Socialising cats and dogs – avoiding conflict
Many passionate animal lovers enjoy keeping both cats and dogs in the home. However, life between these two species doesn’t always run as smoothly as some owners would imagine. Unwanted behaviour can develop when pets have formed separate boundaries to territory and aggression or retreat is the options when a ‘fight-flight’, [adrenaline-response] is triggered.
The conflict scenario is most common when an adopted dog is first introduced into a household that already has existing cats or when a cat is brought into a previous dog-only household.
Some conflict issues dealt with through my clinic have coincided with when people move into a home together.
There can be unwanted behaviours between dogs and cats that have been brought up together, including occasional and unexpected spats that are seemingly unexplainable for some owners. When dogs and cats are apprehensive they will display a mutual distrust during initial encounters and it is not uncommon for rehomed dogs to present an aggressive response, fearful or challenging, towards a cat that has already been established in a home by growling. Cats can growl as a warning although they mostly hiss and spit during conflicts or when they are defending territory.
There can also have been a prior ‘learned chase-response’ in a dog that may have had a previous owner that encouraged aggressive chasing-behaviour in order to deter cats from wandering onto their property. There are dog breeds (including terriers and herding dogs) that will naturally chase cats, since this stimulates instinctive canine predator-prey responses.
Significant changes in homes and territory cannot be ‘explained’ to cats and dogs, and in these circumstances any confused boundaries and alliances with owners can result in confrontational aggression between cats and dogs, or simply withdrawal by cats (even to the extent of them leaving).
Alternatively, some puppies and kittens that are brought up together, and managed appropriately and sensibly, will coexist without conflict. Achieving this ideal means correctly training the dog to respond to instructions and directions, and not to put either dog or cat in situations where disagreement or possessive behaviour is likely to occur. This is often toys or food bowls in areas that both inhabit – especially when owners are not around to supervise.
It’s important to accept that, under fur and cute demeanours, companion pets ARE animals and, genetically, one step away from nature.
Allowing kittens or puppies to pester older counterparts may also result in friction, so be mindful that just because an owner wants them to get along and play together doesn’t mean they always will. Competition triggered through attention from the owner given to one or the other pet can also result in friction between cats and dogs.
We advise owners to offer consistency as regards social hierarchy when giving pets attention. For safety, dogs should be already trained to instructions this can be achieved with clicker and Training discs associated with when the owner interacts with them. Any retraining procedure is likely to work successfully and quickly if it is already introduced and established.
It’s important to accept that animals have all their natural instincts and behaviours either innate (genetic/inherited) or learned – which should be understood in order to manage them safely and appropriately.
If a cat is being introduced to a dog that is known to be generally friendly towards cats, I advise the owner to play a distraction strategy in the initial socialising sessions. This usually involves toy-retrieval or food-searching reward games with the dog controlled on a lead while the cat is allowed to explore in the same room. This usually results in the dog learning that it’s rewarding to ignore the cat.
However, if the dog is known to already present aggression or hyperactivity towards cats, it is important to employ a muzzle [for safety] combined with a Tether system (a training lead attached to a sturdy wall-mounted bracket or to a heavy and immovable object such as a table leg).
Use these aids [avoidance] while distracting a dog as described above within the limits of his tether, should be used as a precaution, so that a dog cannot chase and bite at the cat.
A dog that is displaying positive behaviour towards a cat should be immediately signalled with the clicker and rewarded with special food-treats.
It is rarely practical to keep a dog and a kitten or cat separated in the same home. While they are unsocialised – before any initial contact – avoidance is necessary to prevent conflict.
However, there has to come a time when they will be in close proximity and meet and this comes with potential for fearful or aggression responses. Issues can be countered through controlled-socialisation with the use of food rewards for acceptable response behaviour.
Socialisation periods should be undertaken on a regular basis – every few hours if possible – over a settling period of about four to six weeks. If a dog presents an aggressive response towards the cat, attract its attention (squeaky toy or whistle) and then immediately lead-walk the dog away to separate them.
When a dog is aggressive towards a new cat it is important not to react with any sort of emotional attention as this can make the event, albeit unintentionally on your part, more exciting, thereby rewarding thus reinforcing the dog’s behaviour.
Table of Contents
Case study 1
In a case referred to me by a vet, a rehomed, neutered, Japanese Akita bitch aged four was showing predatory behaviour (mouthing, holding and biting), including two instances of attacks on cats within the household. The first attack took place two months after the dog was rehomed, and the second a month into the retraining programme I’d suggested to the client. Both incidents resulted in the cats needing urgent veterinary attention and surgery. During my initial home visit after referral, it became obvious that the five cats were choosing to live upstairs while the Japanese Akita was being confined to a downstairs room.
A tailored behaviour modification programme required the owner to introduce and condition her dog to a clicker and whistle (linked to reward) and training discs (linked to the removal of reward) communication system (each to be introduced in a sequence).
Controlled owner interaction, structured walks and play sessions formed part of the programme. The introduction of the tether strategy and dog gates was also recommended to offer the cats freedom to more safely roam around the house.
A month into the three-month programme a second cat was attacked and sustained extensive injuries, necessitating a week’s stay at the veterinary clinic for treatment. This attack occurred even though a tether-system was in place. The cat, perhaps encouraged by the controlled movement of the Japanese Akita during a desensitisation period, walked past and the dog grabbed it. The client was preoccupied on a telephone at the time but insists that in observation there was no prior indication that the dog would attack.
The client has since agreed to muzzle the dog when in the home to ensure the cats can avoid injury. This short-term, practical, solution is to be used in the hope that the dog will, in time, become less stimulated by the presence of the cats. The case is on-going, although there is a possibility that the eventual rehoming of the dog to a cat-free household is required
In my experience, once an attack has been presented by a dog towards any animal an instinctive prey-drive, together with any general breed trait, is stimulated, and the chances of a successful behaviour modification programme designed to counter aggression is generally poor. However, some clients are extremely determined – and have the facility – to succeed in changing unwanted behaviour rather than have the dog rehomed or euthanised.
When prey-drive involves chasing livestock, where an immediate solution is required, remote-controlled, citronella spray, collars can be successful in interrupting the response. This is because there can be some prediction of when chase-behaviour is likely to be presented, such as on rural walks, in a situation where owners can be prepared in advance to use interruption methods.
However, when innate prey-drive trigger is unpredictable (such as in the case of a Japanese Akita), it is much more difficult to anticipate the onset of aggression unless owners are prepared to be in a constant state of readiness to act and prevent aggression.
Case study 2
A rehomed Jack Russell Terrier bitch was targeting cats encountered around its home area when being walked on lead.
The owners reported that, on occasions, they were often unaware of a cat being close by until the dog lunged into a hedgerow or pulled at a wall and aggression commenced. In some instances, the dog exhibited continuous vocalisation, including sustained high-pitched yelps and barks.
The owners were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour, not least because it caused them considerable embarrassment during walks.
The Jack Russell was put through a rigid programme which again included using dog gates and tethering in the home in order to create boundaries. Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog was denied window access during daylight hours, to prevent target barking and help to reduce her overall hyperactive behaviour.
This particular Jack Russell was highly food-orientated, so proved biddable to retraining. She responded positively to treats associated with the clicker system from an early stage, but was less receptive to ‘non-reward’ training discs in outdoor situations.
This prognosis is found in most dogs, however, when they are exposed to this method and this opposite sound-signal to the clicker can be an option to change unwanted behaviour in cases.
In one of several one-to-one sessions, the owners approached a cat that was sunning itself opposite their home. In a slow process, which required much patience on their behalf, the dog was kept on a lead within a metre of the cat for a 10-minute period.
The dog commenced some unwanted vocalisation in the first few minutes but eventually this reduced to an acceptable level and ceased altogether after five minutes. The cat, in this instance, did not react or display any fearful behaviour towards the Jack Russell.
Three months into the programme, the Jack Russell’s usual aggressive reaction to cats and previous acute vocalisation behaviour had reduced to low-level interest and, therefore interruptible before hyperactivity could begin.
The drip-feeding of food treats acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.
Case study 3
A Chow Chow, neutered bitch
British short-hair, entire Tom [kitten aged 5 months]
The Chow Chow bitch, previously socialised with an adult cat in the home, had immediately targeted a kitten introduced into the home following the loss of that cat. The owners had resorted to crating the kitten to allow the dog visual contact.
The owners reported that, following unexpected behaviour from the Chow Chow (the dog was presenting a hyperactive and potentially aggressive reaction) was alarming the new kitten.
They were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour and hoped that a behaviour programme would successfully lead to socialising the two companion pets.
The Chow Chow was initially put through a clicker and reward-whistle programme to be untilised for a period of training through positive reinforcement of calm behaviour.
The owners were instructed to introduce a Gripper Lead (® Dogmatic) to develop a Tether-system in the home in order to create restraint. This offered controlled-safety (without their physical interaction) and appeasement to reduce apprehension from the owners being transmitted to the dog.
Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog [controlled] and kitten [free to explore] were to be fed in close proximity to each other.
The Chow Chow was to be offer nutritious, lasting-chews (previously associated with the clicker system) to create calm episodes when the kitten was in close proximity. Scenario sessions were to be introduced in the evening quiet within two weeks of my home-visit session.
Only weeks into the programme, the Chow Chow changed its interaction from hyperactivity to calm interest and socialisation began to develop.
The chews [tripe sticks] acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.
- In desensitising methods, the dog should be first contained in a covered crate or indoor kennel in the room where the controlled introduction can be made. Cats should not be in the room at that time.
- Place a number of different treats (on saucers or in small containers) around the room.
- Introduce one or more new scratching posts and spray these with catnip.
- Then allow the cats to enter and explore the room in their own time. If they use a scratching post and take food it is a significant point of progress.
- Following this initial period of exposure, where some cats will investigate the sides and top of the crate, lead the dog from the crate out of the room and into another part of the home.
- If there has been little aggression in a 15-minute period of exposure, return with the dog after 15 minutes and repeat the process. Introduce the Tether system.
- If there has been much spitting and snarling give the cats an extended period to calm down.
- To reduce the triggers for problem behaviours, don’t give attention to and avoid eye contact with the cat and dog.
- Eventually, providing the initial introduction was problem-free, replace the crate with the tether system (as described earlier) where closer contact can be made.
- In the last step, a member of the family should reward (clicker-treating can be used here if desired) the dog for desired, calm behaviour in ignoring the cat while controlled contact outside of a crate is undertaken.
In escalating situations, cat-chasing behaviour in dogs may be reduced with the use of remote-controlled spray-collars that are based on aversion principles. This can prevent unwanted injuries to both parties. However, it is essential that you consult a trainer as to these collars’ appropriate and timely use (which is critical to their effectiveness) and to show you how to use one correctly.
Dr David Sands
Fellow of the CFBA, Canine and Feline Behaviourist
Emerging from the deep shade of a sandstone outcropping that shelters their flock, three skinny black-and-white dogs warily approach pieces of cantaloupe rind thrown to entice them into the open, sniff, then begin eating, their eyes fixed on the strange Anglos talking with their Navajo owner. I am amazed at how much they resemble a photograph I recently saw of the Basketmaker dog, a rare, complete mummy dating from the time of Christ that was found at White Dog Cave, not far from this hogan, in 1921 and resides at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Travelling through the Navajo Reservation with Hal Black, a zoologist from Brigham Young University, I will observe a dozen more of the dogs, some with buff coats and grey muzzles, but of the same physical type as the 2,000-year-old mummy, as if in this country of wind-blasted sandstone mesas there is no divide between the quick and the dead.
Bred to no particular purpose, the Navajo dogs, that range from fifteen to sixty pounds, live with flocks of sheep and goats they protect from coyotes, other dogs, horses, mules, even strange people who come too close. Most are born among the sheep and goats they accept as members of their own pack, but others are adopted as barely weaned puppies from the ranks of feral dogs (who have severed their bond to humans and grown to fear and avoid them) living around the reservation’s garbage dumps or found on the roadside. I recognize many of them as mutts from modern breeds and dismiss them, not because they are less good as sheep guards, but because I am fascinated with the ancient ones. The latter remind me of the feists and curs of the American South, that are generally believed to descend from the dogs of Native Americans, mixed with those of seventeenth and eighteenth century colonists. It seems incredible that the type could persist for so long without change despite exposure to countless other dogs and I would like to believe that my eyes have deceived me, the way I know when my male Catahoula leopard dog sleeps on his back in a contorted pose resembling the dog from Pompeii zapped in the ash of Vesuvius that the relationship is purely visual.
Back home in Miami Beach, I check with Stanley J. Olsen of the University of Arizona, one of the world’s foremost experts on dog palaeontology and a man given to scepticism regarding claims that certain dogs represent ancient breeds. “Oh, yes,” he says, “those little dogs on the reservation – they look just like the Basketmaker mummy.” He agrees that a comparative study would be interesting, but for now the techniques of genetic analysis are not refined enough to determine whether the sheepdogs are heir to the animals of people who lived in that land of buttes and mesas before the Navajo themselves arrived.
Around the world, there are dogs that have apparently remained unchanged for thousands of years – bred true to type – often on islands where ancient wanderers dropped them, in jungles, parts of the Arctic or relatively remote desert environments like that of the American Southwest, where for long periods they would have come into contact with other dogs rarely, if at all, but also in regions where people have retained a strong tradition of using certain kinds of dog. Some researchers even speculate that many of these dogs are derived from an ur-dog domesticated 10,000 or more years ago from the Indian wolf and carried around the world with migrating bands of people, mixing along the way with indigenous wolves. In its effort to account for the affinities in behaviour and appearance among these unique dogs, this theory oversimplifies the process of domestication and dispersal. Foremost among them and closest to the wolf in appearance and behaviour is the dingo, that first appeared in Australia some 4,000 years ago when seafarers from Indonesia or Southeast Asia beached their dugouts to trade with the Aborigines and lost some of the dogs they carried for companionship and food. The dogs reverted to the wild and became the top carnivore, next to humans, on that island continent, joined over the centuries by other travellers who went walkabout. Although some Aboriginal tribes tamed puppies and kept them as hunting aides and camp guardians, as well as food in times of famine, the dogs bred in the wild and in general behaved so differently from those of European explorers arriving in the eighteenth century that they were called dingoes and declared a separate species.
