Tegan at Leema Kennels has just done some great analysis of where puppies in Australia come from. Broadly, 54% of dogs bought in Australia are from undocumented sales, including backyard breeders.
In November last year, my fiance and I started fostering for a rescue group in Melbourne. Our first foster was very overweight when he came into care, so his weight loss as well as general health improvements became a talking point among various people who met him. In talking to people about him, it became apparent that many people have no idea that people can and do foster animals, and are often quite interested in doing it themselves. Unless you spend too many waking hours worrying about animal welfare related things like me, and end up basing every social interaction around dogs, you may not have any reason to come across animal welfare or rescue groups. This is where I come in, with this post about fostering!
Many animal rescues run as foster care networks, or volunteers who take animals into their homes and look after them until they are ready to be put up for adoption, and find a home. Some pounds also have foster carers, however the numbers and the size of the foster program varies significantly; some do not use foster carers at all, and others use them only for the youngest puppies and kittens.
There are no hard and fast rules around fostering, or what it involves and requires, as the specifics of the arrangement will be determined by the particular rescue group or organisation involved. Like anything, some groups are run like well oiled machines, and others are run in a very ad-hoc, haphazard way. Note that the size of the group is not an indication of how well it is run – a group with lots of animals in its care or a revolving door of foster carers is not necessarily the best RUN group, or the one that you want to volunteer with.
This post is intended to give an overview of what fostering is all about, and what to think and ask about if you are interested in doing it yourself.
What is fostering?
At the most basic level, fostering is providing temporary care for an animal in need. Fostering a dog involves bringing the dog into your own home and caring for it like it was your own dog until it finds a home. In most cases, the dog or cat will be listed on the rescue’s website and PetRescue.com.au, and will live with you until the right applicant comes along and adopts him/her. Some organisations have set periods for foster care, but most will have animals in care for as long as it takes for them to be adopted. Nobody can tell you exactly how long this will be, unfortunately!
For instance, the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) of Greyhound Racing Victoria run a foster care program whereby Greyhounds live in a number of homes for short 2 week periods, to get them used to life in a house, as opposed to kennels. Most private rescues do not own or use kennels, pounds or other holding facilities, and don’t have a physical location or base. The dogs and cats remain in foster care for days, weeks or months – depending on how long it takes. Some dogs are adopted almost immediately, whereas others may take longer; nobody can ever tell, it depends entirely on the dog, its needs, and how long it takes for them to be found and adopted by the people who eventually do adopt them.
The group that I foster for take on many dogs needing vet treatment, or time to recover from cruelty and neglect – in this case, they may be in foster care for months before they are ready to be adopted. Some animals will need to be desexed, so will need to spend some time recovering from their surgery before being adopted. Others come into care healthy and happy, and can be put up for adoption immediately. These ones just need a home to live in until the right ‘forever’ home comes along.
The particular arrangements vary from group to group, but generally, a foster family/person will take the animal into their home and look after it. The animal remains owned by the rescue organisation, group or pound, and that organisation is ultimately responsible for the animal. Foster carers don’t own the animals in their care, but provide temporary care – sometimes more temporary than others.
What do foster carers do?
In a nutshell, foster carers look after their foster animals as if they were one of their own. My foster dog is treated like one of my dogs – he gets the same food, love, affection and training as my two little dogs. When people ask me how many dogs I have, I say “three.. well, two.. two plus one.. two and a foster.” I’m still not quite sure what the right thing to say is, and a great many people I know are thoroughly confused at how many dogs I have and how my life operates. It’s great!
The nuts and bolts – money, decisions and how it all works
In a nutshell, foster dogs and cats are officially ‘owned’ by the rescue organisation, and looked after by their foster carer. The way the arrangement works in practice, including who pays for what, varies.
