Whatever the dog's breed, deal with the behavior

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 4/3/11
By: Gail T. Fisher


A visitor to my website left a comment on an article I had written about the “honeymoon period” when adopting a new dog. She wrote: “Rescued Domino Oct 2010- 5 months later, the honeymoon IS over. She was labeled a Terrier/Lab/Retriever mix. She has a desire to chase and shake small animals... do you sense where I am going with this? Everyone just loves to point out that "Oh, she looks to be part Pit" yeah, lucky me, I get to spend the rest of whatever fighting the stigma. More concerning is how we have no way to predict her reaction to guests in our home. Some get a perfect greeting, are instantly accepted. Others get growling, raised hackles, and even after multiple intro's to the same people, no warming up at all (this unfortunately includes my folks). Seems to me your garden variety obedience classes cannot fix this. Am I mistaken?”

There are several issues in this one comment, so let me tackle them individually. The “desire to chase and shake small animals” is by no means limited to any one breed or type of dog. Hunting behavior—that is, shop for (chase) and bring home (kill) dinner—is hardwired into the species. Last year about this time, on a beautiful spring day, I was letting my dogs in from the backyard, and as Kochi, my little 25 pound Sheba Inu mix, ran past me. In my peripheral vision I noticed he had something large and grey in his mouth. It was a live squirrel. Reflexively, I shrieked and hollered, “Kochi, go outside!!”—which, fortunately, he did. I tried to get him to drop the squirrel, but he killed it with a vigorous shake.

Years ago, when I lived in a remote area of Northwood, I was training a Chesapeake Bay retriever—a sporting dog—who was running around in my field. Suddenly, I saw her dive into a hole and out she came with a large groundhog. She shook it and dispatched it with such speed and vigor that it was dead before I could say a word.

Consider Greyhounds, Whippets, and other sight hounds, and all terriers—not just pitbulls—whose job description includes finding or chasing down prey and killing it. My point is that Domino’s behavior in chasing and shaking small animals does not define her breed type. No one should assume a dog is a “pit mix” based on this behavior, even if the dog has a large blocky head. But more importantly, whatever Domino’s DNA, management is the short-term (and possibly long-term) solution to control this issue. Once an owner knows that their dog poses a danger to small animals, it is up to that owner to (a) seek help to eliminate the issue, if possible; and (b) in the meantime, don’t put the dog in a position to be able to do harm.

Finally, about Domino’s greeting behavior, this is definitely something that the owner should seek help from a professional trainer to eliminate. Training an incompatible behavior—that is, a behavior that when Domino is busy doing it, she cannot be growling and menacing people—and desensitizing Domino to whatever it is that causes her to dislike people (which a professional trainer may well be able to figure out), are the best hope. After the honeymoon period, we all want our dogs to fit in with the family. Hopefully this will be Domino’s forever home, living happily and harmoniously for many years to come.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2011. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.