Committed to the improvement of the breed by breeding for health, temperament and better structure in dogs that have the ability to herd.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

temperament....genetic vs. environmental

Now I am no expert on this and do not have factual evidence at my side like Joanna at RufflySpeaking does (i love those posts by the makes it harder to argue the opposite case when you write so much and so educational...even if i don't agree! )

Anyway...while at the National we had 9 dogs in our room. Yes nine. My 5 and Joanne and Ferris' 4. We weren't the only ones with more than 4 mind you :)

We had three males, two neutered males and an intact 6 month old puppy. 5 of the bitches are intact and we had one female in standing heat. Most had never seen each other until the second they met face to face in the doorway of the hotel room. The people were more nervous than the dogs and we all settled down to a fun romp with 9 long bodied dogs.

why do I write about this? I witnessed not 1, or 2 or 3 dogs but FOUR intact males having issues with other males that were well over 10 feet away and not even LOOKING in their direction. The dogs in question were not eager to 'greet' them but wanted to rip their heads off and eat them for supper. The dogs that were supposedly the 'intruders' were merely standing next to their owners, or walking by without harassing or 'egging' them on. There was a mixed reaction with owners of the 'aggressive' dogs. One was completely oblivious to what was going on and continued talking to their friend. Another tried to get their attention elsewhere but evenutally just laughed it off and said 'silly boy'. A third picked the dog up in their arms coddling them and saying 'its ok its ok' and telling the other person with the dog that was oblivious to the impending battle that they needed to move THEIR dog away. The fourth just made a comment about 'oh that's just him with other males'. Really?

Why make excuses. Your dog is aggressive. Its not my fault and I don't feel like I should have to cower in the corners when you walk by or pick my dog up and run by just because your dog has issues. I don't care how they got them or why but just watching the antics of each of the 4 dogs leads me to believe that it is mostly environmental.

I believe it was Joanna that had made mention of the importance of taking young male dogs (puppies) between the age of 8 weeks and 16 weeks in for socialization and puppy kindergarten. It goes on to say that the fun loving pup in your house all of a sudden is a monster when you go out in public barking and causing a fuss towards other dogs.

Case in point. My Oliver came over from Finland around 12 weeks of age. The gal picking him up said he and his littermate bounded out of the crate to greet them all waging their tails and happy as all get out. He then went to live with her for a week before going to live elswhere for a month. During that time I was told he was not taken out of the household and was not introduced to other dogs, but kept seperate. I went to get him at a show and when i drove into the yard he ran and coward in the kennel and the entire weekend was like that....chasing him in the xpen to catch him. It didn't end lasted MONTHS....lots of week trips or weekend trips to friends places of work, lots of Puppy K, Puppy dynamics etc. To top it off he decided he didn't like men so it took me that much longer to have him trust me. now he is always by my side or on my lap. And he has gotten better. In January we received our Canine Good Citizen award, in 2007 we received our Rally Novice and there were MALE judges doing it and he hardly noticed. We greet people in the show site or sidewalk and he barely makes an effort to look at them. I'm quite proud of the feat we've accomplished....albeit 4 years into it.

Now Mitcham did not have Puppy K. We did not socialize him like we did Sadie and Oliver and Mac. And yet Mitcham still hasn't met a stranger. He is so friendly and welcoming. Granted he DOES bark and cause a fuss when someone knocks on the door, but that is expected of him....well...and the corgis bark like crazy too! So what makes him so different?

Early puppy socialization!!

The breeder who had them from 4 weeks until 10 weeks of age put new toys and objects in their xpens every day that made new sounds and felt different. She took them places and held them certain ways many times a day. When I have a litter of puppies this is the method I am doing. What amazing dogs. She said its partly from her training and partly from the genetic history of her line of dogs...they all have good temperaments.

What about Justice? He is just as happy as Ell and very friendly. We did not get a chance to do puppy K with him either and it shows. He barks at every dog out there but the more shows and more kennel club visits that we do, the better he is getting. Day 1 of the National he barked at every the end of the week....hardly a peep. I think it helped he got to play rough with Darby the Vallhund and Carly the Cardigan :)

Time will tell how he is. He's never met a human stranger and will never be like Oliver as we did got to trips to town, visited friends, and he played and met many different dogs....just not at the KC or dog shows.