In some organisations, carers will pay for all food, bedding, collars, medication etc that the animal will need or use while in foster care. Other organisations provide all food, medication and accessories that an animal will need. Some organisations have relationships with particular vet surgeries, and others are happy for foster carers to use their own local vet and reimburse the carer afterwards. Each organisation has its own way of doing things. Some organisations will arrange for potential adopters to meet the foster dog in its foster home, while others will have foster carers take the foster dog to meet the potential adopter in the adopter’s home. Some groups have ‘trial periods’ for adopters, and others don’t.
To provide a real example, the organisation that I foster for has an association with two particular vets who look after the care and welfare of all of the group’s animals. As soon as an animal comes into the care of my group, they are given a thorough vet check, and any procedures required at that time or later down the track are provided by that vet surgery. There are procedures in place for what to do if a dog needs emergency or out of hours care, and I know that help from the head of the rescue organisation is a phone call away. All vet work and medication is paid for by the rescue group – I look after the dog as if he were mine, take him to the vet when he needs to go, and pick up his medication – but the group takes care of the financials.
I pay for his food and provide him with bedding and toys, but am welcome to take any food or items that are donated to the group. My personal approach is to just provide for my foster dog like I would for my other two dogs, so I am happy to buy a bit of extra food and have extra beds lying around. This works for us. If I wasn’t open to sharing my home and life with another dog, or provide the same level of care, attention and love that I provide to my own dogs, I wouldn’t be doing this. So they all eat better than most people I know, and live a pretty damn good life!
But how do you give the dog away?
I feel like a bit of a fraud writing this section, because so far, I’ve only parted with one foster dog. That was Snow the Greyhound, back in 2010. The little dog I am fostering at the moment is just perfect, and when he leaves I will be distraught – that much I know. The two nights that he has been away from us in the time we’ve had him (since mid-November 2012), the house has been eerily quiet. Strange, since this dog is one of the calmest, quietest little things I’ve ever seen, and spends 90% of his life sleeping upstairs. When he leaves, I’m sure it will be bittersweet – he’s not leaving until the perfect home comes along, that may be in a day or a year. The home he eventually goes to will be fantastic though (he’s not going to anyone that is anything less!) and I don’t have the monopoly on loving and caring for him. I love him – I am completely in love with him, actually – but I know that someone else will be able to love him too.
It would be so, so easy to keep him. He fits in perfectly with our house, and is a gem to look after. But if we kept him, there’d be no more fostering, and there are so many other little dogs that need a place to rest up for a while.
Nobody finds it easy to give a dog away, but fostering is not about the foster carer. It’s about helping dogs who need it get a bit of a break from the pound environment, or giving dogs who would otherwise not have a chance, to have a chance at a new life.
Not everybody is cut out for it, and some people “fail” at their first attempt, keeping their first foster dog! Any dog that finds a loving home is a lucky dog, but the world needs more carers who can put aside their own emotions and attachment for the sake of the bigger picture.
Fostering is also a great way to ease yourself into pet ownership, or get to live with an animal if you’re unable to commit to one for life. If you’re only in the country or state for a few months or years and can’t commit to pet ownership for life, fostering might just be perfect!
One of the reasons I first wanted to foster was to see whether I could actually be a good dog owner. Wanting a dog is one thing, having one and actually meeting all its needs properly is quite another. I had moved out of home some years prior and lived in sharehouses ever since, not having to get home from work at any particular time, or plan around anything other than myself. I knew it would be a big change, needing to get home as soon after work as possible to look after the dog and adjust my schedule and routine. The day I picked up Snow the Greyhound my life changed dramatically, and I haven’t looked back.
Want to start fostering? What to look for and what to avoid
If you’re thinking about fostering, make sure you do your research. Investigate rescue areas in your area and how they operate, the dogs they take on, who their carers are, and how it all works. Be prepared to ask lots of questions and be asked lots of questions. The main things to check for are clear arrangements around liability, responsibility, and who is responsible for what.
Who actually owns the dog? What happens if the dog gets out? What happens if the dog becomes sick or injured while in your care? Who pays for the vet? How is payment arranged? Who communicates with potential adopters, and who has final say over who adopts the dog? What if something unforeseen happens and you can no longer look after the dog? These are some questions that you need to be able to answer, and that the group must also be able to answer.
