when you get your pet home.

Meal routine: One can consult vets to decide meal routine for pets depending on their breed, age and weight. Stick to the feeding pattern and avoid giving human snacks or food prepared for people when family members are eating, no matter how tempting it is for you to offer your pet a tit bit.

Begging at table: I agree that some breeds are greedy and will possibly do anything to get food. But it’s our responsibility as a pet parent from the start not to encourage bad habits like offering food while you are eating, giving them table leftovers etc. If you can avoid over pampering your pet right from the beginning, it will always be helpful to you and healthy for your pet rather than worrying about your pet’s begging habits later.

Staying for food: It’s natural for any pet to get excited when their food is being prepared. There is nothing wrong with it. Pet parents should understand that there is no point in getting angry or upset with them while they are jumping up to the food bowl. Instead be patient and teach them to sit every time you offer food or until you keep their food bowl down. To get them into this habit, offer them food in small portions (5 to 6 portions). Initially you can ask them to sit for 5-10 seconds and offer one part of food immediately. Follow the same routine for remaining portions. After few days of practice, ask them to wait for food for a little longer time i.e. half a minute. Gradually increase the waiting period and continue praising them verbally as well.

Stealing food from counter: Pets always find a way to get to the food. They usually know that food is stored on the kitchen counter or dining table etc. If your pet has a habit of stealing food, start working of getting rid of this habit slowly by teaching them to stay for food. Praise them with lot of enthusiasm and be patient. If you catch your pet stealing food, you can always show them from your body language and tone of voice that this is wrong and you are very upset with them. If your pet is stubborn and continues to steal food in your absence, you must keep the food out of her reach. It also helps to startle your pet with sudden loud sound or movement just when you catch her in the act.

You can use metal vessels/spoons, arrange them at the edge of table/kitchen platform so that they would suddenly drop on floor and startle your pet while he is trying to steal food. You can also use plain water pistols or air sprays to startle your pet from a distance. You may have to practice this few times by “setting up a trap” i.e. purposely arranging food on table/ platform within your pet’s reach. You have to use your training aids smartly and tactfully or else your pet will get used to that object and these techniques will no longer deter her from stealing food after a few times.

Hey….it’s walk time…

As pet owners are usually pressed for their time, most of the pets get to go out of home only 2-3 times a day, so it’s quite natural for them to get excited when they see their leash/collar being taken out and it’s time to go for a walk. Pet parents need to understand that this is natural dog behaviour and if you lose your patience things can only get difficult. If your pet gets over excited every time you take her out, try to distract her. You can teach her to carry her leash before you open the main door or let her carry her favourite toy with her on the walk or ask her to sit for few seconds every time before you open the door to let her out. These small things will help you distract her for few minutes and reduce her excitement. Pet parents should try to be as patient as possible while being firm at the same time.

The doorbell is
ringing…don’t jump…

It’s common for the pets to get excited when the doorbell rings, as they are eager to see/greet the person who is at the door. Pet parents should teach their dog to sit just before you open the door. Use treats to reward them. You can practice with family members to begin with and then ask your friends or neighbours, who are not scared of pets to help you with this. As a habit, you can ask all family members to avoid greeting your pet just at the door, as this only encourages their jumping up on people. If you know that the person who is at the door is scared of dogs and will react looking at your pet, it’s best to put your pet on leash and keep her away from the door for sometime. You should also teach her to sit and stay when you have to attend to strangers like courier boys, milkman etc at the door. You have to use restriction and training in the best way possible to avoid the jumping up behaviour.

Manners in front of guests…

It’s natural for pets to get excited around new people. Pet parents must remember that in order to control your pet’s behaviour around guests, you will need help from your guests as well, as pet’s reaction depends a lot on your guest’s reaction. Most people are scared of dogs or they don’t understand the dog’s behaviour, so they get scared and start screaming. As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to handle your pet as well as to make your guests feel comfortable. Try to keep your pet on leash or restrict her access to the living room for some time till your guests settle down. You can also request guests to ignore your pet, avoid eye contact and not to talk to her for 10-15 minutes till she settles down. This will help to cut down on the pet’s excitement level and then you can distract her with a toy, treat, chew bones etc.

Travelling manners…

Most pets enjoy car rides and get very excited to get in the car and stick their head out of the window. Many pets also get restless due to over excitement and it becomes difficult to control them. Pet parents should get their pets used to sitting in the back seat from the beginning. Leash them to restrict access to front of the car (especially the driver’s area) as it can be unsafe to have your pet moving around while the car is in motion (both for the pet as well as the others). It’s also advisable not to let them stick their head out of the window as they may get hurt during traffic or try to jump out of the car in the excitement.

For pets who are scared of car rides or nervous during it, pet parents can get them used to smaller rides initially until they get comfortable. Also many pets are scared of car rides as they think it’s time to go to the vet as that’s probably the only time they are taken in the car. These pets should be taken for smaller and more fun car rides otherwise as well. A good example would be to take your pet for a short five minute drive before taking her out for a walk. The pet will start to think that car rides end in a walk/play time and hence be less afraid and in fact look forward to it. It’s also advisable not to feed pets immediately before or after the car ride.

If all the family members contribute to follow these simple rules, handling pets can be much easier and more fun. Also remember that training sessions should be short and fun for the pets and regular practice is a must. Pet parents can also seek help from professional trainers in the initial stages of their pup’s life to understand their behaviour and avoid making common mistakes. Just like kids, the earlier you imbibe good habits and avoid bad ones, it saves a lot of trouble in the future.

(Pooja Sathe runs ‘Crazy K9 Campers’, a Mumbai-based group formed for pet dogs and owners to provide them with unique opportunities to spend quality time together, through weekend pet camps. For more details, log on to: www.crazyk9campers.com)