So what's my point?

You are responsible for your own dogs behaviors. Yes it can be genetic but you can ruin a good personality by keeping them cooped up or coddling them or being too rough with them. And you can make a bad personality worse.

Its not my fault your dog has issues, my dogs are fine and are ignoring your dog, so stop making excuses and take responsibilty for your own dog:)


penni said...

In the Best of Breed ring at Three Trails, the dog in front of Chase turned and growled at him constantly. Chase was ignoring him pretty well because Lauren kept him busy, but he should not have needed to deal with that. The other dog's handler just stood there like a bump on a log. As owners and breeders we must allay this behavior by exposing and challenging puppy brains.

In short, I agree Garrett!

Joanna said...

Behavior is a never-ending source of questions, isn't it?

There's no doubt that a lot of Cardis are critically undersocialized. They are sold late, often 12+ weeks. They're such an easy breed, so effortless in the house, the perfect size to pick up if there are any issues, and we have a line about behavior ("reserved with strangers") that people incorrectly use to excuse behavior up to and including outright attacks. So we don't emphasize the socialization efforts that other breeds do.

What's also true is that it's sometimes very difficult to tell whether a dog is innately unstable or whether it's been trained to act a certain way without the owner knowing he or she was doing it. I would be VERY interested to know if those same male dogs would have any problems if they were released together in a large fenced area with no people around. A huge proportion of the time, if dogs can have enough space to use body language to defuse conflict, they will go out of their way to avoid fighting and within a few hours will be happily playing together. Dogs tend to heal each other much more effectively than we heal them.

When I sold Dane puppies (a breed in which socialization is enormously emphasized), we were told to encourage owners to expose the dog BEFORE 12 WEEKS to every single situation, emergency, person (age, race, gender, hairstyle, clothing, etc.) they could imagine the dog experiencing at any time in their life. For example, Danes in medical trouble need to be carried on blankets, so I told them to carry their puppy on a blanket a couple of times. Set off the smoke alarm, run the grill, find someone with a garbage disposal if you don't have one, walk on astroturf and sand and gravel and wire, etc.

The socialization window begins to close at 12 weeks. After that every new exposure will be more difficult than it would have been if the dog had experienced it before that age. If you as a breeder decide to keep the puppies until 10 or 12 weeks, that means YOU are responsible for the deliberate and intensive SOLO socialization of each and every puppy in the litter. If you don't, you're handing off a puppy that is in effect handicapped in its future life. It's a very serious responsibility.

Sarah said...

Well, you know I have lots of opinions about this topic (g) and lots of experience with the never-ending quest in hopes of changing the behavior. Syd is not 100% by any means, but we have worked very hard, and I was very proud of her behavior in the ring at the specialty. I was worried because she was in standing season (putting an extra bit of *edge* into the mix and meaning she had not been around other dogs for a couple of weeks), and outside she was being naughty about other dogs in proximity. But in the ring, her behavior was impeccable, and she was even tested with an obnoxious barker facing her and barking at her Saturday.

I might have agreed that it's mostly genetic before my experience with Syd, but having raised her with tons of noise, different surfaces, lots of puppy field trips, meeting all other sorts of dogs, etc. and knowing what she was like pre- and post- "traumatic incident," I think that at those critical periods in puppyhood, I have learned SO much and I think that environment plays a big role. In Syd's case, her "traumatic experience" was really nothing much to write home about, in my opinion. I wrote it off as no big deal, but Syd had a different perspective.

And I also know what can be accomplished with LOTS of work. So if a dog has a tendency to behave in a certain way, then I think the owners should not set them up for failure. Period. I did not enter Syd in *anything* when we were still working on her recovery. Not only did I not want her to fail, I also did not want her having a negative effect on other dogs.

And by work, I mean 24/7 work on behavior modification and building confidence and control. Not like the VERY reactive schnauzer in Syd's first agility class. His owner "worked" on his behavior when we were out in the middle of the classroom, working on something specific. But when she was chatting with someone on the sidelines, or writing a check for her class fee, or putting her training gear in the bag, etc. her dog was misbehaving, barking, lunging, etc. I was very honest with our instructor, and I sat Syd out for two six-week sessions of agility because I felt I was putting too much pressure on her to ask her to behave and feel comfortable in a multi-dog class, all while another reactive dog was out of control. It was detrimental to my dog's recovery.

