Canine Social Superstars – part 1

Our lifestyles with ours dogs have changed over the last 40 years and subsequently, the way we breed, rear, train and live with our dogs has changed also. Much of what I’m posting here I’ve learned from the work of John Rogerson, Ian Dunbar and Stanley Coren as well as my own experience and interpretation.

Breeding – I grew up in a large new town outside of Glasgow. Living conditions were good and although we had housing estates they were not the same as the ones in the inner cities of Glasgow, London or Birmingham. As a child, I remember peoples’ pet dogs roaming around the streets. They were generally let out in the morning, would potter about and come home at dinner time to be fed. Of the dog’s I remember from my childhood, they were mainly collie-type mixed breeds. I do remember a few pedigree dogs, mostly terriers, a Dalamtian called Nick (who we knew better than to try to pet) and the Italian guy who owned the local chippie (fish and chip shop to non UK readers) who had a huge wolf sable German Shepherd called Lupo. The mixed breed dogs bred naturally as the bitches selected which dogs they wanted to mate with and, although I didn’t know it at the time, choose the big strapping lads with good bone structure and good temperament. Ian Dunbar’s PhD work investigated this among other things. He observed that a bitch would happily pal around with one or two dogs throughout the year but when she came into season, she wanted nothing to do with her pals and would seek the attention of the stronger, more stable dogs. She chose which dog to mate with. After her season ended, she would happily make up with her friends.

Breeding is now done by the breeders. Pedigree dogs are bred, not always for profit as the main goal but often so and professional show breeders often breed for looks which conform to a breed standard and not primarily for temperament. My opinion is that this is the wrong way round, as the majority of these dogs end up as pets and not show dogs. As a result, temperament suffers and we no longer the same amount of puppies which are suitable as family pets. The spaying and neutering programme which has been hugely encouraged has not stopped the flow of unwanted dogs into rescue centres and shelters. It’s just the dogs in there now are mainly pedigree dogs and have more training and behaviour issues due to poor temperament and owner lifestyle than they did before.

Rearing – 40 years ago couples got a dog after they were married and had a child or two. Dad would work, Mum stayed at home and looked after the kids. She would put the kids out to school (we used to walk to school then, in all weathers) and Mum would then walk the dog (which they had been given by the neighbour whose bitch had a litter) down to the local shopping centre where the dog would be left outside (not always tied up) while she did the shopping. As a result of this, the dog got used to being ignored in the house as other things were going on, got used to being outside walking, got used to being left on its own both inside and outside and got plenty of exercise and got used to greeting people (or not) off leash. Mum got back to the house and the dog was let out into the street where is romped around with other dogs so it learned to play with other dogs properly and with natural body language and communication. Dog fights were rare ( I never saw one) and bites were almost unheard of (I can vaguely remember Nick the Dalamation snapping at someone before we could tell them not to touch him).

So, because of the above, dogs were well exercised, had daily stimulation and play and were well socialised with people and dogs. It is different now. In many cases these days, couples move in together and buy a pedigree dog, perhaps simply because they like the look of it, perhaps because they have heard about certain breeds of dog being more adaptive to a modern lifestyle, and perhaps because they have not yet contemplated children. The dog now spends loads of time in doors by itself as they are both working. They come home from a day’s work, tired. If they do take the dog out, it’s either round the block on the leash while they talk on their mobile phone or their pedigree dog (insert breed but think Husky for the sake of this discussion) gets driven to the park where it is let off to play freely without any human interaction or intervention or structured play and training and then driven back home again, sufficiently energised to wing off the walls and torment the daylights out of them for the remainder of the evening.
Happy dogsNot every owner or every breeder behaves like this b in general terms, these things have changed the way our dogs behave.

In part two I’ll discuss how keeping our dogs on leash, how we heat our house and changing general attitudes in society have influenced our dogs’ behaviour.

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