The New Guinea singing dog, now nearly extinct on its home island, is said to be a dingo of sorts, as are the pariahs, the ownerless dogs who live around towns and villages in Southeast Asia and even some of the Native American dogs. A number of Middle Eastern and African dogs are similar in appearance, but probably domesticated from different subspecies of wolf. The Canaan dog from Palestine was a pariah used to guard and herd sheep until the 1930s, when Rudolphina Menzel, an expert on dogs who, with her husband Rudolph, had fled Hitler’s Germany, consolidated it into a breed for use as a messenger, tracker, search-and-rescue dog and guide dog. Among the !Kung San bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, those who hunt with dogs – medium-sized buff or piebald animals – bring home 75 percent of the animal protein their band consumes. Pygmies use little hounds (refined by English and American breeders, they are called basenjis) to hunt birds and other game. On Sicily and in Portugal are graceful prick-eared hounds that appear to have changed little for several millennia.
In fact, dogs like these are sought by collectors in increasing numbers, because they are deemed “primitive” – more quintessentially dog in their abilities and demeanour than the “refined” European and English breeds: pointers, retrievers, toys, terriers and other denizens of the show ring. Even the various curs and feists of the American South and the Arctic sled dogs are often called “primitive.” Despite all the rationalizations and examples used to support the distinction, it primarily refers to dogs that are more generalist in their talents, independent in their habits and relatively free of disabling genetic defects compared with those selectively bred for specific traits, size, colour and specialized talents like pointing. Since many are country dogs, they are deemed exotic or rare, when taken as pets. I prefer the word “basic” to “primitive”, because it bears less cultural baggage. It also recognizes that types like the Alaskan husky and curs have, over the years, received infusions of new blood without losing their distinguishing characteristics. Huskies retain their tough feet, somewhat wolfish appearance and habits as sled dogs despite the presence in their midst of individuals with lop ears and thinnish coats. Coming in a range of sizes and colours, curs are identified by their ability as herders, hunters that trail and tree, occasional pointers and guardians, as well as by their general deep-chested build.
In Australia, dingoes are currently hybridizing freely with domestic dogs, raising concerns that they will become extinct. Hybridization occurs most frequently in areas where human predation has created a shortage of available dingo mates, meaning humans can help reverse the process by ending the senseless slaughter. To the dingo, however, hybridization has always offered life, not extinction. In the centuries before Anglo settlement, it interbred, especially along the coast, with dogs arriving, as its forebears had, with Southeast Asian and Indonesian traders. Like those early hybrids, many of the ones produced today are virtually indistinguishable from dingoes into whose society they are born. The dingo phenotype and culture prevail, leading me to conclude that the obsession with curbing interbreeding has less to do with preserving the dingo than with maintaining old notions of blood purity. Such a view is heretical in the world of wildlife protection, but the dingo is a dog that went wild because of the circumstances in which humans left it; if it changes in relationship to new human-made conditions, it is simply being a dog.
Whatever terms we use, the attempt to draw clear distinctions between basic and pedigree show dogs or even between breeds, reflects our continuing attempts to understand the animal that shares our lives more intimately than any other. Under funded and assigned low priority by palaeontologists, archaeologists and evolutionary biologists, whose efforts are directed more toward examining issues relating to humans, extinct and endangered species, and those efforts proceed in fits and starts, like a dog trying to fix on a cold trail.
Whether read on cuneiform tablets, scrolls, bas-reliefs, paintings, books, film, or the flickering pixels of cyberspace, divined from bones or mummified flesh, deciphered from the genes, what we know remains an unstable mixture of fact and received wisdom, which is too often accepted as revealed truth. As biologists decipher the dog genome – the genetic blueprint that makes it unique – archaeologists open new sites and behaviourists deepen their knowledge of dog and wolf behaviour, the story will doubtless become, paradoxically, more clear and complex. On a practical level, I hope that this knowledge will lead to a revolution in breeding that will bring an end to the production of mutant animals fit only to serve human vanity and create animals of good health and temperament, sound minds and abundant talent. Bred to type, like the sheep guards of the Navajo, the curs and huskies, these dogs would show considerably more variability than is allowed in the narrowly prescribed physical standards of show dogs, like the Pekingese, malamute or any of the other 140 or so pure breeds recognised by the American Kennel Club.
Enough has been learned over the past three decades to allow concerned breeders and trainers to make dramatic improvements, but more must be done. The chief drawback to that reform, one expert told me, lies in inadequate dissemination of the information at hand and continued reliance on folk wisdom that views inheritance and behaviour in overly simplistic terms. I would add to that list an unwillingness among many people involved with dogs to change their ways.
What we know is this: The dog is a subspecies of the wolf altered over more than fifteen millennia by selective breeding. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, have shown no distinctive differences between wolf and dog or even between breeds of dog, no matter their shape and size. (DNA fingerprinting does allow scientists to identify individual dogs, but not their breed or type.) The New Guinea singing dog and dingo appear to have one or two distinctive genetic markers, perhaps due to thousands of years of island isolation, but they are not significant enough to distinguish them as separate species. Contrary to theories set forth in the past and still repeated in some quarters, no contributions were made by jackals, coyotes, foxes, otters or bears, nor were there any ur-dogs that appeared suddenly on the earth and then vanished into the bosom of domesticity, like a dog Adam and Eve. Our dog is formally Canis lupus familiaris.
Canis means “dog” in Latin, so the dog is technically a domesticated wolf, which is a wild dog. Canis lupus is one of thirty-four living species grouped in Canidae (the dog family) of the order Carnivora, which also includes Ursidae (bears), Mustelidae (weasels), Procyonidae (raccoons), Ailuropoda (pandas), Otariidae (sea lions), Odobenidae (walruses), Phocidae (seals), Felidae (cats), Viverridae (civets) and Hyaenidae (hyenas).
Collectively the carnivores are intelligent animals that care for their young and possess relatively large dogs for killing, carnassials – the first molar on the lower jaw and last premolar on the upper – for rending flesh and molars for crushing bones. They have four to five toes with claws that are retractable in the cats, except the cheetah, and not in the others. All lack the opposable thumb, even those with five digits. In dogs, the fifth toe of the fore and hind feet has become a dewclaw, although some breeds have no rear dewclaws while others, especially among the French sheepdogs and some yellow blackmouth curs, have two on each foot. Dogs and cats walk on their toes; bears on their heels and soles. Classification, being a less than exact science, some of these carnivores are omnivores and one, the panda, eats bamboo. Still, among this group are the top terrestrial predators, next to humans – the only natural enemy of many of them.
