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Treat your Dogs as Animals not Children

Professional dog trainer and animal behaviourist Vicki Pinn shares her thoughts on the need for more ongoing training for both dogs and owners after the recent spate of dog attacks.

People keep asking: "why is this happening and what can we do to stop or at least prevent this from happening again?”. And really there is a very simple answer: train your dogs and respect the animals they are.

The main thing I explain to clients during our first consultation is that we must remember that they are "Animal, Dog, Breed" in that order. Your dog is an animal so he or she sees the world differently to how you do. They are not human and the way they deal with situations is very different to us.

They work their way in the world around three things and in a very simple order:

1. Ears: they hear first 
2. Nose: then they smell 
3. Eyes: finally they see 

In all the time dogs have spent interacting with humans and living in our homes, this order has never changed!

We must then look at the breed or breeds which make up your own dog because every breed is different and all have different backgrounds. From the Border Collie who comes from a herding and working background, to the German Shepherd who has a security and support background and all the other types of breeds which might make up your furry loved ones.

So do we really know what we are getting ,when we go down to the local shelter and rescue a dog? We will be told what they think the dog is as DNA testing is not done on every dog.

I was told my dog was part Rottweiler when she was actually a Huntaway - a breed that rounds up cattle in the New Zealand highlands and brings it down to the farmer, sometimes covering hundreds of kilometres. Had she been an actual Rotti, she would have come from a cart pulling background and probably wouldn't have been as active!

I soon found out my girl needed to have a very high exercise program to make her feel like she had a job. This was fine as a I did a lot of Mountain biking and together we would go into the bush and cycle for 20-30 kms twice a week. 

So I was able to give her the exercise she needed, but if I had been a person who wasn't keen on exercise, she would have ended up bored and probably start showing signs of frustration, destructive behaviours, escaping and who knows what else!

So shelters and pounds can and do get it wrong and the only way to really know what your dog is, is to ask for a DNA test so you will truly know who they are and what their needs are. 

The other issue I see time and time again is that many people humanise their dogs and treat them like babies. This can lead to some very serious issues as the dog loses its place in the pack and tries to assert itself with the humans in his pack. 

We know now that the whole Alpha Dog argument (dominance theory) is simply not true as this experiment was conducted with wolves (not dogs) in a environment where they had to establish a leader.. 

However, dogs are pack animals and are happy to just be in a pack

The old theory of not letting your dog through the door before you - because it will think it is the leader - simply isn't true. Dogs do not have the capacity to think like that, nor do they have the emotion of jealousy as I hear people say so often.

And this is the reason why we are seeing the issues arising with these attacks on people and especially children.

Dogs are not killers! Dogs don't want to bite, but they also don't have a voice or hands to say: "I am feeling scared" or "You are in my space". Yes, they may give a warning such as a growl, or if you know canine body language you will see different things happen in different situations. But most people completely miss these cues and push the dog to a place where the dog has only one or two options. 

Because always remember that they are "animals", they are not humans!
And if this dog had a rough start or came from a stressed out mum in a puppy farm then the dog may present with some fear or anxiety based behaviours
We can make this a lot worse for the dog, if we don't get on top of it quickly.

Science says we must introduce our dogs in the first 1 to 16 weeks to up to 100 dogs, so they learn the doggy tools they need to be a social well-balanced dog. From then, we train them to become well-mannered, calm, happy and social dogs.

I always bring it back to how we treat our children… We send our kids to pre-school, birthday parties, out 
on school trips etc. So they learn how to behave and interact with others and get ready for what we call life. So why is it that when we get a puppy or a dog - who could have had years of no structure and training - we just expect them to be this perfectly well-behaved dog

Of course there are those responsible dog owners who attend puppy classes, socialise their dog and learn about how their dog sees the world. They teach their dogs to perform basic commands such as Sit, Stay, Drop, Come etc. 

But the mistake is thinking that this is enough and their dog now has everything it needs to be happy. 

Do we send our kids to primary school then expect them to be a Doctor? No, they have to go to high school and then University.

It is the same with our dogs, they are always ‘a work in progress’

A dog is only as good as their owner. I have two amazing dogs, not because I am a trainer but because I took on the commitment of being their carer for their life. And I want my dogs to be the best they can be, which means teaching them how to behave around other dogs, people, children, food, space etc. 

The only way our dogs can learn is through our guidanceIt doesn't take much time, it is fun and so rewarding to help your dog and see your dog cope in all our "human world”.

Coming back to why are dogs attacking their family members, children and even other dogs? 

Dogs generally will only attack if they are feeling scared, threatened, or have something of theirs taken away (e.g. resource guarding a bone, toy) and they haven't been taught to be okay with someone coming into their space, leaning over them or like a child moving in a rapid fashion at them. 

Nearly every attack could be avoided if the dog had good training not just at the start but throughout their life.

Dogs must experience good things in diverse environments so if you are time poor, you should enlist the help of a professional dog trainer to help you understand your dog so much more and get the best out of the relationship you have with your dog.

When I worked for a council in NZ, we ran a "Dog Owner Licence" course on Saturday mornings. For three hours new owners or anyone could come along to learn about the needs of a dog, what was required of them as an owner, how to deal with dog fights, the basics of body language and posturing etc. There was a simple test at the end and if you passed your registration fee was reduced.

I think this is a wonderful idea and we could even go to the point of having dog parks for people who have completed these courses. 

Because as I see time and time again, people are coming into an offleash dog park and are not paying attention, missing all the cue signs that their beloved dog is being bullied or feeling threatened by another dog. And the next minute, all hell breaks loose. No one really knows how it started or why but injuries are caused simply because the owners were not watching. 

When you get a dog please remember that you have taken on a life, a soul, and they deserve a chance at the best possible life. And the only way to do that is to step up, respect the 'Animal, Dog, Breed'. Train your dog, help your dog, have fun with your dog and make them part of your family.

I would like to leave you with this final question to ponder …
"Would you spend an hour, a day or a week swapping places with your dog and living his life?

  • Just because you live on acreage doesn't mean you don't need to take your dog out for a walk!
  • Just because you have a second dog to keep the first one company doesn’t mean you don't need to socialise either!
They want to be with us, they want to be loved and give you love, they want to do right by us. They say a dog is man’s best friend but are WE their best friends? 

My dogs are my family. All I want for them is for them to be calm, well mannered, social and balanced. So I can take them places and do things with them knowing they would never hurt another dog, person or child. 

written by Vicki Pinn, March 2018

Vicki Pinn with her Staffy Nugget
Vicki Pinn started training dogs over 20 years ago following in the footsteps of her grandfather (Vet and Horse Trainer) and father (also a Horse Trainer). Her love of animals is not only a passion, it is in her blood.

Working as an animal control officer for a local NZ council was a harrowing experience where she saw too many dogs being failed by the system. She decided to focus her energy on helping dog owners achieve a wonderful rewarding relationship with their dogs.

She’s the Director of The End Result Canine Consultancy in Brisbane’s Redlands area and uses only positive holistic training methods. She specialises in tough cases like reactivity, anxiety as well as general obedience.

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