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How Essential is a Well Trained Dog?

There's a strange culture in the dog training society. A culture which seems to be preoccupied with training methods. How we teach dogs to do things has garnered a lot of attention over the last couple of years. And in many ways rightly so because unskilled dog training can cause distress to dogs and is both rife and unethical. There is much more to living with dogs than training them though. And the idea that a dog who might be struggling just needs to be taught how to behave is highly antiquated. Let's take a quick look at the reality of why dogs behave as they do.

Genetics: The Inherited Aspect of Canine Behaviour

Canine genetics play a crucial role in shaping a dog's behaviour. Similar to humans, dogs inherit traits from their ancestors. Different breeds, each bred for specific roles, inherently exhibit unique behaviours. For instance, herding dogs like Border Collies naturally show tendencies to herd, a trait deeply ingrained in their genetic makeup. This genetic predisposition influences their behavioural responses, making them more attuned to certain activities and interactions.

An example of this might be the collie obsessed with passing cars. This response is literally bred into them over thousands of generations. It's completely natural behaviour and is in every fibre of their being. Training this out of them - well we have to ask how we are going to help them meet those needs instead. It's as ethical and fair to expect a collie to stop being a collie as it is to ask you to stop being a human.

Environmental Factors: Shaping Behaviour

The environment in which a dog is raised and lives greatly impacts its behaviour. Dogs are highly adaptable and responsive to their surroundings. Factors like socialisation, training experiences, and the type of interaction they have with humans and other animals play a significant role. A dog raised in a loving, social environment may exhibit friendlier and more outgoing behaviours, while one raised in isolation or with negative experiences might show signs of fear or aggression. This highlights the importance of a nurturing environment in fostering positive canine behaviour. When a dog is fearful or anxious they may show extreme behaviours, they might lunge on walks or bark to chase scary things away. Expecting them to stop their nervous system response to stress is like asking you to stop feeling stress on demand. It just can't be done. So with the worried dog, we work on helping them to feel safe, not making them behave better.

Health and Well-being: A Vital Component

A dog's health and overall well-being are essential elements in understanding its behaviour. Just like humans, dogs can experience a range of health issues, from physical ailments like arthritis to mental health challenges like anxiety or depression. These health issues can significantly alter a dog's behaviour. A once playful and energetic dog may become withdrawn and lethargic due to pain or discomfort. Therefore, it's vital to consider a dog's health when assessing changes in behaviour or addressing behavioural issues.

A dog in pain might growl or even bite. They might take flight in environments where they used to cope much more easily. Older dogs become less social. Our role is to meet them where they are at and provide the medical attention they might need and this is a non-negotiable part of ethics in dog guardianship and professional services.

When Will We Let Dogs Be Dogs? : Acknowledging Natural Behaviours

Lastly, it's crucial to recognise that dogs will exhibit natural dog behaviours. These behaviours, such as digging, barking, or scent marking, are innate and serve various purposes in a dog's quality of life. If it's inconvenient, the ethical thing to do is not to stop it, but to provide more convenient and fulfilling opportunities for our dogs to be dogs.

Let's face it my friends, a dog's behaviour is a complex interplay of genetics, environment, health, and natural canine instincts. Recognising and appreciating these diverse factors provides a more comprehensive understanding of their place in our world. Just like you and I, dogs deserve to be who they are, to experience a broad range of emotions and fulfilling activities. And in actual fact, if we facilitate that for them, we might even replace training with effectively meeting their needs.

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