You want to make sure that you are working with a group that knows what they are doing and has dotted their ‘I’s and crossed their ‘T’s. Remember, if you are bringing a strange dog into your home, you want to make sure that you and your pets are safe, and there is support for you should anything go wrong. In most cases it will probably be smooth sailing, but inevitably there are sometimes problems.
Some of the things I know of include foster carers not being reimbursed for vet treatment, foster animals doing damage to foster families’ property, foster carers struggling with animals they are unable to adequately care for. Generally, these come down to inadequate support provided by the group, to the carer. Some dogs will require training or behavioural assessments – who organises, authorises and pays for this?
If you contact a rescue group to express interest in fostering and they thrust a dog at you and ask no questions, run a mile. If you’re not asked numerous questions and provided with adequate information to satisfy the most basic enquiries (ie, who pays for what, what the adoption process is, who owns the dog), this is not a group you want to support. There are lots of brilliant rescues who know what they are doing and are experienced, dedicated and most importantly, VALUE their carers. There are unfortunately many groups popping up with the best intentions but without the experience or understanding of rescue behind them. Don’t let yourself get caught up in somebody else’s teething problems.
Speak to other carers, or people who have cared for them in the past. Make sure you are clear in your own mind about the kind of dogs that you are really willing and able to take on – if you have only ever owned geriatric little white fluffies, is an adolescent Bull Arab that has found itself in the pound because it regularly clears 7 foot fences going to be the right dog for you? It may be! But be honest with yourself, and with the rescue group. If you’ve never owned a puppy before and are not sure about toilet training, let them know, ask for help, and keep the lines of communication open.
If you’ve got any questions or would like some frank and honest advice, leave a comment or send me an email – I’m more than happy to have a chat.
In 2012 there were 36 fatal dog attacks recorded in the United States. This post provides a brief outline of the known factors of each, including the age of the victim, breed of dog, relationship to the victim, and circumstances of the attack.
The summary at the end is particularly important, and very telling. These passages in particular are
“In total, there were 36 people who were fatally injured in dog attacks this year.
– 6 were infants less than 8 months old
– 13 were children aged 8 months – 8 years
– 17 of the victims were adults over the age of 23″
… In every single case the infant was left unattended with the dog.
In the remaining 11 cases, the victims were 4 years of age or less.
– In at least 8 of these 11 cases, the child was left unattended. In two cases it is unclear if adults were present or not, and in one case, a small toddler appeared to have startled, or possibly injured the dog causing a quick snap that was ill-placed and proved fatal.
– 3 incidents occurred when a child was left unattended with the dog in the home (consistent with the situation with infants above)
– 2 incidents involved a child leaving the home unbeknown to the adults present and being attacked in the yard by stray dogs
– 3 incidents involved the child wandering onto a neighbor’s property (once, more than 1/2 mile away from home) and wandering up to dogs that were contained on the owner’s property. In two of these cases the dogs were chained, and in one case, two dogs were contained by an electronic fence that kept the dogs in, but not the toddler out.
Dogs don’t attack for no reason, or without warning. If they attack “for no reason” or “without warning”, chances are the dog has some sort of neurological condition (which is a [b]reason[/b]) or the dog’s warnings were missed or misinterepreted (missing a warning doesn’t mean there was no warning).
Children, let alone infants, should never be left alone with any dog. The fact that the breeds involved in the above fatalities were larger breeds is most likely attributable to the fact that large breeds can do more damage. And a bite on an infant may be fatal, whereas a bite to an adult is less likely to be.
I’d never leave either of my dogs unattended with a child, despite the fact that they’re small, well socialised and great with children. If a toddler grabbed a chunk of Maggie’s hair and pulled hard, she may very well turn around and snap. A toddler knows no better, and Maggie’s response would be perfectly reasonable in that scenario. I’ve seen well meaning people approach dogs tied up outside shops and gritted my teeth as they completely ignore the dog looking away, ducking away, and eyeballing the person. Some people can’t read dog language - it doesn’t mean that the dog isn’t radiating loud and clear warning signs. They’re just not being understood.
