BARKS from the Guild May 2015

Page 18

COVER STORY

Navigating the Storm

Fearful behavior in dogs is now known to have a genetic component meaning that,

regardless of early learning and environmental influences, some dogs will still find daily life to be challenging and threatening. Mary Jean Alsina outlines what can be done to help

M

these dogs – and their owners - in terms of behavior modification

“I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship.” - Louisa May Alcott

seem completely disinterested in anything around them. They are in survival mode and will do whatever or go wherever they need to achieve safety.

© Can Stock Photo/Absolutimages

any dogs who come into this world quickly learn that there are many storms of which to be afraid. These Nature vs. Nurture storms come in many guises: other dogs, bearded men, At one time, it was believed that genetics did not play a hand in men in general, vacuum cleaners, leaves rustling, visits to the vet determining whether a dog would exhibit fearful characteristics. and a whole myriad of other spooky things. Fearful dogs see the Now, however, it is well-known that genetics, along with environworld around them as a very unsafe environment in which to mental influences, play a large part in a dog's personality and fearlive, relax and enjoy the lives they so deserve. They do not know ful tendencies. Research shows that a pup with even one parent how to steer the ship and so they need our guidance. with a predilection for fearful behavior will be the recipient of As owners, trainers, behavior consultants and fearful genes, even if the other parent is shown to be a stable veterinarians, we can all do our part in helping and “normal” dog. As shown in Neilson’s study (n.d.), fearsuch dogs see the light at the end of the ful pups born to fearful mothers then fostered by statunnel. For some, the tunnel may be ble mothers showed no growth towards a more short, while for others it can be a stable personality. This, unfortunately, contributes to long, arduous journey to come out on the continuation of fearful behavior. Back the other side. However long the jouryard breeders and puppy mills are cerney though, it is in our best interest tainly not concerned with breeding to make sure that dogs exhibiting dogs with desirable personalities, so, fearful behavior are never placed in a unfortunately, fear genes are being position where they constantly have carried on from generation to gento come face-to-face with the eration. object(s) of their fears. In addition, we The study states: “In the 1970s need to show them on a daily basis that, from Murphree and colleagues did now on, their fears will take on an entirely difstudies on the fearful behavior of ferent meaning. pointer dogs. A group of pointer Many times, dogs are observed with their dogs was obtained then the owners and it is quite clear to the trained eye dogs segregated according to that the dog is experiencing fear while their behavior: nervous or unthe owner is, justifiably, oblivious. So stable dogs vs. normal or stamany owners that I encounter in my ble dogs. Nervous were bred training sessions are not even sure to nervous and normal what signs to look for, unless the dog is were bred to normal. Within openly running away from what is scara few generations the nerving them.Yet the tell-tale signs of fear ous dogs showed less exare always present when a dog is feeling ploratory behavior in new A dog experiencing fear and is over threshold. Body lanenvironments, were more a fearful response guage signals can include a lowered needs guidance and likely to freeze at a loud understanding from body, tail down or tucked, ears back, lip noise, and less likely to greet people. Physiohis owner flicking, freezing, dilated pupils, panting, logical differences between the groups of dogs pacing, avoiding eye contact, commis(heart-rate and neurochemistry) were docusures pulled back and yawning among mented. Cross-fostering “nervous” pups onto others. Dogs experiencing fear may “normal” bitches had no effect of behavior. All also not accept food or toys and will bitches and pups were raised and handled in a 18

BARKS from the Guild/May 2015