And by work, I also mean being completely vigilant in knowing what your dog is doing at every moment. If I have Syd in a situation where she might act out, I watch her ears, her eyes, her posture, everything. Sometimes I will say her name and put her in a down when nobody else sees anything wrong with what she was doing. But I know, and I can see with her, the slightest ear flick, the most inaudible start of a whine when she's nervous, and even the shape and expression in her eyes. And if I were to miss all that, believe me, my dog is not given the freedom of a long leash in any type of situation with other dogs. She's with me, right with me.

Even now, in our class, I have to roll my eyes because a littler terror, er, terrier is extremely ugly to other dogs. And every time a dog gets too close, the owner pulls her terrier back, and in a voice of surprise, she says something like, "Fido, what was that? Why did you do that?" And then she sits in a chair, and puts Fido on her lap. Needless to say, we always find a seat on the opposite side from that dog, and I just want to ask the owner why she acts surprised every week, and why she doesn't do something about it...

Picking the dog up, that just adds to the problem, and cooing to reinforce just lets the dog know that's the acceptable way to behave. I know, there are a zillion excuses, but plain and simple, the problem gets worse if you don't own it and do something about it. And as always, I've been pretty much open to letting everyone see my success and failures with my own dog, and things I found helpful or not.

Another comment to come about puppy age and socialization...

Sarah said...

I'm not sure I completely agree about the age thing. Point in case, baby Darby came to me at almost 12 weeks old. Oh, was she a challenge in terms of socialization. She was not socialized at all, had never been separated from littermates, never been on a leash, never been crated overnight, never this, never that. Basically she was not exposed to anything but the puppy pen inside, and the puppy pen outside. When she arrived, she was nearly catatonic the first day, completely overwhelmed by everything. If i put her in the yard with the other dogs, she brightened up and seemed almost normal. But if I was standing anywhere near her, and if I had my hands at my waist, for example, the puppy would be GONE if I even dropped my hands to my side. I mean, it didn't matter if I was even looking at her, just the movement of my arm to my side sent her at least 10 feet away. She wasn't crate trained, and when I put her in, she didn't mind soiling herself. When I took her out, I had to basically extract her from the crate.

I seriously considered sending her back, and while I was driving to those Des Moines agility trials, I talked to my friend during the drive up (who is also the co-owner) and I said I thought this was not going to work out. Not that I thought I couldn't work through it, but I wanted a puppy who WANTED attention, a dog who would walk into the show ring or agility field and WANT to be there.

There was no gradual socialization for poor Darby. She was with me for 2 days and we had to go to St. Louis for agility trials. I did not let her out on the ground, and she thankfully would use the puppy pads in the van. A corgi owner fell in love with Darby, and she literally put Darby under her sweatshirt, with Darby's head poking out through the neckhole. She carried her around like that most of the day, just letting Darby experience the trial but also feel safe. Then we turned around and went to Des Moines the next week, and that is where I saw the light bulb start to flicker in Darby. I just totally immersed her, and never pretended to notice if she hesitated about anything.

Anyone who met Darby at the specialty would probably NOT believe me that I almost sent this little girl home for being a spook and too shy. So I'm not completely on the bandwagon that the dogs are doomed without the early work.

And on the flip side, with Syd, I did everything and more, with all the pups in that litter. It was really hard work, because I DID keep them past 10 weeks, and I will continue to do so with any other puppies that come through my home. But they weren't doomed because I didn't place them at 8 weeks and 4 hours old. Shoot, the old gun-dog method was 49 days. You can't get a good dog that will be worth anything if it's not precisely 49 days old. What about all the GREAT dogs that come from shelters as pups or even adults?

I also wonder about those critical periods in puppyhood, and I know someone who really does very LITTLE with puppies in terms of getting them out. Lots is done at home, people and dogs come to play and visit, but the pups don't leave the homestead much. When they are ready to show, they are leash trained. And they may be nervous the first time out, but after that, the dogs are like old pros. Is that because they have never had an occasion to be scared or startled by new experiences during those critical periods in their puppyhood? Because they've always felt safe and secure in their own environment? I dunno, but seeing it firsthand time and time again has really made me much less black and white about what makes or breaks a great puppy.