There were 17 cases involving adult victims in 2012.
– 6 incidents involved elderly or disabled victims
– 6 incidents occurred inside the home
– In 5 cases, a history of aggressive behavior was specifically noted previously. In 2 other cases, a history of abuse/neglect was present.
– 10 of the incidents involved multiple dogs — showing that pack-bahavior is different in these cases than solo behavior.
The quotes above are a select few – the post has many great insights, and lots of great information.
Last week, I was invited to be on the board of an animal shelter in Melbourne. I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to be involved in setting and managing the direction of this shelter, and to work with a wonderful group of people who are passionate about turning it into the great organisation that it can be. In light of this, I just placed what was to be an order for one book, but which turned into a nice little parcel of 4.
My collection of dog books is steadily growing, to the point that it’s soon going to need its own bookshelf. This is largely thanks to the ‘recommendations based on your order’ and ‘customers who bought this also bought..’ sections on various online book stores (which I am fully aware are the online equivalent of chocolate next to the supermarket check out.. I always fall for that one, too).
I’m hoping these will arrive before my fiancé and I head to Tasmania next week – but er, I also bought this book on Friday.
This wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem if I wasn’t nearing the end of my Masters, and also amassing swathes of reading and assignments for that. Hmm.
So here is an unrelated picture of my two little foster dogs. The little girl on the left is staying with us until the weekend while her foster carer is away, and the gorgeous boy on the right is with us until the perfect home comes along. Which as far as I am concerned, can be in ten years if that’s what it takes – he is the most perfect little dog, he’s welcome to stay as long as he needs. I’m going to be a mess when he leaves.
This 2009 article from the Daily Telegraph is a nice, quick little overview of why copying the methods of “TV dog trainers” (which is a euphemism if ever I read one) can be harmful.
Generally in life, you get what you give. I don’t believe in karma as a mystical, paranormal or other universe-driven force; I think it’s much more simple. If you treat people with respect and kindness, they’ll like you more and be nice to you. If someone is rude or aggressive toward you, particularly in your first encounter, you’re much more likely to respond in kind. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing – in many cases, it’s more of an instant, emotional response. I don’t think that dogs treated kindly by their owners are any nicer than those that aren’t. But responding to what looks like ‘bad behaviour’ with punishment can be a really, really bad idea.
Responding to what looks like an “aggressive” dog with aggressive tactics is a recipe for disaster. Dogs can behave aggressively for numerous reasons, and most people aren’t that good at reading and understanding them. If your dog snaps or lashes out, there’s a good chance that it’s because he’s scared or feels threatened by something. That’s not the case in all situations of course, but I guarantee that it’s the case in more situations than most people realise. If your dog is scared and snaps, lunges or growls, and you hit or yell at him in response, you’re not teaching him that snapping, lunging or growling are wrong. You might be teaching him that being scared is going to get him yelled at, but how is that helping to address your dog’s fear? You can’t cure fear by punishing it. (And if you think you can, you’re not the kind of person I ever want anywhere near my dogs.) What you’re more likely to be doing is confusing your dog, and exacerbating his fear and uncertainty.
If you have a fearful dog – whether they’re scared of people, dogs, balloons, statues, or anything else - a great resource is the little book(let) The Cautious Canine, by Patricia McConnell. It’s about 40 pages long, and is a brilliant insight into fear and anxiety and how to help your dog to overcome it using ‘counter-conditioning’. It’s about $6, so there’s really no excuse and you’ll thank me for it.
If you’d like to learn more about dog body language and how better to communicate with and understand your dog, Patricia McConnell’s book For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. (I wish it didn’t have such a touchy feely subject, I was embarrassed reading it in public.. but it’s really very good!)
Another suggestion is On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.
And on another note
For the last 6 weeks we have been fostering a gorgeous little dog with a rather unfortunate past. He’s just perfect and I’m going to be devastated when he is adopted, but he has taught me a lot. Including how forgiving dogs can be when any human in their situation would be dead, homicidal (or in jail) or at the very least, very hateful. Fostering him has also alerted me to how few people know what fostering is, and that you can actually DO it! That will be the subject of my next post – all about fostering, and whether it’s something that you could do.
In the mean time, here’s a picture of our little foster boy, and one of him and my girls Mimi and Maggie at the beach.
What the questioner didn’t realise was that she had both misread her dog’s signals, and how her own actions were reinforcing undesirable behaviour. A fearful dog who is scared (and perhaps also in pain) does not bite their owner to challenge them – they bite because they are scared and have been taught (albeit unintentionally) that that behaviour works to alleviate the source of fear or pain.
It’s a classic example of miscommunication, and an owner attributing dominance and perhaps malice to what is in actual fact, a case of fear. This demonstrates why it is so important for us as dog owners and handlers to be conscious of the signals we give our dogs, both consciously and unconsciously. And just as importantly, to understand that not every negative thing they do (whether it’s a growl, a bite, jumping up, humping, playing tug, pulling on the lead, pushing out the door ahead of you, etc) is a dominance challenge.
Tegan at Leema Kennels has compiled a brilliant and extremely comprehensive list of resources for new puppy owners.
It spans a whole gamut of topics, from before you get your pup, toilet training, common issues, socialisation, health issues.. it’s a great resource, and I’m sure it will be useful to a great many people.
Check it out – Resources for New Puppy Owners. Tegan’s blog is choc full of interesting articles and links too, well worth immersing yourself in!
Which reminds me of a quote I read somewhere, that goes something like this: Many people want a dog. What they really want is a cat, and what they deserve is a fish.
The Terrierman has a great article entitled ‘The Terrierman’s Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Expense and Misery’.
“Do you really want a dog? This is the first question that needs to be asked. You see, most people want a puppy; they do not want a dog. A puppy is cute and triggers both maternal and paternal instincts. They seem like no problem at all. A dog, on the other hand, will get you up at the crack of dawn, will bark in the back yard, will eat your couch, and may occasionally urinate or defecate on your rug. Here’s a test: If you will not consider getting an adult dog from a local shelter or over-stocked breeder, you do not want a dog. You want a puppy. And what you need is a cat.”
For a long time, people attributed various examples of dog behaviour to the fact that domestic dogs are derived from wolves, wolf packs are comprised of an alpha couple, and there is a constant struggle for domination simmering beneath them.
The idea of vying for dominance, however, is one of the most misunderstood, over-diagnosed and pervasive ideas in the dog domain. A great many conversations I’ve ever had with people about dogs has involved some mention of the word ‘dominance’, and dogs being inherently driven to dominate their owners, and everything else. The idea that this drive for dominance underlies every interaction is supposedly backed by this wolf ancestry and, you know. Science.
On the tram a few weeks ago, my eyes started boring a hole through the pages of my book as a woman next to me told her friend about how the dog she just adopted is ‘just so dominant’, about how he humps everything, jumps up, pulls her along on walks, and generally tries to dominate her and every other dog he meets at every opportunity. It was just a chatty conversation between them, wherein the woman explained about picking the dog up from the shelter, how gorgeous he was, etc. It made me wonder about when this idea of dominance, and dogs dominating everything, came to be such a talked about phenomenon. I put it down to Cesar Milan and his celebrity – Milan’s techniques and approaches to training and understanding dog behaviour and motivation are a topic for another day. (In the mean time, this is a great article).
This article isn’t about Cear Milan, though. It’s a myth buster that I have been wanting to write since reading In Defence of Dogs some months ago; reading the first chapter of this book was like being struck over the head with an iron bar, it was such a revelation. It made so much sense and explained so much that I had to restrain myself from grabbing and shaking everyone I came across, telling them about this amazing realisation and why we’re all wrong. Studies of wolf pack behaviour aren’t particularly life changing or heart warming to most people in my life, however, which his part of the reason I started this website in the first place.
