Why do we expect so much of our horses and dogs?

I went to visit a dog today-and of course his new family. He was a rescue and had been at his new home for about 10 weeks, and in the meantime of course we have had Christmas and New Year celebrations.

These events don’t seem to have disturbed him at all but what has been disturbing him is the big wide outside world! It is likely that his first initial owners did little or no socialisition with him. So his outside life skills were almost non existent.

Socialising is not just about meeting people and seeing other dogs, it is about getting out and about as well. Dogs need to feel comfortable exploring the outside world and when they have not had a lot of opportunity to do this they invariably don’t know what to do when the opportunities do arise.

This particular dog has super new owners that recognised that he needed help-in fact they needed help too as he was spending a lot of time barking when they were walking. The new dog laws are hitting hard and as normal they are not affecting the right people, instead people are becoming conscious when their dog does something “wrong” and I feel they are having a big impact.

Fact.Dogs bark-they bark when they are nervous, and they bark when they are excited, this is normal, it does not mean they are about to attack someone. If you suppress a dogs natural behaviours (which are there for very good reasons) then the behaviour is likely to get worse. Education is needed to understand why the dog is barking and when reviewing a situation the next step is to start doing what you can to help.

As we talked about what was happening they told me lots of very useful information. Firstly they  were very embarrassed about their dogs barking (which is a very normal reaction in these situations) and there was also another reason- one of his new owners had become very nervous of dogs at an early age and had concluded that barking led to biting-well yes, it can do but it is also a very important area of communication for a dog. If something bothers them they bark! I think we can all identify with that.599498_504350942952963_629500756_n

As we talked I began to understand more about the situation; and his new owners started to also understand more too. As the conversation progressed they admitted to buying a citronella collar for him, but they swore that it had had a really good affect on the dog. I really hate citronella collars and I explained about how delicate a dogs’ nose is, and how citronella can affect the mucous membranes of the nose and cause intense irritation to the eyes. Although the collar is worn around the neck, when the spray is released you have no control over which areas of the dog actually get sprayed.

It does stop barking BUT the dog has no idea that you are trying to teach him something. It interrupts the behavior, but NO teaching is taking place. The dog is likely to build up very strong associations….all negative and nasty as he starts to link going outside with unpleasant experiences AND he still has the original fear and worries.Any dog would be completely overwhelmed in this situation.

So the bottom line is we seem to expect so much of our dogs- they need to behave in a certain way at certain times,otherwise they are “bad”. Quick fixes like  citronella collars, are then often recommended by other dog owners, and friends who “know a lot about dogs”.

These types of equipment are cruel and I ask why are we using them? Because our dogs have to behave “correctly”.

Dogs have to look right, be quiet and pay attention to all we do-in fact they have to be paragons;and yet we have to pretend not to notice bad behaviour in other areas of our lives- for example from other peoples children as they tear about the supermarket, or leap around the chairs when you are trying to have a quiet coffee in a shop. How did this happen?

The same applies to horses-every day there are regular posts on Facebook about how best to control, subdue or correct behaviours that are seen as “unwanted” and incorrect. There are sometimes posts by the hundreds.

I remember as a child having a very well thumbed horse book, and my favourite page was written by a very well known horseman of the time who used to contribute to horse magazines and wrote many books. The quote I remember so well was “every week I have questions about which bits people should use for their horses, I honestly believe that one day I will have a question asking….my horse has colic what bit should I use?”-so maybe our preoccupation about our animals bad behaviour not as recent as I think.

My plea really is to ask everyone to learn more about the behaviour of their dog/horse and to then learn why they are doing whatever it is that is considered to be wrong. If the dog, or horse, is doing something that we don’t like then there is a reason-quick fixes will never help, and suppressing behaviour by using spray collars or stronger bits just won’t work long term. They may work for a while but have no allusions , the problems are not fixed,they are just put on hold.

It is for our job to learn and build our animals worlds into places where they don’t need to be stressed and fearful. We in fact owe them our attention, and if we can’t find a way of helping then we need to learn from someone who does have that knowledge.


3 thoughts on “Why do we expect so much of our horses and dogs?

  1. Pingback: Why do we expect so much of our horses and dogs? | horseandhoundschool

  2. Great article, Pennie. You know, one of my own bugbears is that there are so many people who ‘know dogs’ because they’ve had so many, or because they’ve had dogs all their lives, and yet they really don’t know dogs at all. But because they think they do, they won’t listen to reason.

    I like dogs. That being so, mine are trained to be ‘good enough’. They are companions, not show animals or trick performers. I enjoy their company, and they enjoy mine. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Beyond that, they are free to be dogs.


    • I am glad you liked the article, I feel very strongly about people’s demands on their dogs, in particular, because they live with us they seem to be asked to behave all the time.
      And yes, I am very happy for mine to be happy and as you say “good enough”- they are not angels but they are first and foremost dogs.
      Thanks so much for your feedback.


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