Sarah said...

Sorry, just me again!!! I also want to point to one post on Syd's blog...

The reason I bring this up is because you use the word "Aggressive" in your post, Garrett. This is one of my favorite excerpts from Control Unleashed:

"Reactivity comes from anxiety, which comes from feeling uncertain about something. Reactivity is an information-seeking strategy. A reactive dog will rush toward something or someone that he is uncertain about, barking, lunging, growling, and making a big display. People sometimes perceive reactive behavior as aggression, but a reactive dog is not rushing in to do damage; he is attempting to assess the threat level of a given situation. His assessment strategy is intensified because he is panicking as the adrenaline flows through his body.
...People also sometimes perceive reactive behavior as "dominance" because they view a dog that flies at his triggers as a dog that wants to take charge. This is absoluetly not the case. Reactive dogs are anxious, and their response is intense because they are freaking out."

And, just in timely fashion, Susan Garrett has a dog:dog aggression post on her blog, a fantastic performance/behavior blog.

If you took some of those growling dogs and put them in a calmer situation, not on a leash, my guess is that many would be instantly calm and not a problem at all. Not making excuses for the dogs and their owners by any means, just trying to point out that "agression" is not always really "aggression." :-)

Garrett808 said...

That's the word Sarah! Reactive. yes. Luckily I wasn't talking about Syd, but boy dogs.....:) You have done a ton of work and it shows. not everyone figures it out unfortunately!

Emily said...

One thing I have around here is a Puppy Kindergarten class that I can drop in at any time with puppies. So, if I have a pet puppy I haven't sold or the home hasn't picked them up by 8 weeks of age...they go to puppy class! I always suggest allowing kids to come over a visit your young puppies, as it is amazing how much this will help in socialization. Evan is by far one of my best socializing tools!! Plus, I have found that puppies that aren't exposed to kids at young ages, have a harder time going into a family situation.

I had a litter a while back that had several males who ended up being aggresive. I used an outside stud and they just were very dominant temperaments. At early ages they did not show those behaviours, but as young adults to adults they were really bad. After that experience I am really careful about outside dogs I use. If I notice a dog being aggresive, even if it appears to be an owner problem, I make a mental note and make sure to check temperaments out later, before breeding into that line. Temperaments are oh so important in our breed!

dreameyce said...

I agree with the other Emily, "Temperaments are oh so important in our breed!", but like Joanna said, they are often easy for breeders and owners to ignore, because like other little dog breeds, we can pick them up, and remove them quickly if they act out. We're not dealing with 200 pound Mastiffs, which so many people it seems use as an excuse to basically ignore behavior issues in their smaller dogs.

I saw so much behavior I was appalled by too Garrett. I believe I was there the time the person pick up her dog who lunged (By the rally ring, on tues?), threatening another dog, and 'praised' it for the poor behavior. I was stunned, and sick in my stomach.

I am soooo thankful to live around breeders who keep polite dogs, and are mindful of behavior. After being to the national, I want to write a letter to all the NW breeders, telling them "Thank you for not letting your dogs act like hell beasts". Thankfully, the pee-poor behaving dogs, were few, and far between. THANKFULLY! I would have never dreamed of taking a dog like those to the national though. I'd be terribly mortified!

As a dog trainer, who's worked through rescues in "Last chance", keeping the dogs in home training sessions a lot, I was shocked and appalled by some of the people at the nationals, and the behaviors they allowed their dogs to openly demonstrate, then THEIR terrible reactions. SHAME on them!

I'm sadly willing to bet I put in more work socializing my rat babies, than some do socializing their Cardi babies. That'd be shameful, since rats only live to be approx. 2 years, and tend to live in cages, while the average Cardi goes 'everywhere' with the family, and lives 12+ years.

On the topic of Darby the Vallhund, when I arrived to Kansas on sunday, Darby had to be CAUGHT if you wanted her out of her x-pen. By Wednesday, she was right there, asking to be let out. It was awesome to see her come around so quickly! I look forward to seeing her now as she matures.