In summary, the idea of wolf pack dominance comes from research done in the 1940s. This research was done on wolves in captivity, where the ‘packs’ were comprised of individuals from various places brought together to live as a pack. In the wild, wolves live in family groups. Looking at the way those captives wolves behaved and basing an understanding of wolf (and then dog) behaviour and motivation on that is the equivalent of studying the Big Brother house as an insight into human behaviour and relationships, and relating to them accordingly. Humans don’t live in groups of 20 (with one leaving each week), we’re not all 20-something extroverts and the groups that do live together don’t usually sleep in dorm like quarters and shower together. That’s just how some behave, when you put them in an artificial environment and watch what they do.
In the wild, wolves lives in family packs usually comprised of parents and offspring; pups stay with their parents until they reach adolescence, whereupon most will leave to find a mate and reproduce for themselves. Some will stay for up to 3 years, but most will leave at around 1-2 years of age.
As Mech outlines, however, “in captive packs, the unacquainted wolves formed dominance hierarchies featuring alpha, beta, omega animals, etc. With such assemblages, these dominance labels were probably appropriate, for most species thrown together in captivity would usually so arrange themselves.” In captivity, when young wolves get to the age where in the wild, they’d leave their family pack and go it alone, they behave differently. The vying for ‘dominance’ in this situation is a function of their artificial environment, and isn’t something inherent to wolves, or a natural feature of their social interactions. To interpret it that way is a mistake that will confuse the way you interact with your dog. None of this is new – the studies that led to this information have been conducted since the 1940s; the myth was debunked decades ago. Outdated ideas sometimes come back into fashion, though, and this one seems to have wrenched us back to the relative dark ages, in terms of our understanding of dogs.
This misunderstanding of the way that wolves “naturally” behave does not just affect what we think about wolves, though. The problems come when people take the misunderstanding of dog behaviour and the motivations underlying them, and apply them to pet domestic dogs. Interpreting every interaction between you and your dog as his attempt to dominate you, achieve dominance in your family pack or exert some kind of controlling influence, is a mistake. If you accompany that interpretation with alpha rolls and adopt a generally antagonistic relationship toward your dog and your interactions with him, you’re not paving the way for a harmonious relationship, and you’re putting yourself and your dog in danger.
Mech’s article is a great summary of research into this, and it’s very readable and not too long. With respect to wolves, Mech outlines that “even in captive packs, individuals gain or lose alpha status so individual wolves do not have an inherent permanent social status, even though captive pups show physiological and behavioural differences related to current social rank.” Not every wolf, and certainly not every dog, is intrinsically ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’ – if I had a dollar for every person who talked about how their dog is very dominant, or told me that my Maggie is submissive, I’d be rolling in them. I used to look at a dog rolling onto her belly at the park as being a submissive dog, and a dog with confident body language as being a dominant dog. It’s not that simple, though.
Most dogs aren’t intrinsically dominant or submissive, but may act in a particular way, toward a particular thing. Some dogs like balls and don’t like other dogs taking them, others like toys, or food. How a dog acts in relation to a desired object or resource will be dependent on numerous factors, and will change accordingly. True dominance is really about controlling access to a scarce resource (eg, food) and how this manifests is variable.
What does this all mean?
First, what this does mean is that your dog isn’t seeking to dominate you at every turn; dogs are intelligent and sensitive creatures, but they’re not calculating and scheming. Dogs live in the moment and while the jury’s out on whether dogs have the capacity to think (and there’s furious debate in behavioural and veterinary domains on this), they don’t sit around planning revenge or plotting to take over the house. It’s not uncommon for people to think their dogs pee inside to get revenge for their owners being out all day, or look guilty when the owner finds a wee where it shouldn’t be. The ‘guilty face’ is really the dog anticipating the punishment that is going to come from the owner finding the inside wee – it’s not guilt.