Canids – members of the dog family – began to distinguish themselves from other mammalian carnivores some 50 to 60 million years ago, almost immediately upon their first appearance following extinction of the dinosaurs. These animals were miacids – ferret – to fox-size creatures with a longer body than legs, tails and those mashing and cutting teeth. Miacids gave way to larger creodants with five distinctive toes. Around 15 million years ago in the Western Hemisphere, another fox like animal, Hesperocyon, appeared, walking on its toes. From there the line passes through Leptocyon, believed to be the common ancestor of wolves and foxes. Canis lepophagus, whose remains were found in Texas and dated to the Pliocene some 5 million years ago, might be the forerunner of the wolf like canids. From their origins in what is now North America, early canids migrated to Eurasia, Africa and South America.
By the best current estimates, 7 to 10 million years ago the dog family began to divide into the broad groupings we see today: the wolf like canids, South American canids, red foxes, and miscellaneous. The foxes, miscellaneous and South American canids have different numbers of chromosomes from the wolf like canids and do not figure in the evolution of the wolf, although the South American bushdog (Speothos venaticus), which dives under water, has been domesticated occasionally.
The wolf like canids have seventy-eight chromosomes and could conceivably all be classed as Canis, but two are not: Lyacon pictus, the African wild dog, with four toes front and back and the highly variable markings usually associated with domestic dogs and Cuon alpinus, the dhole or red “dog”, native to Asia and India. Those grouped in Canis are the wolf (lupus); golden jackal (aureus); side-striped jackal (adustus); black-backed jackal (mesomelas); Simien jackal or Ethiopian wolf (simensis); coyote (latrans) and red wolf (rufus). The huge dire wolf (Canis dirus) rose and fell during the Pleistocene, while its cousin, the gray wolf, flourished.
Although the wolf, coyote and golden jackal probably diverged 3 to 4 million years ago, they can mate and produce fertile offspring. Largely because of its geographic isolation in eastern and southern Africa, the African wild dog (also known as the Cape hunting dog) went its separate way about the same time. All of these canids have strong jaws and the relatively big teeth typical of carnivores, as Little Red Riding Hood discovered! Their legs are adapted for loping or trotting long distances, with the exception of the mutant domestic dog breeds and running for shorter periods with bursts of speed. As a general rule, they show a marked propensity toward pack or group behaviour. They also communicate vocally through a variety of calls, physical posturing and scent marking. Their olfactory abilities are superb, as is their hearing. They have excellent peripheral and night vision, as well as high sensitivity to light and movement. Dogs, wolves and perhaps other canids, see fairly well at a distance and discern colours, although not as acutely as humans.
Observers have long argued that wolves and dogs possess some sort of extrasensory perception that allows them to sense the moods of humans or prey, to locate someone at a distance, to anticipate the arrival of a master, pack member or quarry, to discern when they are nearing their destination, even if riding in a closed car. Of particular fascination to a number of experts is “psi trailing,” the apparent ability of an animal to find its owners after they have left it and moved to a place it has never been before. ESP is, of course, a term human’s use for any psychic phenomenon beyond their explanation and so its use with canids is probably irrelevant. It is fairer to say that canids live in a perceptual universe far different from ours and that we are unaware of many of the olfactory and auditory signals they detect. Both dogs and wolves respond to higher frequencies than humans; wolves reportedly can hear sounds on the Alaska tundra from a distance up to ten miles.
No one knows how many subspecies of Canis lupus have existed. Estimates range from twenty to forty. Part of the difficulty, as with defining breeds of dogs, is that wolves are highly variable in size, coloration and behaviour. In addition, heavy human predation has seriously diminished their numbers worldwide, making it difficult even to determine with accuracy what has been lost. Due primarily to heat and parasites, wolves tend to be smaller in southern than in northern latitudes, so that the little Arabian wolf and the red wolf are in the forty-five-pound range, while the Arctic grey wolf regularly exceeds one hundred pounds. The Arabian wolf seems to howl rarely and generally hunts alone or in small groups. Indeed, many of these subspecies have been studied little; more than a few cannot be examined at all, except in their remains. Thus, we will probably never know how the behaviour of specific wolves is reflected in the dogs derived from them millennia ago.
Fossil evidence from Zhoukoudian, China, shows Homo erectus pekinensis, the elusive Peking or Beijing man, was sharing time and space, food and shelter with wolves (generally classed as Canis lupus variabilis) at least 500,000 years ago. Remains of Homo erectus and wolves have also turned up in Boxgrove in Kent, England, dated to 400,000 years ago and Lazeret in the south of France, 150,000 years ago. It is more likely that throughout the Northern Hemisphere these precursors of modern humans and wolves lived and hunted in close proximity than that these three sites represent an accidental accumulation of old bones. Beyond that, we have only questions and surmise, especially since we know less about our prehistoric forebears than we do about wolves.
Relatively short, with slightly smaller brains, flatter skulls, more prominent brow ridges and a noticeably more protruding jaw holding larger teeth than humans, these hominids were probably semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who colonized much of the world. They had stone tools to help them butcher their kill for cooking. The fossils found at Zhoukoudian indicate that the brains of their compatriots – or competitors – made up at least part of their diet. In the main, however, early hominids were omnivores, deriving an estimated 60 to 80 percent of their calories and protein from nuts and vegetables.
Even estimated dates are in dispute, however, so it seems fair to say that sometime around 200,000 years ago archaic humans, Homo sapiens, emerged in Africa. They possessed significantly larger brains than Homo erectus, whom they supplanted and made superior stone weapons with which they hunted big game. Whether Neanderthals, who emerged around 100,000 years ago and vanished 70,000 years later, were a separate human species or a stocky, heavy-browed, big-brained cousin of Homo sapiens – the way the dog is a subspecies of wolf – is not yet clear, but these powerful Ice Age hunters were also found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, slightly different beings arose, modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) with brains wired for invention and the drive to remake the world. More precisely, our ancestors showed up with a more highly developed and enlarged basal neocortex (believed to be involved in ethical and social behaviour, as well as formation of personality) than their predecessors.
As humans colonized the world, some of them became – especially in the Arctic, Patagonia, the Great Plains of North America and steppes of Asia – predominately carnivorous in response to ecological conditions. (The polar bear, which evolved as a separate species 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, shows a similar adaptation, becoming the only solely carnivorous and semi-aquatic bear.) In the main, however, they moved in small bands of approximately twenty-five men, women, and children, taking most of their calories from plants and nuts.
From my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember portrayals of early humans as people terrified of the world and its animals, living a marginal existence on the edge of death by starvation, exposure or assault. Since then, we have come increasingly to perceive those ancient hunters and gatherers as having had a rich culture and diet. They moved through their world as easily as we navigate ours, only in that world the boundary between human camps and nature was highly porous. Hunter-gatherers viewed animals as beings with their own habits, cultures and souls, making many of them totemic figures, the way we invest in material objects like cars and houses or famous humans with special status, not to mention God in his various guises. Early humans tamed nearly every animal they came into contact with and that impulse to collect animals has remained as strong as the related impulse to hunt them; in fact, it is no mistake that some of the most ardent conservationists have been hunters, which is not the same as saying that all hunters are conservationists – far too many of them are not.
Even with weapons, hominids and early humans were not natural hunters and so they would have scavenged carnivores’ kills and also looked to them for guidance on how to bring down their own meat. They turned not to the bear, another omnivore, nor to the cats, but to animals – wolves and African wild dogs – that, like them, hunted in packs to bring down game much larger than themselves. Humans wanted those heavy animals for the same reasons wolves did: They provided enough meat to feed the group for days.
Wolves and humans do not talk the same language – I assume, as do many enlightened naturalists, that all animals possess language, defined here as the ability to communicate through verbal or visual signs – but they understand each other to a remarkable degree. By the look on their faces, the tilt of their ears, position of their tails and bodies, wolves convey a great deal about their mood and intent that humans can interpret. Like humans, wolves possess associative minds and wanderlust. The social structure of their packs and their habits of nurturing and educating their young parallel those of human groups.
People adopted wolf puppies that were orphaned or that they or their children lifted from dens during explorations. Women nursed the youngest of those puppies the way they suckled their own children. Not surprisingly, some of those hand-raised wolves hung around their adoptive family, becoming companions to the children or even the young men who played with them and learned to hunt with them. The tamed wolf took to the village as its home, alerting people to danger, the way it warned its own kind if a stranger approached the den – by barking. In some regions – for this process was occurring in many parts of the world – when food got scarce or if a spirit needed to be propitiated, people sacrificed and ate the wolf; if it proved a foul-tempered ingrate, it was driven off or killed.
The wolves who became the tamest and lingered around the camps were those that were in personality the most social and least fearful. Mating with each other and free-ranging animals living near the camps, the tamed wolves produced, over time, a population with a high overall level of sociability, a group of fellow-travelling wolves. Under no breeding pressure from humans, allowed to come and go as they wished, they retained their wolfish look and demeanour.
Near the end of the Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age, our direct forebears developed better, sharper stone blades, the atlatl for throwing spears and around 18,000 to 20,000 years ago, the boomerang (subsequently isolated in Australia) and the bow and arrow. These weapons allowed hunters to kill larger animals with greater ease from a longer range. Around the same time, in many parts of the world humans took up fishing and established semi-permanent villages with populations larger than their traditional bands, constructing their homes of the materials at hand: wood, earth, stone, skins, mammoth tusks. They developed better ways to carry water, food, firewood and pelts back to camp: baskets, ceramic pots, sledges, toboggans and travois. Boats extended the distances they could travel in search of food and in trade for furs, tools or ceramics. These humans also turned the tamed wolf into a dog, the first fully domesticated animal, meaning its evolution and breeding became directed more by humans than by nature.
The circumstances in which our forebears found themselves changed dramatically – in part because of their activities – between the last glacial advance, which peaked around 18,000 years ago and the end of the Pleistocene some 8,000 years later. At their maximum, glaciers in eastern North America extended south over what are now the Middle Atlantic states and in the west covered Alaska, western Canada, Idaho, Washington and Montana. In Europe, Scandinavia, Denmark, most of Great Britain, Poland, Germany and Russia were under ice. Glaciers embraced the Alps and Dolomites, covering what are now Switzerland and sections of Austria, France and Italy. Bordering the ice sheets were dry steppes and grasslands supporting herds of animals, including mammoths, reindeer and giant bison. Among the predators hunting them were sabre-toothed tigers, scimitar cats, dire wolves, grey wolves and humans with their wolf dogs. In some areas, the wolf dogs resembled short-faced wolves, that is, they were barely distinguishable from dogs.
As glaciers retreated, the earth warmed and sea levels rose, reconfiguring shorelines, flooding the Bering land bridge between the Americas and Eurasia. Established ecosystems collapsed while new ones emerged. Heavy rains turned solid land to marsh, lakes dried up, steppes and grasslands turned to forests and the great inland sea of North America, with its lush marshes, became a high desert, the Great Plains. As many as forty species of mammals vanished, especially of the huge predators and prey, among them mammoths, mastodons, great-horned bison, giant rhinoceroses, giant sloths, cave bears, dire wolves, all the sabre-toothed cats and the armadillo-like glyptodonts. Others, like the horse and camel, disappeared from North America, finding refuge in Eurasia or the Southern Hemisphere.
To a degree we cannot yet determine that paleo-hunters contributed to the extinction of some of those large animals, like the mammoths, giant bison and rhinos, with hunting techniques that included driving them off cliffs or into bogs where they were slaughtered, baying them up with wolf dogs so they could be filled with arrows. In turn, their demise hastened that of the giant predators who fed on them. But many of those animals, especially the predators, also appear to have reached an evolutionary dead end, because they were unable to adapt to a world that had turned suddenly warmer and in some cases, to the loss of their preferred food. Their populations stressed, they were pushed over the brink by human activities, but we must not overestimate the force behind the shove. Humans with bows and arrows and atlatls, no matter how skilled, cannot drive a vibrant population to extinction, as we can see by observing how little impact the Plains Indians of North America had on the bison herds during the centuries they hunted them without horses and guns – and that is just one example. Even with those weapons, the bison endured until white commercial and sport hunters slaughtered them by the thousand for their skins. (Curiously, the Plains Indians do not seem to have used dogs in hunting bison, although they kept hundreds in their villages and donned wolf pelts while stalking their prey.)
The animals that survived the turmoil at the end of the Pleistocene were the smaller, less specialized, more mobile ones: humans, grey wolves, lions, the smaller ungulates, downsized elephants, rhinos and horses. Their size left them better suited to the warmer, damper world emerging with the retreat of the ice.
Disruptions caused by the changing climate and vanishing game fuelled the trend toward different settlement and dietary patterns. In some regions, groups of people realized that in the midden heaps and latrine areas of their camps, food plants they usually harvested from the wild were sprouting and flourishing. Combined with diminishing wild supplies, the bounty reinforced their inclination to return to the same campsites repeatedly to prolong their stays; humans, like other animals, being creatures of habit and territory.
Coincident with these cultural developments, humans began deliberately breeding their wolf dogs. They culled those that were unsocial or overly timid, thereby increasing the likelihood that subsequent generations would be as easily socialized. In the process, they turned the wolf into a dog. The humans wanted a guaranteed supply of reliable animals; the wolf dogs wanted security and society.
In many parts of Eurasia, North America and northern Africa, tamed wolves had proven themselves as hunting partners, but they became more difficult to obtain as people settled into permanent villages, were prone to moving off when they felt the call to mate and were maimed or killed in combat with large, fierce animals. At a time when hunters had to turn to other species, they needed, more than ever, to be guaranteed the assistance of an animal that excelled at scenting, tracking, and holding game or driving it into ambush. With their speed and agility, the dogs could handle anything from bears to birds, deer, elk, sheep, oxen and buffalo. They also could help guard the village against marauders.
Because no one had many tame wolf dogs – the entire human population of the world at the time was probably around 10 million – efforts to breed them dramatically narrowed the gene pool. For reasons we do not yet understand, that constriction had the effect of releasing the phenotypic variability inherent in the wolf, creating smaller, larger, differently marked animals. Slight genetic mutations – those for lop ears or a particular coat, for example – could rapidly be fixed in a line of dogs and then passed on, allowing bands to develop distinctive animals they could easily differentiate from wolves, a necessity after domestication of sheep and goats.
Although involving a biological process, creation of the dog was fundamentally a cultural act, like making tools, weapons and baskets. Bands in one region turned their captive wolves into dogs and then traded them, the way they bartered other goods or gave them as gifts during ceremonial exchanges. The knowledge of how to tame wolves was transmitted by people who were travelling. They also mated one of the dogs accompanying them to an animal in another village. Within a few generations, a general type of dog could have become well established and spread fairly widely.
Dogs were valued precisely because they possessed the stellar abilities of the tame wolf, but were less inclined to go their own way. The dog was as adaptable as the wolf to different climates and it was versatile enough to fit a range of needs. In addition to hunting and serving as dinner, dogs sounded a warning when someone approached, helped keep the camp clean of garbage and their people warm. They were playmates for children, totem objects for adults, as were nearly all animals that figured prominently in people’s lives. They exhibited a talent for finding their way home no matter what the conditions, which made them in some societies valued guides for the dead to the next world and for helping people in times of need – pulling them from the water, protecting them from attack by other people or animals. Wounds they licked seemed to heal miraculously, a fact that finds expression to this day in the saying “as clean as a hound’s tooth.” They also would breed with tame wolves that were still brought into camp – a bonus. It is not surprising that people domesticated the wolf thousands of years before any other animal and that many of them, especially the hunter-gatherers, kept only dogs.
For centuries, Americans and Europeans have underestimated the importance of the emergent dog as a food source, although that was probably one of its earliest functions. Many Native Americans ate puppies, considered the most delectable, on feast days or to honour special visitors and a number of traditionalists continue the practice. The Aztec and other people in South and Central American and the Caribbean also relied heavily on dog meat for their animal protein, frequently from animals that were castrated and fattened for the purpose. Throughout Asia and Oceania, the dog has remained a highly desirable meat, frequently the primary source of animal protein. During the 1988 Summer Olympics, the South Korean government requested butchers to move their dogs, who can sell for $200 apiece – the price of some hunting dog puppies in the United States – from display in their windows so as not to offend American and European sensibilities. On walks through New York’s Chinatown, I have seen dog carcasses hanging in the windows of butcher shops.
Throughout Europe, prehistoric people appear to have eaten dog, although at some point their descendants stopped, taking it up again only when no other food was available. Even then, they often did so reluctantly. Travelling along the Columbia River to explore land the young United States had acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their men ate dogs provided by local Indians in the winter of 1806 to supplement their meagre rations. Clark wrote that after overcoming their cultural bias, many of them became “extremely [sic] fond of their flesh.” Lewis preferred it to venison or elk; although not personally “reconciled” to the taste, Clark admitted that he and the men were stronger and healthier for having lived on dogs than they had been for months. Other travellers filed similar reports.
By 15,000 years ago, people around the world were raising dogs, with the centres of activity being northern Europe, including England, northern North America, especially the Arctic region, the Middle East, China, Japan and Siberia. Presently, the earliest fossil called a dog comes from Obercassel, Germany and dates to 14,000 years ago, the late Pleistocene or upper Palaeolithic. (Pleistocene refers to the geological age; Palaeolithic to the human culture.)
Trying to piece together the puzzle of simultaneous domestication around the world, experts assigned certain broad types of dog to specific subspecies of wolf based on perceived morphological similarities and assumed areas of origin. It is a rough evolutionary tree that we hope will be refined as the tools of genetic analysis become more sophisticated.
Canis lupus pallipes, the small Indian wolf, probably gave rise to the dingo and its kin: the Asian pariah dogs, the New Guinea singing dog and related Pacific Island dogs. It could also have contributed to a few of the Native American dogs. Despite exposure to other dogs, the pariah has bred true to its original dingo type for at least 5,000 years.
Canis lupus arabs, the equally small and closely related Arabian or desert wolf – it and the Indian wolf are now sometimes considered the same subspecies – might have been progenitor of the sight hounds, the basenji and small-game hunters of southern Europe and a number of dogs indigenous to the Middle East, like the Canaan dog of Israel and pariahs who hang around villages as scavengers and guards. Many of these animals are similar to dingoes in size and appearance, leading some people to suggest that they might, in fact, have a common origin.
Canis lupus chanco, the woolly Chinese wolf, is the possible source of the chow chow and assorted Asian toy breeds, as well as the mastiffs, believed to have originated in the Himalayas, whose bloodlines were ultimately joined by descendants of the European wolf. Although this association is the most speculative, Canis lupus hodophilax, the extinct little Japanese wolf, probably figured in the creation of dogs like the shikoku, kai, the shiba inu and other indigenous breeds.
Canis lupus lupus, the European grey wolf, lies at the foundation of various herding, guard, and spitz-type dogs indigenous to Europe, as well as some of the terriers, believed to have originated in the British Isles. Along with the North American grey wolf, it is also progenitor to the Eskimo dogs and many Native American dogs, with an assist in some cases from animals crossing the Bering land bridge with migrating people.
The one apparent exception to this rule of wolf origin, which nonetheless proves that domestication was a process occurring around the world, is the Falkland wolf (Dusicyon australis). In The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), Charles Darwin described Falkland wolves as so fearless and tame that they would invade campsites at night and steal meat from under the heads of sleeping shepherds and sealers. Taking advantage of that behaviour, the men would offer each visitor a piece of meat with one hand and knife it with the other. By the turn of the century, the little twenty to thirty-pound animals, which had fed on birds until the arrival of white men, were all dead. Within the past decade, however, Robert K. Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has contributed greatly to understanding canid evolution, conducted mitochondrial DNA analyses of one of the few pelts still in existence and his results indicated that this extinct animal is most closely related to the coyote. Since coyotes, a North American native, could not have gotten to those remote islands by themselves, the findings lend support to a theory that the little canids were brought to the Falklands by humans some 6,000 years ago.
© 1997 Mark Derr All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-8050-4063-3
No breed seems to be free of dilemmas. For some it begins with the conflicts that continue among club members or the breeders who question the carrier status of stud dogs or the offspring they produce. Others believe it is the lack of quality observed in the winners, the growing number of carriers or the increase in dreaded diseases. Whatever it is, when breeders gather, the dilemmas for their breed usually dominate their conversations. Regardless of the topic, however, the solutions rest with the breeders and the elected officers of their clubs. They have the power to change and create their breed’s reality. A look at the big picture suggests that it all boils down to whether they will choose to continue on a path of trial and error or whether they are willing to try and make a difference.
Over the past three decades the sport of dogs has steadily increased in popularity. More than 15,000 events are held annually that involve 1.5 million exhibitors in addition to those who attend as spectators. In such an environment it is not easy to see why so many breeds are entering a critical period in their destiny. The facts show that with this kind of growth there also comes an increase in the number of inexperienced breeders and a continued rise in health and conformation problems.
