Genetic Predisposition and Temperament

Posted in Running and all that jazz on October 31, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

I am always trying to figure out why my beautiful Welsh springer spaniel has a constant desire to follow me from room to room and not be able to be left alone.   Besides the fact that WSS are known as  “Velcro” dogs, there has to be something deeper seated than that.  One can never truely understand our canine buddies, but I strive to continue to learn and improve my understanding of dogs.  I would like to share with you, a bit about what I learnt today.

Each individual – human or animal – is born with a definite tendency toward varying degrees of emotional reactivity in the direction of behavioral inhibition or excitability. The dog’s general emotional reactivity or threshold to emotionally evocative stimulation is definitely a predisposing factor in the development of many common behavior problems. To a large extent, differences in emotional thresholds are affected by a limbic/autonomic inheritance present at birth.  Some individuals are genetically disposed to being more calm and emotionally balanced under the influence of  limbic modulation and parasympathetic tone (parasympathetic dominant), whereas others (sympathetic dominant) are much more sensitive and reactive to fright-freeze-fight stimulation, are hyperemotional, tend to perseverate in negative emotional states, are subject to neurotic elaborations and disequilibrium, and are prone to develop psychosomatic disease. e.g., avoiding something unpleasant.

Approach withdrawal dynamics are regulated according to various threshold differences – differences that are influenced by a dog’s genetic constitution and early experiences.  As development progresses, primitive approach behavior becomes transformed into “seeking” or  appetitive behavior (modified through the incentives of positive reinforcement), while withdrawal is elaborated into various learned patters of escape and avoidance behavior (modified through the incentives of negative reinforcement).  In domestic dogs, approach behavior is perpetuated so the competing withdrawal tendencies (flight, freeze or fight) are kept in check.  In some dogs, as the result of genetic disorders or adverse experiences,
withdrawal thresholds are lowered and flight-fight reactions amplified, thus making the dogs more fearful or aggressively reactive to social contact.  Test revealed that the young of stressed mothers were significantly more “emotional” than pups born to unstressed mothers.

Separation-distressed dogs are highly motivated to re-establish social contact denied to them by isolation or confinement. I know when my WSS was small his previous owners used his crate for confinement.  Under such conditions, dogs may engage in various distressed behaviors like barking, howling, destructiveness, and loss of eliminatory control.  Some dogs simply fall into a state of depression.  This could manifest in the dog not being able to put on any weight.  I know when we rescued our dog from a very busy family he was severely underweight, he weighed 15kg at the time and he should have been approximately 20kg.

The degree of separation reactivity exhibited by a dog is influenced by both genetic variations (some breeds appear more reactive to separation) and experience, with both factors contributing to the determining threshold and magnitude of separation distress.  The most significant variable in analyzing and modifying adjustment problems is the learned component; however, inherited emotional factors cannot be ignored, especially in cases involving severe emotional disorders and aggression.  Statistical evidence suggests that some breeds are more prone to develop behavior problems than others.  These breed variations with respect to the incidence of behavior problems may be the result of selective breeding for potentially problematic traits.  In other cases, abnormal tendencies may have been inadvertently transmitted without intentional selective pressure (e.g., shyness and various common dysfunctional behavior patterns like fear-biting and low-threshold dominance aggression).  References: Steven R Lindsay, Volume One, Applied Dog Behaviour and Training.


Help! We need more off-Leash Dog Parks and Trails

Posted in Vision Vancouver Campaign on October 27, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

The article written by Frances Bula for the Globe and Mail on the 12th August got me thinking about my previous life living in London, England a densely populated city.   My closest “park” I could take my dog too, was Wimbledon Common,  a large open space in Wimbledon south-west London, totalling 460 hectares (1140 acres) and out of the 1140 acres our dogs were allowed to run off-leash.  Iam not exactly sure how long Wimbledon Common has been popular with dogs but I am sure it was as far back as the 1700’s or probably even earlier.  The common is  managed by seven Mounted Keepers (who deal with public safety and security) and are fantastic with dog owners.

Richmond Park is a 2,360 acre (9.55 km2; 3.69 sq mi)park within London.  The park is double the size of Stanley Park, and once again you are allowed to exercise your dog without restrictions.  As the park is an area of special scientific interest and a Nature Reserve, all dog owners are required to keep their dogs under control while in the park and in some areas you are requested to keep your dog on a leash.