What it doesn’t mean is that there’s no need for any structure or boundaries in the relationship between you and your dog. The best way to create a harmonious relationship and calm, peaceful house is to provide clear expectations to your dog, and reward him when he abides by them.
The kind of rules and boundaries you set will depend on you and what you want from your dog and your relationship. Some people don’t want dogs on the couch or bed, or in certain areas of their house. For others, it’s more about having control when they’re out walking. I’m sure you’ve seen someone being dragged down the street by a dog straining at the end of the lead; it’s not dominating behaviour, it’s a dog that needs an owner who is able and prepared to show it how to walk nicely, and that walking nicely is in the dog’s best interests.
Being a good leader doesn’t mean dominating or seeking to exert extreme control over your dog at every turn, either, though. I want my dogs to have reliable recall and walk nicely on the lead. My old dog Mimi used to go ballistic whenever I went to the plastic bag drawer (yes, we have a drawer of poo bags..) because she knew that after the bags, come the leads, comes the walk.. she worked herself up into such a frenzy of barking, jumping, whining and carrying on that the whole exercise of getting out the door was a mammoth undertaking. Since Mim came to live with us though, I’ve set some clear and consistent boundaries for her. She’s not getting her lead on until she settles down and sits – she still shakes and almost vibrates with excitement, but she has learnt to calm down and control herself if she wants to go for a walk. She has learnt that the door isn’t opening until she sits, so I no longer have to contend with her jumping all over me and we can head out in peace.
That’s being a good leader, and dogs respond well to knowing what is expected of them, and that when they do those things, they’ll be rewarded. Mim sits nicely, and is rewarded by the door being opened so she can go outside. Being a good leader is the best way to teach your dog manners. Many of the things people perceive as a dog exerting dominance are really just about manners, and others may be driven by fear or anxiety. Rejecting the idea that everything is about a dog trying to dominate you doesn’t mean rejecting the idea that there’s a behavioural issue – it just means you can look a bit deeper and sort out what exactly it is that is driving the dog’s behaviour.
Want to read more?
There are numerous papers and articles written on this subject. Those linked below are by well respected behaviourists, trainers and/or vets with sometimes decades of experience.
paper by David Mech cited here is available at this address.
“When we know better, we need to do better – Dumbed down by dominance” by Dr Karen Overall
“Peace, patient and pack politics: forget “alpha”, the rules of pack living apply to all” by Dr Patricia McConnell.
“Of course status is relevant—otherwise dogs wouldn’t greet one another with tail up or tail down, and it wouldn’t matter so much exactly who pees where and whose urine gets deposited on top of someone else’s. But I doubt that status hierarchies are as important to dogs as they are to wolves, and most importantly, they shouldn’t be that relevant in your living room when someone rings your doorbell.”
“Action/reaction: The temptations of the dominance fallacy” by Dr Patricia McConnell
“Are we really still having this conversation? Are we really still talking about whether or not we need to “get dominance” over our dogs? Ten years ago, I wrote a column for Bark titled “Alpha Schmalpha,” in which I explained that dominance is one of the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language, at least in relation to dog training. As I and many other trainers and behaviorists repeat endlessly in books, blogs and seminars, dominance is simply a description of a relationship between two individuals who want the same thing.”
“The Alpha Fallacy” – Dr Ian Dunbar
“As a role model, we should always bear in mind the geriatric Yorkie, who habitually lords it over the two-year-old Great Dane. Any attempts in physical domination would no doubt end in one gulp. Instead the Yorkie patiently and gently, yet confidently and firmly trained the Great Dane by defining and setting limits for appropriate behavior.”
My email to Nikki below conveys my thoughts.
I was disgusted to read your attempt at a light hearted article about your new puppy, and found myself reading it widening eyes, gritting teeth and a rising heart rate. I like to tell myself that nobody really buys animals from pet shops, and that in my lifetime I will see the end of them. That they exist on the sale of leashes and collars, and that the people who stop and oogle the puppies are as horrified and infuriated as I am that those little creatures are forced to live some of the most impressionable weeks of their lives behind glass cages. Most pet shop pups are taken from their mothers weeks before they are ready, and much earlier than a reputable breeder would ever sell a pup. The first 8 weeks of a pup’s life are when it learns valuable behavioural lessons from its mother and litter mates, including how to play and behave appropriately, where to toilet, and how and when to play bite.