Analyses of many breed problems suggest that some of their most important problems are not so obvious. For some, it is the lack of quality in the dogs being bred. For others, it is the lack of skills needed to manage and exhibit what they own, but in general, the lack of training in the fundamentals of how to breed and manage what they keep continues to persist. What breeders keep should be given more attention when you considering that 60% of the top dogs in most breeds are not owned by their breeders. This suggests a lack in the skills necessary to recognise the better pups when they occur.
When all of these problems are combined they produce what many believe are the primary reasons for the reduction in breed quality and the decline in the size of many gene pools. All of this is happening despite the advances being made in technology and the improvements that have occurred in health testing and nutrition.
This lack of progress can be traced to a fundamental problem. Surprising as it may be, it is not the lack of information or willingness to act that hinders progress. It is the persistence of outdated beliefs and attitudes that are based on folklore and myth. According to Padgett (1991), most breeders continue to believe that the dogs they own are genetically normal. This, he says, is because of the investment of time and money they have in their stock that they do not wish to see diminished. For these reasons, most usually avoid talking about problems when they occur, therefore, when the opportunity occurs to notice one or more trends in their kennel, they keep the results a secret. In the meantime the knowledgeable breeders work alone and their isolation makes little or no impact on their breed outside of their own kennel. This scenario seems to produce one of the greatest dilemmas facing most breeders and their clubs.
A closer look at this situation suggests that most breed problems rest on the shoulders of the bitch owners, because they control the mating’s, produce the pups and sell them to their new owners. In short, they have both the power and the influence to determine quality or the lack there of. They hold not only the keys to the gene pool, but also to the future of their breed.
What makes their problem solving so difficult begins with what they believe to be true. It is because there is a prevailing attitude that most dogs are genetically normal, when an abnormal pup occurs or a recessive gene expresses itself, most avoid talking about it. Those who talk about their problems are considered to have dogs that are less than average or perhaps abnormal. These attitudes prevail and are passed along from one breeder to the next, thus it is easy to see why problems and many diseases have not been eliminated. For example, it has been reported (Padgett) that the average number of defects in most breeds may be fourteen, which has not seemed to concern many clubs, but this statistic takes on more meaning when comparisons are made to specific breeds. For example, the German Shepherd Dog has at least 7 defects, while the Pekinese are known to have 14 and Beagles 31, which is more than twice the average, but significantly less than the highest, which is the Rhodesian Ridgeback with 58. Other breeds with high numbers of defects are Cocker Spaniels with 52 and Bull Dogs with 44.
In this environment it is not surprising to find that the problems of most breeders and their clubs are not in reaching their goals, but in establishing them. As mentioned earlier, the root of these problems can be found in the misguided belief that most dogs are without defective genes. After years of this kind of thinking, the impact on many breeds has become predictable.
Since reliable estimates have not yet been developed for each breed, health histories and breeder behaviour have become the next best alternatives. While individuals working alone cannot solve breed problems, organisations such as the AKC in conjunction with national breed clubs (parent club) can develop programmes that can make a difference. Using new technologies and ideas, stronger education programs can be developed. It is especially important that they reach the novice who continues to use outdated trial and error breeding methods. For too many, the words “pedigree analysis” remains just a phrase. Unless the novice gets help, breed problems will worsen and the number of carriers will continue to increase. As their frequency multiplies, more dogs will become inferior. Out of this scenario comes a breed’s worst problem. One that first begins by repeating itself over and over until it prevails. It begins when breeders can be heard to say, “it’s just another problem of the breed”. This scenario, when repeated year after year, serves as a reliable signal that skill levels are dangerously low. For example, there are growing numbers of breeders who produce pups of such poor quality that they must sell them on limited registrations or on spay/neuter contracts. Both actions send a signal to the buyers that quality is low. As large numbers of breeders begin to sell pups this way, the number of registered dogs in their breed declines and their gene pools begin to shrink. This problem is becoming more widespread than previously thought. It translates into what some believe will become the demise of several breeds. For example, in 2002 there were 38 breeds that registered fewer than 100 dogs each year for five consecutive years (1997 – 2002). As seen in Table 1, there were only 4 exceptions to this trend among these breeds. More importantly, there were 44 breeds that registered fewer than 100 litters each year for this same five-year period. This five-year downward trend for both dog and litter registrations points to another issue. It is called survival. The data suggests that for some breeds there is a possibility for extinction that could occur within the next ten years.
The dilemma of declining registrations in a breed signals yet another symptom, which perhaps is an even greater problem, than being the decline of gene pool diversity. Twenty-three of the 38 breeds listed in Table 1 showed a steady decline in registrations and are candidates for a loss of gene pool diversity.
The AKC and its breed clubs collectively spend millions on health research aimed at the reduction of health problems including the carriers. In such an environment problems should be getting smaller not larger. Standing in the way, however, seem to be four problems that complicate matters. First, the widespread attitude that most dogs are genetically normal, which leads to the second, the tendency to avoid talking about problems when they occur. Third, the general lack of skills needed to breed the better dogs and the fourth, which is related to the first three, that most clubs have not established their goals and have no mechanism linking pedigrees to test results. These four scenarios have proven to be the best mechanism by which breeds hide, rather than solve their problems. The net effect is that their problems increase along with the carriers who persist at the expense of their breed.
Developing a mechanism that can expand the base of education, coupled with the willingness to share information, is the challenge. Given today’s technology, such efforts are well within the grasp of the AKC and every parent club. The first step begins by establishing goals and agreeing on a list of problems to be addressed. The second involves the development of a strategic plan that includes finding better ways to use test results along with better methods for identifying carriers. One recommendation was offered in the 2002 AKC/DNA Committee Report. It suggests that AKC provide the link that bridges pedigree information with test results. The third step requires a mechanism that will motivate clubs and breeders. One approach has been to include incentives. Some of the most effective motivators have been titles, certifications and awards. All have proven to be effective ways to motivate people. The following includes some of the known ingredients that can help programs become successful:
- Open each program to all breeders
- Offer titles, awards and other forms of recognition/incentives for those who achieve success
- Develop continuing education programs that include:
- Mode of inheritance
- Breeding strategies
- Pedigree analysis
- Litter and puppy evaluation
- Provide a mechanism that collects and distributes information about each problem
- Establish a link between positive identification, test results and pedigrees.
- Include website and email support
- Provide camera-ready reports and articles regarding the status of each project with updates and success stories:
- Newsletter editors
- Web masters
No programme is perfect – there is always room for improvement. Given today’s advanced technologies, these steps are well within the grasp of those interested in solving breed problems. It is important to remember that information is power and that those who accumulate, study and organise it can surely reap its benefits.
American Kennel Club, 2002 Board Committee Report on DNA, American kennel Club, 260 Madison Ave, and NY. NY.10060
Padgett, George A. Control of Canine Genetic Diseases, Howell House, New York, 1998.