Now this leads me to the reason why I decided to write about these parks and commons.  Why the Parks Board won’t allow any off-leash trails in Stanley Park.  Stanley Park is a 404.9 hectare (1,001 acre) urban park, slightly smaller than Wimbledon Common.   Surely if the English can allow dogs off leash around Wimbledon common, we as the second largest country in the world, can allow a few off-leash trails in Stanley Park.

The concern is that the dogs will destroy the habitat.  Hasn’t the natural forces of mother nature done this for us already?  The first was a combination of an October windstorm in 1934 and a subsequent snowstorm the following January that felled thousands of trees, primarily between Beaver Lake and Prospect Point. Another storm in October 1962, the remnants of Typhoon Freda, cleared a 6-acre (24,000 m2) virgin tract behind the children’s zoo, which opened an area for a new miniature railway that replaced a smaller version built in the 1940s. In total, approximately 3,000 trees were lost in that storm. Another Storm ravaged the park on December 15, 2006 with 115 kilometres per hour (71 mph) winds. Over 60% of the western edge was damaged; the worst part was the area around Prospect Point. In total, about 40% of the forest was affected, with an estimated 3,000 trees damaged.

Living in an urban space with no off-leash area to exercise your dog will contribute to hyperactive dogs working off their pent-up energy.  Exercise is used to counteract stress put on our canine buddies and for the amelioration of a wide variety of behavior problems.  I understand not everyone loves dogs the way dog lovers do, but as dogs are becoming more and more like family members, surely we need to provide for them, the way we provide for our human families.   Help us create more off-leash parks near people’s homes in order to avoid having to use their cars to drive their dogs to the permitted off-leash areas.

Supporting Vision Vancouver

Posted in Vision Vancouver Campaign on October 25, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

I have signed up to help volunteer with Vision Vancouver, working towards Election Day on the 19th November.   Had my orientation on Saturday and had the great pleasure of sitting next to Gregor Robertson’s Aunt and Uncle who are so delightful.   I decided to help out with delivering the signs to people’s homes who have requested them, so in between running dogs, I am zooting around delivering signs.  Today I finished up the Kits area, and then took on the Strathcona area.  It is not often one gets to spend time in the Strathcona area if you don’t live there, but I was pleasantly surprised at what a fantastic area it is.  A large amount of people have their own vegetables growing in their gardens and they make it look so easy.  I have tried to grow herbs in my garden, but I think I have the   black finger.  There is only 25 days left to the election and it has been a great pleasure to serve the Vision Vancouver campaign so far.  Especially meeting Gregor and his wife Amy.  What an amazing woman, she has been cycling around town delivering signs and on our orientation day she made yummy sandwiches and fabulous cookies.  Hmm need to find that recipe.  Plus I found out they are the founders of Happy Planet.  Who could not just love that juice with a name like Happy Planet.

During my travels I came across Woof Dog Shop.  Met the owner Yuki who was warm and welcoming.  They have a small store with loads of lovely goodies to buy for your dog, plus a groomer attached to the back of the store.  Great location, on West 1st Avenue close to the Starbucks on Cornwall Avenue.  Their web-site is .  They offer great dry food like Taste of the Wild and Raw food too, depending on what you have your dog eating.

This is Q, Yuki’s dog that hangs in the shoppe!  Very cute!

Last day with Pikku

Posted in Pikku and her Vacation on October 24, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

There is something very special about the Australian Cattle Dog and their eyesight.  They seem to have a superior eyesight compared to the dogs I have had the pleasure of working with.  As you can see in this picture it looks like Pikku had to torch lights on her head!

