Wednesday, April 29, 2009


It is hard to know what to feel about the decision by New York's housing authority to ban its residents from owning pitbulls, dobermans or rottweilers, or dogs that are over 25 pounds. 
On the one hand it will only encourage the belief that these breeds are to be feared. 
The breeds such as pitbulls have a very bad reputation, largely as in the past they were trained to be aggressive. Dobermans and Rottweilers likewise. The key word is "trained". Any of those breeds, and indeed any dog at all, if brought up well, and trained correctly should not display any signs of aggression. 
Aggression itself is kind of a funny term. For dogs, aggression is driven from fear - be that of people, dogs or even sounds or experiences that they have not been introduced to slowly. Ever seen a dog try to attack a bicycle or skateboard? It is no different to a dog lunging for another dog, in the sense that in both examples the behaviour is driven by fear. Bring up a dog to be well-adjusted and confident, and you will have a dog that is not aggressive. This goes against certain dog training philosophies that imply a fearless, confident dog is one that needs to be dominated or he/she will become uncontrollable or aggressive. Shouting at your dog or bullying him into obedience actually instils fear in a dog – and fear leads to aggression!  
In Kevin Behan's book, Natural Dog Training, he points out in the conclusion: "Biting, as well as the other countless behavioural problems that send 10 million dogs to their doom each year, is completely avoidable. No matter what the temperament of the dog may be, genetics doesn't mean that a behaviour is predetermined. All dogs can adapt to any environment if their wildness is acknowledged, appreciated, and then channeled into expressions of freedom that are appropriate." Pitbulls, dobermans and rottweilers are high energy dogs which is why they are easy to train to be aggressive. Suppress their energy and add cruelty and that energy will explode through their teeth. use that energy to exercise them, play, train them, and let them be loved and you'll never have a dog that bites! 
When it comes to aggressive dogs, owners of pitbulls, dobermans and rottweilers may like to look at the following ranking of aggressive dogs and have a laugh. Certainly the 25 pound limit will not help in this case! 
Not that I am supporting the study! As I mention, dogs brought up correctly will not be aggressive!
We were lucky enough to foster Nelly, a lovable pit-mix from Posh Pets last October. One of the soppiest, loopiest dogs I have met who brought joy to everyone she came across, and was by far the most popular gal in the pub. She was obedient but outgoing. Luckily her confidence had not been knocked out of her! Nelly was just over one year old, and was due to be euthanised when we took her on.  Here she is in the photo doing what she loved best – chasing leaves and hoovering them up! She now lives in New Jersey with a loving couple where she rules the roost! 
There is so much more to write about aggression and helping dogs overcome their fears, but Rose my new foster looks like she needs a cuddle...

Saturday, April 25, 2009


So Daisy happily left this morning with new owner, Lauren. A sad day for me though as she was such a pleasure to have around, and was making me quite popular in the block because of her happy spirit and wiggly backside! It's been five hours and I miss her like mad. It's one of the cons to fostering – having to give them up, and I don't think I'll ever get used to them going. But each dog teaches me something new about dogs, and about me. One of the many things I learned from Daisy is the importance of not inhibiting a puppy's biting habits. Daisy loved to nibble on fingers, and at eight months, she had adult teeth so could nibble quite hard! The biggest fear of a dog owner is having a dog that turns out to be aggressive. So they try to prevent puppy biting believing if they don't, then the puppy will grow up to think biting is correct and will sink his or her teeth into postmen, neighbours, other dogs or children. Such thinking is understandable, but is incorrect. Indeed, preventing a puppy from biting can lead to a dog that bites in later life. Lolly was foster dog number 6, a five-year old Shepherd mix. That's her in the photo. At first glance, Lolly was an extremely calm dog. She ate gently from your hand so was popular with children and their parents. She never jumped up, never chewed furniture, and would stand obediently by you to be petted. What Lolly could not do, however, was bite anything. She would not chew toys, would not fetch balls, would never play tug of war. Lolly had been so severely reprimanded for biting as a puppy, that she would not even bite her food. Lolly licked her dinner up.
So Lolly was far from calm. She was completely confused. Lolly would bark uncontrollably at moving objects such as trucks, vans, bikes, or skateboards. In New York city you can imagine how stressful taking her on walks could be! With other dogs she was unpredictable. She generally did not want to play with them, but would be the first to run into a dog fight to try and sink her teeth into a neck. In one sad case Lolly actually caused damage to a small dog while at a boarders. While I adored Lolly for all her foibles, it took more than three months before someone else felt that way. Now she lives in Connecticut with a loving family and is beginning to fetch balls.
So how does Lolly's behaviour connect to the fact she had not been allowed to bite as a puppy? As we are all aware, dogs used to hunt for food, and pull their prey down by biting.  By sinking their jaws into prey, dogs relieved all the tension that had built up during the hunt. So when dogs feel emotion, be that excitement or fear, then their natural instinct is to sink their teeth into something to relieve the stress that emotion causes. If you have seen a dog gnawing on a bone or chewing on their favourite toy, you will have noticed the glazed look of sheer bliss not dissimilar to how humans appear when getting a relaxing massage. 
While evolution has changed the dog from a human hunting companion to a pet, it has not taken away their desire to relieve stress by chewing and biting.  If they are not allowed to do so, where does all that stress go? In Lolly's case, it went inside and ended up in unpredictable outbursts of biting, snapping or barking. Had she known she could relieve that tension through chewing on a ball, or pulling a tug toy then she would have been able to be calmer in times of heightened emotion, and would have known when she should use her teeth and when she shouldn't. 
I'm always amazed by owners that shout at their dogs, but the training books out there are so confusing and often aggressive in their methods, that I can understand why owners think it the right course of action. I've seen some terrible advice for preventing puppy bites such as shaking the puppy by its collar, shouting No! at the puppy, pushing in the puppy's cheeks so it bites itself, holding the puppy's muzzle.. Would anyone expect a child to grow up to be normal if they were treated so sternly?
With puppies, patience is the key, and hopefully after my ten days with Daisy I've learned to be more patient. If you bring your puppy up calmly and with love, with plenty of play time and toys for stimulus, then it will not matter if they bite on your fingers for a few months. They honestly will grow out of it. Just replace your fingers with a toy if it bothers you, or let them nibble you and if they nibble too hard, yelp Owww! Puppies are learning what they can and cannot bite and how hard they can use their teeth. Through biting they bond with their group, and begin to understand their surroundings. They like to explore with their mouths! Let them do it! An excellent resource on puppy biting is a blog by trainer Lee Charles Kelley, my dog mentor! Here is a link to his blog on puppy biting and what to do about it. 


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Daisy arrived last night – a beautiful 8-month mutt from Posh Pets Rescue, a rescue organisation here in New York. She makes foster number 7 and is the youngest we have had. You cannot tell from the photo but Daisy has some terrible injuries. She had some chemical burns and lost hair on her neck and parts of her back. She is also blind in one eye so bumps into things quite easily! And did I mention her bad back leg? But she seems unaffected in the sense that she is so happy and wriggly and loves people and other dogs. She also seems very well trained in that she sits down when she wants food, and has learned how to play and fetch. Shame she is not house-trained though! But she is worth the kitchen roll. Photographing her was harder than some of our fosters because she is such a wriggler. This is all I could muster from about 50 photos that wasn't blurred, or had her looking deranged!