Lest you are under any delusions as to where your puppy really came from, allow me to give you an insight into the filthy, hidden world of puppy farms. If you ask the pet shop staff where their pups come from, you will no doubt be told that they source them from a “local breeder”, or a “registered breeder”. Puppy farms don’t advertise themselves as puppy farms, just as factories in developing countries don’t advertise that they use child labour. What they are, is establishments designed to breed as many cute puppies as possible, and they will continue to do so as long as people are enticed by a dewy eyed pup, perhaps by people who think it needs “rescuing” from the pet shop, or who can’t say no to their children. The dogs that produce those pups are confined to pens, just like factory farmed livestock, and forced to breed and breed and breed until their little bodies give out. They are not loved members of anybody’s family, nor members of a family at all. They are tools in a sickening and outdated industry that many good people are working to eradicate.
I am always dismayed and enraged to hear about people deciding on a whim to buy a puppy, with no understanding of the ongoing costs and requirements that it entails. I can only hope that you now step up and take responsibility for the little creature you have brought into your life. She has had a terrible, terrible start, and her mother and father will no doubt suffer for the duration of theirs. She has spent her first “fear period” behind glass walls – for your own and your puppy’s sake, please look into this, as your actions now will have a tremendous impact on the kind of dog she turns into.
I currently have in my home a little dog that I am fostering for a rescue organisation. This organisation runs solely through volunteer contributions and volunteer foster carers like myself, who take unwanted, often abused or overbred little dogs (just like yours), rehabilitate them, and then rehome them into loving families. Many of these dogs started just like yours – bought on a whim, without real thought into the next 10-15 years of their lives. In an effort to try and help people to steer clear of puppy farms, I started my own website, www.maggiesfarm.info. It has information about puppy farms, how to avoid them, and various issues in animal welfare today.
I urge you to look into the issue of puppy farming in Australia – the Oscar’s Law movement (www.oscarslaw.org.au) is a great place to start, as is www.wheredopuppiescomefrom.com.au . The organisation Rescued With Love (www.rescuedwithlove.org.au) do wonderful work rehabilitating and rehoming unwanted pets. There are a great many people who care about this issue, and they are from all walks of life. This is not some fringe, lunatic movement – it is a growing, increasingly mainstream sign that in 2012, puppy farms and pet shops are no longer excusable. I can only hope that you take a look at some of those websites and understand exactly what you have contributed to.
I cannot believe that at a few weeks old, Chloe has now become an outdoor dog. She is a baby. She was taken from her mother probably weeks before she should have been, and has not been relegated to the back yard because she is inconvenient. That is not something to make light-hearted ‘Cruel Mum’ jokes about – that is something to be ashamed about. If nothing else, she needs somewhere warm and safe inside, in the laundry if she must. She is going to be with you for 10-15 years and will be loyal to the end, and at a minimum, she deserves to have her basic needs met. You made the choice to purchase her; you now owe it to her to give her a decent life.
If nothing else, what a despicable example to set for your children.
A little caveat – There are many dogs that live outside and are perfectly happy and well cared for. Some breeds thrive and are bred to live outside. But relegating a new pup to the yard because it’s annoying, and you can’t hold up your end of the toilet training bargain is a pretty poor omen for the rest of its life, and your undertanding of your responsibilities as a dog owner. The kind of small white fluffy pups that attract impulse purchases like the one Nikki Gemmell wrote about tend to be mixes of breeds that were bred to thrive on and require human company, and provide companionship. Toy breeds are by and large lap dogs - if you’re unable to accommodate that, don’t get one. Just as Border Collies are bred to run and work, and require more than a walk around the block a few times each week, toy breeds have particular needs too.