This was our last walk and training session back at Brothers Creek.  We were due to travel to Squamish to hike and meet up with however, we had to reschedule due to the rain and Valley was exceptionally busy.  So instead we popped over to Ambleside beach and meandered around there with a few other dogs that Pikku could socialise with.  As I had planned to hike that day, I was pretty much set to go, and so decided to head back up to Brothers Creek.  This is one of my favourite walks on the North Shore.  It was raining cats and dogs but none of us seemed to mind.  So off we set, up the moutain side in the pouring rain.  It started to get a bit much when we couldn’t cross one of the tracks due to the heavy flowing river.  It was gorgeous to hear and felt I couldn’t go to close in case one of the dogs decided to take a dive in and I hadn’t packed the snorkel and flippers, so we headed back down again.  By the time we almost hit the bottom my head was pounding from the cold and it felt like I had been surfing (like in my good ole days) and it started to feel like an ice-cream headache.  There wasn’t another soul out walking in that foul weather, so I was the only one,  in what could only be described as a “wild” walk.  Back home, I dried the pups down and ensured their bellies were properly dried.  Gave them a quick squirt of doggie cologne so that when they were returned to their owners they didn’t smell like they had just fallen in a pit of….It was Pikku’s last ride with us in the car and she had done exceptionally well all week riding in the car.  Not once did she get sick or feel the need to try to climb through to the front of the car.  She also spent a good amount of time in a small space with 3 other dogs and was not fazed by this at all.  Arriving back at Pikku’s home, I proceeded to explain to her fantastic owners about her week.  Sadly for them they have decided it would be best to find Pikku a good home, where she is the centre of attention to someone who could spend more time exercising her.  Pikku needs a good amount of exercise everyday and requires direction from a firm but fair handler.  Pikku’s owners have gorgeous twins and a Nanny who is very scared of dogs.  We did try to train the Nanny to overcome her fear, however, it isn’t something we can change over night.

Pikku would be a fantastic dog to an owner who would like to get involved in working this breed.  Options, include and are super fun, agility, RAlly O, obedience training and herding and many more.  I loved spending my week with Pikku and will miss her dearly.

Manny the Border Terrier

Posted in Stories from the old days on October 21, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

This ball of fluff came to us at Very Important Pets more than 2 years ago now.  Her owner, Cat decided she needed to put Manny through our Puppy Socialisation and Basic Training program.  When I first met Cat she brought Manny with her to the office to pay her fee to join our class.  When we told her that a vet nurse was going to be part of the training she was so over the moon and told us how much she loved that vet nurse!  Cat and Ric brought Manny to a class prior to her enrolment as they wanted to see what we were all about.  At the end of our training sessions we “pass the puppy” which means each owner gets to handle a different puppy and the puppy gets used to being handled by another human.  We invitied Ric, Cat and Sacha to join us that night and of course little Manny to pass the puppy.  I think they were sold and they were joining our next enrolment!Since completing that course Manny then moved on to joining the doggie day care at Very Important pets and she used to come with us everyday to “school”.  Not everyone gets to work or hang with various different breeds and I was extremely honoured to have spent the time with Manny when I lived in the UK.  Manny has grown up to be a well adjusted, confident, happy-go lucky dog just like her owner!    Love you Cat!

The Border Terrier takes his name from the Border counties of England and Scotland. For Centuries, terriers fitting the description of the Border were in use by shepherds, farmers, and huntsmen who wanted a game terrier with sufficient leg
to follow a horse in the rugged hill country but small enough to be able to go to ground after marauding hill foxes. Courageous enough to kill his quarry in the den or bolt him from his lair, yet able to fit in comfortably at home when
work was done.

Living Environment:The Border Terrier comes with what I like to call “an OFF/ON switch”. They are energetic, vigourous and indefatigable outdoors but yet relaxed, quiet and settled indoors (provided outside exercise is given daily). As such, they will do well in almost any environement where they can get out and run daily. If left unattended outside, a Border will dig so make sure any fenced areas are properly secured.

Behaviour with Children:Good with children.

Behaviour with other pets: Gets along well with other dogs. Interacts well with cats but will chase them if they run. If keeping any kind of rodent in the house (hamster, gerbles, rats or guinea pigs etc) make absolutely sure that their cages are secure and are not accessible by your Border.

Fatbird and Peedo

Posted in Stories from the old days on October 21, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

This is dedicated to a very special chocolate Labrador called Zulu.  She so affectionately is known by so many names, Zulu, Zebe and my all time favourite Fatbird.  Tedo too has many names, Frog, Dodo and of course his first nickname Peedo.  Zulu is owned by Elisabeth and they reside in Jersey in the Channel Islands.  I am still convinced to this day that Elisabeth only employed me as a travel agent as I had put that I was a dog trainer on my resume.  However, I so gladly accepted the role, especially knowing that I was going to be working with a rather glamorous Frenchbird and her fantastic furry friend, Fatbird.

