Choosing a Canine Companion

Posted by:  admin  July 25th, 2014

“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.” Charles M. Schulz

Dog trainer LondonA friend recently mentioned her son was desperate to acquire a dog. His best friend had recently relinquished their dog to a shelter as he had become ‘unmanageable’ at eight months old. My friend was very keen to avoid the same scenario.
Volunteering for several years in rescue and rehoming centres, I've read many of the reasons that result in dogs being relinquished to shelters, the most common being 'cannot cope'. Some puppies of a few weeks or a few months are returned the next day. It seems there is a perception in society of what to expect from puppies and older dogs that is not matched when they are brought home.

It is possible to have a very rich and rewarding relationship with our companion animals, yet they all require a huge amount of time, some current knowledge and expense.

I mention 'current' knowledge, as there is much information on the internet, TV shows and books about dog behaviour, but some of it is out of date and harmful to both dogs and humans because of the methods advocated.

Learning about dog body language before bringing home your companion will help you both in the long term. Dogs of all ages quickly become experts at reading our body language, understanding the implications of our tone of voice and making associations, yet as a species, we have so much more to learn in order to understand our canine companions' communications. As their channel of communication is not verbal in a sense meaningful to us, but rather more subtle (a slight head turn, the briefest lip or nose lick), we need to learn how to view the world from their perspective; why they derive such pleasure from sniffing; how, where or if they like to be touched.

We do know how to give them the best possible start in life, and that the first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life are crucial for socialisation (meeting and enjoying as wide a variety of people and animals as possible in ways which are positive for the puppy), and for habituation: being exposed in a pleasant way to the sights and sounds of urban or rural life. The idea is to help the pup learn to ignore them all, as her first experiences of them has not been scary, so they merely become the background sounds of life with items such as vacuum cleaners, or sudden loud noises.

We also sometimes become bogged down with breeds when in fact current research shows that there are actually more differences within breeds than between breeds. (Clarke, T, Cooper, J & Mills, D, Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 2013, Vol 1, No.2, 16-33). Adopting for temperament would hopefully have more chance of ensuring a lasting relationship.
You may want to consider an older dog, many of whom will already be house trained and generally calmer than a puppy. 

Dog trainer LondonHowever, good puppy socialisation classes where learning is via rewards (which are valuable to the puppy – such as food, play, chew toys), can help create a network of possible playmates and fun-training mates for both you and the puppies. Reward-based fun training enhances learning, and helps create a confident and relaxed dog and human. Punishment – in the form of leash jerks, correction collars etc can create all sorts of problems such as fear-based aggressive behaviour.

There are now many great rubber chew toys on the market which serve several purposes: the puppy learns to entertain herself when you have to leave her for short periods, or when you are busy, she can also be distracted onto them when chewing inappropriate objects.

If you love your garden and want to protect it from an excited dog - selecting a part of if to be her digging area, and which you can make enticing by burying toys including rubber chew toys, will keep you both happy hopefully.
A major reason that dogs are so important to our lives is their high level of sociability. In fact, generally, their ideal life would be to always have companionship. Our busy schedules do not allow this, so factoring in reliable dog walkers who have the same reward-based respectful ethos as you, will further the happiness of your companion.  

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera