Etology

Getting to know the dog

The hierarchy

 

This is an organization that builds itself within the pack.

 

Hierarchy is necessary to establish the different roles within the pack in order to guarantee the survival and continuity of the species.

 

The three groups

 

If the dog has already lived inside a good primary group and has done as much positive experience as possible he will not have any problems integrating with new friends.

 

Primary group

 

The primary group is where the dog lives his first experiences, his development and education will depend on these experiences, and the primary group is also where the dog lives the moment, plays with his brothers and sisters and where he’s lead by his mother.

 

This is the group where he will find security and protection.

 

Group of friends

 

The friends are those people the dog meets on a regular basis, which also include other dogs.

 

Group of strangers

 

Strangers are those people the dog would meet just once in his life.

 

So the dog’s behavior will be this: he will approach, draw basic information according to which he will decide to accept or refuse the relationship.

 

Ethology

 

Ethology is the science that studies animals within their habitat, language and its uses.

 

Comparative ethology is the science that studies the animal in relation to man’s social life, within his habitat, languages and its uses.

 

The pack

 

The dog is an animal that lives inside a social structure, the PACK.

 

Every single member has a specific role, they are also always sure that their signals are well understood by the others, for this reason there will never be the need to be aggressive.

 

Like every other situation, here too we find a hierarchy, the pack leader is head of the organization that coordinates and regulates the different group activities, from playing to hunting, to relaxing and resting.

 

The pack leader does not assert himself but he is wholly recognized by the others for his capacities.

 

He is careful towards the needs of the group, he gives motivation, solves problems.

 

All this allows the survival of the species and the continuity of the pack itself.

 

It is also very important for the dog to live at best this primary group for his development and education.

 

Character

 

The character is the combination of natural or acquired psychological features.

 

By natural we mean existing since birth, by acquired we mean derived from experiences which have been memorized during life.

 

Character regulates the behavior of a dog and determines his reactions.

 

Temperament: the reactivity of the dog to external stimulus and incentives.

 

Attitude: the ability of the dog to bear unpleasant external stimulus, physical or psychological, without letting them negatively affect his behavior.

 

Docility: the ability of accepting man as his natural superior without having to recur to repressive interventions on his will.

 

Surveillance: the ability to feel external dangers for himself and for the man as a leader.

 

Aggressiveness: it can be defined as the ability to react to stimulus that the dog perceives as a menace to himself or even to the people he recognizes as his own.

 

Fighting spirit: the ability to react to an unpleasant impulse with a fighting attitude.

 

Curiosity: the ability of taking interest in a completely natural way into external incentives and into everything around, or better, everything that enters in his ray of action.

 

Sociability: the ability of living with man and his fellow beings.

 

Stress

 

Stress is a negative behavior.

 

It is an accumulation of energy due to a psychophysical under stimulation or over stimulation.

 

Under stimulation is to be intended as a lack or a monotony of incentives.

 

A dog who is often alone or does little physical activity might feel the lack of the pack therefore feel the absence of reference points; this could lead the dog to stress.

 

Overstimulation is due to excessive work, hard work and incessant movement; this can also lead to stress.

 

In other words, stress is either inactivity or a forced excessive activity.

 

These two factors lead the dog to behavior problems that man can only solve by analyzing the causes.

 

A very important element that allows us to recognize stress is the apparent passivity and the lack of relation, which are not to be confused with tranquility.

 

Other stress signals

 

An adult dog, that has already changed two or more owners, or lived part of his life as a stray dog, has probably suffered from bad experiences, if not true emotional traumas.

 

Even our pet dog, if forced to change his life, or in the small and big conflicts among humans and dogs, might go through a critical moment and become anxious.

 

In order to help the dog and avoid the worsening of a contrast it is important to get to recognize the symptoms and signals of fear and anxiety:

 

Insisting with a threatening, aggressive or offended and tense behavior would only lead to worsen the situation.

 

The dog shows stress in several ways and it is only easy to identify it when this emotional condition is already very strong.

 

The most evident and recognizable signals are:

 

Stillness, muscular rigidity, which is often shown with a forepaw slightly lifted from the ground and pressed against the body, often shaking, the head pulled back, lowered or turned.

 

Eyes open wide, tail pressed against the body, ears bended backwards; when we try to get closer the movements become either sudden and abrupt or excessively slow and rigid.

 

Other signals are the panting with their mouth open, the avoiding of physical contact, the running away. Some dogs can also teeth-chatter as in an excess of cold, the youngest and the most subdued ones could also urinate and lay on the floor, showing their belly.

 

In a conflicting situation, for example the dog does not immediately comes back when we call him and he has already been punished for that, stress is shown in an ambivalent way, alternating submissive and fear signals: he wags his tail keeping it low, bends his ears, “smiles”, he bows to play, runs away when we try to reach him, falls on the floor, urinates showing submission when we get him.

 

Stress can also appear in a less comprehensible way: overexcitement, barking, jumping, running, panting and having an excessive reaction to external stimulus.

 

Activities to deal with stress are:

 

Nose work, learning by playing or by necessity.

 

A stressed dog surely has behavior problems and to face these problems we have to analyze the causes and to the stimulus.

 

It surely is a dog that does not give quality responses and this might affect negatively the work we need to do.

 

The leader

 

We have to think about what the dogs expects from us: not just food, but motivation for every action.

 

Therefore, within the pack, these two characteristics allow a member to be the leader of the pack: capacity and preparation.