One of my fondest memories of Fatbird was one particular day that I took to the cobbled streets of Jersey to let her relieve herself.  She was in the habit of leaving rather large gifts behind and this particular day she had decided to leave one of her very special gifts outside of Accessorize!  Completely mortified at the notion that she had decided to drop off her gift right at the entrance, I was even more horrified that I had forgotten to bring a bag!  Now not to dilly or dally here, I shot off in great gusto to the agency to pick up a bag in order that I might retrieve the gift Zebe had left behind.  As I was dashing back down the cobbled streets, I heard someone calling to me.  “Really could this be someone calling for me!”  Sure enough it was, and I had some lady run up to me, waving a bag in her hand, to advise me that she had just stepped in Zulu’s gift.  Seriously could this really be happening.  As she proceeded to attempt to tell me off, I explained to her that I was shooting off to pick up a bag so that I could clean up the mess.  Unbeknownst to me, this lady had already partially picked up the gift with her CROC’s!  Who wears croc’s to work!  Well she did, and she walked straight into the mess.  Luckily for her and I she was carrying her “real” shoes in a bag, which she so kindly gave to me so that I could go back and clean up the mess.

Tedo got his nickname Peedo from Paul (Elisabeth’s other half)  – poor Teds used to pee himself every single time someone new came up to him.  Thankfully he has gotten over that!

Such great memories living in Jersey and of course having the great opportunity to spend the time that I did with Zulu and EB.  Love you both.

Excessive Indulgence and Inappropriate Play

Posted in Running and all that jazz on October 21, 2011 by Vancouver Dog Runner

Excessive Indulgence

Just as neglect and isolation may exert an adverse influence, excessive or inappropriate contact and indulgence can also contribute to the development of maladaptive behavior.   Heightened social dependency may impede a dog’s ability to function independently, thereby impairing its problem-solving abilities.  When performing a simple problem-solving test, dogs most closely bonded with their owners tended to perform worse than dogs having a less intimate bond.  Although moderate amounts of spoiling and pampering are probably not detrimental, excessive dependency-enhancing interaction may adversely affect a puppy’s development, perhaps facilitating the development of certain behavioral deficiencies and problems.  Overly dependent dogs appear to fixate developmentally and remain “perpetual puppies”: they may fail to develop adult like intentional and impulse control abilities, lack appropriate skills, e.g., delay of gratification) need to cope with frustrative situations, respond maladaptively to anxious arousal, and, finally are often prone to exhibit disruptive separation-related behavior when left alone. 

Inappropriate Play

Many behavior problems can be traced to inappropriate play.  Permissiveness toward undesirable puppy excesses like mouthing, jumping up and teasing displays often lead to persistent problems later.  Although there appears to exist a significant independence between aggressive play (e.g., tug games) and serious aggression,  excessive and aggressive tug-of-war and chase games may inadvertently elevate a puppy’s relative competitiveness, increase its aggressive readiness,
and gradually cultivate its confidence to act out aggressively towards humans.  Hard agitational tug games not only develop aggressive readiness and confidence, they also encourage puppies to bite hard and to struggle with a human opponent.  Puppies being raised for bite work as police or military working dogs are routinely agitated with rag play, thereby promoting aggression that is gradually and systematically shaped through various stages into a full attack response.
Structured and pacifying tug games can perform a useful role in the control of playful aggression, the promotion of bit inhibition, and control over aggressive impulses.  To make such play constructive and avoid untoward side effects, the owner should always initiate play, control the direction and intensity of play, and teach the puppy to release the tug object (usually a ball with the length of rope) on command, thereby promoting impulse control and deference.  Once the object is released, the competitive phase of the play is concluded and is immediately followed by the cooperative phase of the game.   The cooperative phase consists of tossing the ball a short distance and encouraging the dog to return with it.  The owner either proceeds to initiate additional tug activity or trades a piece of food for the ball.  Signs of excessive aggressive effort or unwillingness to release the toy should be appropriately discouraged.

Excerpt from Steven R Lindsey