Human limits and dogs. The impact of human behaviour to the behaviour of dogs

Articles in English

One of the principles of psychology is that problem behaviours of parents also create problem behaviours in children. For example, overprotective parents would bring up children with phobias or even children reactive to the oppression they feel that they experience. Moreover, parents, who have not taught their children limits and moral values, would create, argumentative children, at the very least.

Problem behaviours show a wide variation in a range which includes psychological problems (phobias, emotional instability and immaturity, aggressiveness, lack of critical and creative thinking that leads to adherence to faith values and ideas fanatically, for instance, pietism and extreme and dangerous political beliefs) ignoring ethical rules, coexistence problems, sensory disorders, sleep disorders and more.

However, the purpose of this article is not to examine the problem behaviours and relationships that develop into a family, but to briefly describe and interpret the impact of human behaviour to the dog, the most popular pet with which we coexist.

The dog is a particularly anthropocentric animal and it is important to mention that it mimics movements and attitudes not only of other dogs but also humans. This phenomenon is called social learning. However, beyond mimicry, their behaviour and the problems that sometimes presents are the result of coexistence with humans and the problem behaviour of people towards them. Here of course we should not forget that each animal develops its own character and its own personality (others more timid, others are more extroverted, others are more assertive, whereas others are more aggressive at a greater or lesser extent) and this is the effect of genes and upbringing by its mother as well as the interaction with its siblings and the early stimuli received from the environment.

Such problem dog behaviours are:

• phobias (to people, animals, separation anxiety etc.)

• aggression (to people, animals, etc.)

• chasing (cars, bicycles etc.)

• barking (at the slightest stimulus or unnecessarily)

• destructiveness

• overstimulation

• lack of discipline

• inappropriate urination

• obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD)

The causes of such behaviour, resulting from the common symbiosis with humans are:

• lack of relationship development (the dog is kept at a distance and isolated from its family, growing almost alone on a terrace or a courtyard-passive abuse)

• development of excessive bonding with the dog (unstoppable hugs, caresses, kisses, shared sleep etc.)

• lack of learning basic rules due to ignorance or boredom

• lack of dealing with behaviours derived from genetic limits (e.g. hyperactive dog)

• treating the dog as a toy (in this case, the result is often the abandonment of the dog)

• treating the dog as a human

• active abuse (e.g. owners who use violence in order to house train the dog)

• lack of socialisation (confinement in the house for a long time even for health reasons)

• Reduced or even none at all compliance with the animal welfare rules (e.g. lack of walking the dog, untreated diseases due to lack of veterinarian care, etc.)

• Use of violence during training (intimidation, physical violence)

But then again, the most important mistake is possibly the humanisation which leads to disastrous results. Dogs and humans are different species. Nobody denies that dogs are the most valuable friends of humans and integral members of their families. However, addressing a dog as human leads with certainty not only to the development of problem behaviours to the dog but also to health problems (e.g. refusal of neutering which results in cancerous tumours, pyometra, considering the crate as a prison which results in an animal without limits etc.). It should be noted that according to recent surveys [1], even though our dogs regard us as family, they are aware that we belong to different species.

It is also worth mentioning -as opposed to problem behaviours- that dogs with proper training, compliance with limits and welfare rules, can easily become not only friends but precious companions and helpers of humans, for instance, as guide dogs for people with disabilities, therapy dogs and more.
The majority of the dog’s behavioural problems can be solved primarily with systematic family training, if and insofar its members follow the trainer’s instructions (with the exception of cases where both psychological and physical medical treatment is necessary).

It should be noted that positive training will deal with any case without any type of violence, following the principles of gradual desensitisation and gradual increase of criteria applied where appropriate and in any event. These principles will be supported by various techniques and methods such as learning basic obedience, ignoring the dog, disorientation, use of pheromone products, Bach Flower Remedies, etc.

In cases where the positive training cannot entirely take on (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorders), the trainer will not hesitate to call on a veterinarian specialised in dog behaviour and work with them and under their instructions in order to deal with the case.

In any case, we should remember that the extremities are not beneficial under any circumstances and that violence produces violence. In the same way that we bring our children up (or dare I say, we should bring them up) with love, values, knowledge of good and evil, moral rules, rewards, without intimidation, with respect and support in their choices, we must also bring our dogs up: with love, limits, values and rewarding.

Giorgis Taxideutis

I would like to thank Dr. Robos Antonios, psychiatrist-neurologist for his counselling on human problem behaviours. 

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