 

We will then have to be prepared and able teachers in the education of the dog.

 

He learns from us many more things than he can consciously learn, because he knows our signals very well.

 

It is important to always keep in mind that the dog needs firm points of reference, above all if he finds himself in a situation of difficulty, so we have to be his connection.

 

The dog needs a leading cooperator who is firm and confident, that is of a good balance.

 

If you want a dog to love you, respect you but above all willing to cooperate with you, you will have to show him you are able, very competent and obviously not afraid of him.

 

We do not always have to expect the dog to do what we want, we have to give him a command, formulating it as a proposal that will not limit his freedom, this will allow us to work well with our dog.

 

In order to work in a correct way and to make the dog always come by our side, remember that in the pack of wolves the number one (leader of the pack) often gives others the responsibility of a task, when he recognizes that in that specific case they are able to perform it.

 

Therefore, when necessary, we also must able to understand when to to be the leader of the pack and when to leave the dog be the leader.

 

Remember that if you interfere incorrectly in these situations there may be the risk of ruining the good training job done so far.

 

It is then very important to always keep in mind that our job requires: cooperation and definition of roles.

 

The chain

 

The chain is at the basis of the relationship between man and dog.

 

The chain is composed by incentive, answer, and support.

 

Incentive:

 

Everything that we ask the dog to do.

 

Characteristics: the incentive has to be suitable for the dog we’re working with and formulated in a very determined and confident way.

 

Answer:

 

An expression of change, which might be negative or positive according to the incentive.

 

Characteristics: the answer can be negative or positive according to the incentive, when the answer is negative it is often not because of a misinterpretation of the dog, but because of a wrong execution of the incentive.

 

Support:

 

This is the dog’s expectation to his positive answer (gratification).

 

Characteristics: it has to be given immediately after the exercise that the dog has positively performed; this allows the dog to memorize the exercise itself.

 

It is very important that the chain (incentive-answer-support) is not interrupted in order to give continuity to the communication between man and dog.

 

This chain has to be performed with very short reaction time especially between answer and support.

 

The endearing

 

The endearing, together with socialization, is one of the most important phases. If performed correctly they allow us to carry out a very successful training.

 

  1. Primary factors:

 

  1. Dog’s age

  2. Breed

  3. Sex and other factors

 

Dog’s age:

 

This can affect the endearing in a negative or positive way. It will affect it in a negative way if the dog is already in an adult age, presenting negative behaviors due to traumatic experiences during the years.

 

It will affect it in a positive way when the dog is young or still a puppy, who has not undergone traumas yet, this will improve the work done with the dog.

 

Breed:

 

Breeding has to be taken into consideration in order to perform the endearing with the suitable approaching modalities.

 

Sex:

 

In this particular phase, the sex of the dog is very important because attention and achievement are drastically reduced during the heat; this means that the result of the work done during this period of time will be less effective.

 

  1. Characteristics:

 

  1. Perseverance

  2. Determination in the leader of the pack role

  3. Relationship and autonomy

 

Perseverance

 

This is one of the basics of endearing because it guarantees the dog a continuity in the relationship, strengthening his liability to the leader.

 

Determination in the leader of the pack role

 

The leader always has to be recognized at all time, this balance has to be kept unchanged, so in order not to switch roles the leader has to show confidence and determination in the cooperation with the dog.

 

Relationship and autonomy

 

In order to create a good cooperation between dog and man, we need to learn and respect the balances of this relationship.

 

It is true that the dog has to see the leader in us, but it is also true that we do not have to deprive him of that autonomy that he needs, otherwise this would lead to a challenge with the leader and a role switching.

 

The Socialization

 

Verify the characteristics and the control of the right kind of endearing in everyday life.

 

The socialization is carried out by incentives. It involves the preparation of the trainer and confirms its validity by making the dog experience more positive moments with man in different environments, weather conditions and different situations.

 

It is also very useful to prepare the dog to any kind of training.

 

Socialization is when curiosity, temper, resistance and sociability are refined.

 

Important: When the dog is endeared and socialized, he is ready to be trained.

 

The Incentive

 

The incentive is the input stimulating motivation, it is a proposal that we make to our dog without limiting the dos’s freedom. In order to do so the incentive needs to be formulated as follows: it has to be as various as possible (not repetitive), it has to be given in a creative way, as much as specific for the dog as possible, aligned with the circumstances and it also has to be given with determination. The quality of the incentive is more important of the quantity of incentives given.

 

Motivation

 

This mechanism encourages the dog to do and learn:

 

It can be influenced (positively or negatively).

 

Positively: incentive and gratification.

 

Negatively: by genetic and environmental factors.

 

It is very important to know how to achieve and maintain the right level of motivation.

 

Gratification

 

Gratification is the dog’s expectation to every one of his (positive) reactions. It is that condition that makes motivation last.

 

As for the incentive, gratification has to have certain requirements:

 

It has to be given promptly, as soon as we get a positive reaction from the dog;

 

It has to be proportioned to the quality of the dog’s reaction.

 

Gratification can be used in 3 different ways:

 

Giving a reinforcement though food;

 

Cuddling the dog and showing him joy;

 

Gratifying the dog by giving an object he loves very much (very important) to let him play.

 

Taking into account what has been just said, we want to point out how a food reinforcement might be counter-productive during a training because food, being an inhibitor, can lead the dog to get used to it.

 

Gratification through food might want to be used only when able to accurately administer it.

 

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