Written by Joachim Bartoll and Isabella Stapleton
Published on May 22, 2018
Dogs are social beings just like you and me. They need to interact with other dogs and people. Dogs also need exercise and play to release stored energy. They get hurt, they get stressed and overwhelmed; they get lonely and they get sick. Like us, dogs communicate for survival, conflict resolution, and to establish relationships with those around them. Understanding and responding appropriately to their cues are vital to their well-being, development and behavior.
As a dog owner, you are not only their provider, you are their leader and teacher as well – instructing them on how to interact with the world around them. While dogs have natural instincts regarding interactions within the pack, it’s your duty to teach your dog how to behave in our society among strangers and other animals. For example, when walking in crowded areas, when in or around traffic, and when in close proximity to people who might possibly behave abnormally and/or inappropriately you must teach them to remain calm.
Teaching your dog how to behave properly is solely your responsibility as a dog owner. While this requires daily walks and socialization with other dogs and people, it’s also about your everyday behavior as a leader and guide. Your dog is always observing you. They can read your body language, and by picking up the scent from your hormonal releases, they will understand your state of mind. If you feel nervous or afraid in a situation, they will immediately sense it and act based on that feeling.
Even if your dog is considered well behaved and socialized, a situation can turn ugly if you emit fear or anger to such a degree that your dog feels the need to step in and protect you. This response is not the dogs fault. The response is purely instinctual, and when a situation like this arises, it’s your responsibility to remain in control and show your dog how to remain calm.
If a dog owner is appearing highly stressed, is behaving aggressively, and struggling to hold on to their dog, then the chances are that the dog is in the same highly combustible state. A dog accompanied by this type of owner is far more likely to show aggression and attack. In contrast, if an owner is relaxed and happy, his or her dog invariably feels the same way.
Therefore, when a dog misinterprets a situation, misbehaves, or even attacks someone, it’s usually the owners fault. It’s hardly ever the dogs fault – no matter what breed. Don’t fall into the pit bull, Doberman or Rottweiler propaganda and fear mongering. It’s not the breed, it’s the owner.
If you can’t walk your dog daily, if you can’t set aside time several days a week for socialization and training, and if you have a short temper or a problem controlling your emotions and body language in stressful situations – you should probably not own a dog, especially not a large breed. Bad things happen when large powerful breeds live with humans who ”like the look of the breed”, but don’t understand how to fulfill the needs of the animal within the dog, as nature intended.
Remember that a dog’s frustration comes from a lack of exercise and mental stimulation, and a dog’s dominance tendencies come from a lack of leadership. A common misinterpretation is that being an ”Alpha” is equal to being dominant, bossy and rough. Actually, being the “Alpha” of the pack simply means being a leader and a teacher. This is the role that you shoulder the moment you take a dog into your care.
In Part II we will look at how lack of exercise, stimulation and leadership can cause a stress response in dogs. We will then explore how and why that response can lead to unwanted behavior such as destruction of property, barking, biting, and even attacking.