In the enormous number of behaviour consultations I attend to on a monthly basis the majority of the problems in pets is based on the lack of structured schooling in the early impressionable years which is eight to twenty weeks in a puppy. Any canine lacking social skills will develop a multitude of behaviour disorders in adult life. Most of the owners of unsociable and aggressive dogs claimed that they grew up with other dogs and they did their own training – the dog even knew how to sit! It is ludicrous to believe that if any dog is able to sit but will attack a child on a bicycle or kill another dog, has had any form of training, socialisation or discipline.
All reputable dog trainers, accredited animal behaviourists and veterinarians who have an interest in companion animal behaviour will advocate early puppy socialisation classes as a foundation for the long-term prevention, even solution, of the vast majority of behaviour disorders which may manifest themselves in adult life and become serious social and civil problems.
It would be a dream-come-true for every reputable canine handler in any discipline to wear a badge saying “Socialise your pup now! – Ask Me How!” People follow the latter cliché like the rats to the Pied Piper Of Hamlin for health products and cosmetics but when it comes to an animal family member that can develop a life-threatening behaviour problem such as fear aggression with children, visitors or members of the public in the park then the dog owners show scepticism about the need to educate themselves and their pet, hesitancy, arrogance in not believing it could happen with their dog, laziness in making an effort to attend training or training sessions are in conflict with their own family pastimes such as children with horse-riding or the father playing golf. The sceptics often regard puppy kindergarten as a modern lunacy money-making gimmick. If one analyses the fees for training dogs it is really a pittance and not a vocation on which dog trainers can survive full-time. The sceptics never realise the outcome if they do not train—until there is a tragedy. Dog training, puppy socialisation and animal behaviour consultations has never enriched anyone!! It is purely a dedication.
This topic was triggered by the discussion in a recent consultation with the owner of six dogs and three cats. The problem character is a pubertal Neapolitan Mastiff that is trying to kill her resident cats and one small dog, it is fighting with a same-sex Bullmastiff and occasionally growling at its owner. The lady owner is now living with multiple fears – the dog killing her other pets – the dog attacking her. With the undisputed fact that this dog has never learnt social skills, boundaries, structures and owner assertiveness I am told that this dog was raised with all her animals in a loving home and she trained her dog herself. There are multiple issues in this life-threatening scenario. The dog is big enough to kill its owner. Only a person correctly trained in canine behaviour is in a position and advantage in schooling the puppy at home, however, the puppy would have still needed to meet other dogs of different sizes, ages, colours and shapes in public areas in a controlled manner and not be narrow-minded by being comfortable only with the few dogs at home. An owner is not in an instinctive and learned state to identify early emerging behaviour issues. To compound this basic training programme the pup owner would have to be coached for a minimum of two years to learn effective techniques of control, assertiveness, positive reinforcement, exercise, conditioning and discipline.
One cannot home-school a dog successfully. Dogs are gregarious and need enormous exposure, outside the confines of the property, with other people, other animals, certain objects, vehicles, sounds and other worldly experiences – during its impressionable period. A home-schooled dog is limited in social skills, devoid of an assertive pack-leader and has a myopic outlook on life. Sure, the pup gets petted, kissed, loved and endless unconditional attention but these affections are not stimulating, not character-building, does not instil confidence and security and creates a perception in the growing dog that it is self-important and the family members are subservient – which they are, by behaving as they do! Home-schooling can never be structured by the owner sufficiently enough to prevent multiple behaviour problems from puberty onwards such fear of strangers, unprovoked fear aggression, tail-chasing, urinating with excitement, destructiveness, pestering visitors, and the list goes on.
Home-schooling is unfair for puppies as they grow up unequipped to deal with most inevitabilities. Almost all behaviour problems are preventable, very few are curable and due to the latter statement the euthanasia figures of dogs is alarmingly high – in the USA, annually, more dogs are euthanased for behaviour problems than the total population of dogs in South Africa.
The idea behind early schooling of pups is to train the owner. If the owner is informed, the pup becomes educated, socially reliable and a pleasurable companion. The vast majority of pups exhibit good learning ability very quickly, depending on breed genetics and individual acumen – it is the mind-set of the owner that takes ages to train.
Home-schooling of dogs cannot be compared to home-schooling of children. Three percent of children in the USA are schooled at home due to dissatisfaction with schools in the area and parents wanting to show increased involvement with their children’s learning and development. With puppy training if a pet owner is not happy with a particular school, there are other trainers in the area and participating at communal puppy classes is a clear indication of owner involvement in their dog’s learning and development. The home-schooled children have to abide by a legally registered approved curriculum. You cannot teach a puppy from a book or through Dr. Google. There are no home curricula for dogs unless you’re a dog trainer by vocation but the dogs still need to develop social skills as home-schooling induces social deprivation. In remote rural or farm areas the need for home-schooling dogs should be heightened but folk in those areas do not require subscription to dog training classes because there is none to start with but humans who live out in nature are more assertive and they understand that their dogs are dogs and will train them to be obedient, respect the owner’s command, nothing is done without owner permission and the dog has no urge to become a psychological case. That is why there is no need for behaviourists to spread their expertise into these areas. The people in the country know what they are doing – and their dogs respect them. They also have much more space and the opportunity to expend all pent-up energy.
Home-schooling at the owner’s residence has been carried out in a certain manner over many years where a reputable canine obedience instructor trains the owner and dog on site because many people cannot commit to the same time and same day for communal training classes. Professional trainers coming to the house will arrange mutually convenient times especially to ensure that the entire family and pertinent role-players, such as gardener and domestic, are present so that everyone sings from the same song sheet. It is more expensive this way! Irrespective whether a person has a single pup or a multi-canine household it is never too early or too late to teach any dog good manners. Dogs are capable of learning their entire life. Social skills are learnt only in the first five months of life.
A well-behaved and reliable dog is an asset whichever school it goes to. An untrained dog is unreliable, dangerous and life-threatening in two ways (the dog may kill another animal or person and then the dog has to be put down, so two live are lost) and becomes a liability with litigation through tragic consequences. Because so many dangerous behaviours develop from not having the appropriate social skills you cannot do the best for your family or pets by attempting home-schooling – or no schooling!