If your dog is exhibiting unwanted behaviour, it is important to determine whether it is a training or behavioural issue. We spoke to Canine Behaviourist, Stan Rawlinson, for his expert advice.
“Many dog owners can have difficulty separating training and behavioural issues. A behaviouralproblem is when the dog is acting in a manner that people find unacceptable. That behaviour could range between aggression, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders and timidity. Training issues are problems like recall, pulling on the lead, jumping up and general obedience. However, some of these training issues could be inter-related to another behavioural issue – that’s why it’s not always easy to separate the two.
Critical periods for training and behaviour
I have found that most training and behavioural problems, unless it is genetic or medical, has its trigger in puppyhood. There are a number of critical periods that pups go through. The most important are in the first sixteen weeks. These two vital periods have the biggest impact on cases of aggression and timidity in later life:
0 to 12 weeks - The Human Socialisation Period
Both the owner and the breeder have an impact on the outcome of any puppy. A minimum of 100 separate people should handle and cuddle your puppy before they reach this pivotal age. This should include children, adults and senior citizens. I cannot emphasise this requirement enough. Almost 90% of all cases of aggression towards people is created from the lack of early socialisation.
0 to 16 weeks - The Canine Socialisation Period
Pups do not learn body language and communication from adult dogs alone, so your puppy must be mixed with other puppies, including puppies outside of their own litter. The boisterous play that puppiesengage in allows them to learn bite inhibition and canine communication. It is the lack of this vital interaction that can cause aggression and fear of other dogs. Most aggressive behaviour is actually fear-based (as opposed to dominance or hormone-based) and therefore neutering is not likely to help and could actually cause the aggression to increase.
Advice for training problems
With training issues, we can normally sort these problems out ourselves without the need for outside intervention, through the consistent use of treats, praise and online help. There are thousands of articles available regarding general obedience training. The two most common are walking to heel and recall training, both of which I have written articles about.
Advice for behavioural problems
Behavioural issues, on the other hand, really need expert intervention. In some cases, a full recovery is possible, but not with all behavioural problems. Sometimes you cannot eradicate the problem you can only control it. Having said that, a well-trained and well-behaved dog, is an absolute treasure and it is certainly worth putting in the effort and work in as early as possible.”
Author info: Stan Rawlinson is a leading professional dog behaviourist and obedience trainer. Recommended by many vets, rescue centres and charities, Stan has written many articles for dog magazines and has appeared on TV, radio and in national newspapers.