Padgett, George, “Genetics I Introduction”, 1991 Beagle Review, Darcroft Publishing, Wilmington, VT, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1991, pg. 14-16
Teeling, Mary and Roethel, Cynthia, Editor, “Genetic Diseases, disease frequency and gene frequency of the Rhodesian Ridgeback”, a Health and Genetics Seminar presented by George A. Padgett, Michigan State University, Veterinary Medicine, 2001.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training
About the author
Carmen L Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promotion of breeding better dogs and has written many articles and several books.Dr. Battaglia is also a popular TV and radio talk show speaker. His seminars on breeding dogs, selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by the breed clubs all over the country. Those interested in learning more about his seminars should contact him directly. Visit his website at www.breedingbetterdogs.com
I came across an article last week written by the DogsTrust entitled DOG BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS – why they do it and what can you do ? As I started to read it I thought to myself “hey this is quite good” and then, as I got towards the bottom of the first page I thought “hmmm, maybe it’s not, best go and get a pen”, so I did and I started making notes in the margin… by the time I got to page 6 I was incensed enough to put fingers to keyboard.
The article is based on research carried out over a period of 6 months on 19 neutered males… all neutered and all males, not a great cross-section of the dog population of Great Britain. The DogsTrust factsheet follows on from this research and if people were to follow the advice within it, to use the DogsTrust generalised terminology, “a lot” of dogs bad behaviour would deteriorate.
The author uses emotive words that will set “some” pet dog owners on a guilt trip, feeling they need to provide more and more, including another dog, for their dogs to be balanced. Their dogs should be allowed to eat as much as it likes, do whatever it wants, when it wants and to its own satisfaction, oh and did I mention it should sleep on your bed with you ? This is, by the way, in direct opposition to a study carried out by the University of Cordoba on 711 dogs, of which 92.54% were intact with an almost 50-50 split on gender.
The factsheet tries to discredit behaviourists that are approaching dog behaviour and training from a common sense perspective, stating that any kind of dominance reduction programme is detrimental to the wellbeing of the dog but haven’t stated any facts or figures to back up their assertions. It should be noted at this point, that this factsheet was on a study that doesn’t have any real facts or figures either but relies on words like ‘perhaps’ and ‘may’ instead.
In an ideal world I’d be able to go through the article step by step, line by line and point by point as I did while eating lunch in the garden while my two dogs relaxed in the shade – actually according to the DogsTrust this is tantamount to torture as to eat in front of your dog “is quite punishing and will only frustrate him and encourage him to beg”. I hasten to add that neither of my dogs did beg for food, indeed, they were both so frustrated that they’d fallen asleep.
So what were the main points about this article that incensed me as a dog behaviour practitioner ?
Firstly there was the whole issue of Punishment. The author seems to be getting confused between punishment (as in operant conditioning – positive and negative), punishment (as in applying discipline to a dog for a misdemeanour) and punishment (as in abuse).
The DogsTrust list simplified descriptions of positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment as “ positive reinforcement, you give something nice to reward the dog; negative reinforcement , you take away something nasty; positive punishment, you give something nasty or unpleasant; negative punishment , take away something nice”.
Now this is all very well and is the basis for a lot of behaviour modification, confusing I know, but it’s something you not only have to learn as a behaviourist, but how to apply it effectively to facilitate learning, however, what I take exception to is the DogsTrust stating that punishment and negative reinforcement are bad and that we should only ever use positive reinforcement.
Right, let’s just take a quick reality check before I get to the finale on this section.
We were sitting in the garden this afternoon and my Goldie decided he wanted to dig in my flower bed – I didn’t want him to so I said “Angus, No” (negative punishment as I took away something nice, in this instance digging; positive punishment because I said in a stern’ish voice “no”), he stopped doing it so I gave him a big smile (remember dogs are conditioned from puppies that good things normally follow a smile), he trotted over and got a neck scratch (positive reinforcement).
This is the kind of interaction dog owners have on a daily basis and the words they use to reinforce their house rules. Remember also that when you recall your dog you are using both negative punishment and positive reinforcement…Let’s cut the jargon shall we ? when you recall your dog you’re stopping him from ‘doing his own thing’ and praising him for coming…. praise, reward, neck massage, back scratch, smile, sweetie – all positive reinforcement!
Can we and should we only use “positive reinforcement” (aka reward)? Well according to the DogsTrust yes “simply because it can’t do any harm”. Turn the page, however, and the DogsTrust contradicts itself and you get a reasonably accurate picture as to why rewards only are detrimental to your dogs behaviour: “But..!” says the DogsTrust “something we do have to be aware of when using positive reinforcement and rewards in training…… when the rewards are not given quickly enough or when the treats/attention stops at the end of a session, this can lead to massive frustration for the dog and potentially aggressive behaviour towards the owner .”
Here the DogsTrust have got it absolutely correct. Of all of the aggressive dogs that I’ve seen, the majority of the ones that have turned their aggression towards their owner are the ones that have had no consequences for their actions and have only had ‘positive reinforcement’. The owners thought it was the ‘right’ way to go, rather than say no to their dog they bribed them into stopping the behaviour momentarily, in effect rewarding them for bad behaviour. You don’t need me to tell you how quickly it escalated – the equivalent of a ‘terrible twos tantrum’ but with sharp pointy teeth.
And secondly, the factsheet goes to great pains to denigrate dominance, the concept of leaders and leadership / dominance reduction programmes, saying that Resource Holding Potential (RHP) is what applies instead. Although the factsheet states “which we will touch upon later” it never actually does, so I went directly to the journal that the factsheet uses to get its information from, to find out what RHP is.
The first reference to RHP is “ Parker’s Resource Holding Potential (RHP) appears to be less useful when applied to domestic dogs than to other species” (and yet the DogsTrust state it is relevant) and in basic terms means ‘ is the dog prepared to die for the resource or not’ , if it is the dog will try to control the resource and if it’s not then the dog will walk away. Now compare that to the Collins dictionary definition of dominant; “having control, authority or influence”. Is there a difference ? The journal states that the behaviour is resource based but then so is dominance… to quote William Shakespeare “ O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet”.
Part of the problem with the use of the word “dominant” or “dominance” is that we, the lay people, tend to think of dominant/ce as defined by the dictionary as laid out above, however, “among ethologists , dominance is normally defined as ‘an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation’” in other words they have changed the definition of the word and then complain when we get it wrong according to the ethology definition but right by the dictionary.
The factsheet then implies, well more than implies, that dominance reduction programmes involve pinning down dogs, grabbing them by their jowls and doing the ‘alpha roll’… maybe if you followed the Monks of New Skete back in 1978 it may but that really is ‘old hat’. Now dominance reduction programmes, or leadership programmes or rank reduction programmes or house rules / boundaries or even common sense, don’t.
Modern leadership programmes that behaviourists recommend are based on common sense, although once more the factsheet tries to discredit and belittle techniques used by stating things like “ Dominance Reduction Programmes are detrimental to a dog’s well-being” although they can’t substantiate it with facts and figures. Just like the study by the University of Bristol, the DogsTrust are generalising rather than using examples and results; for a scientific study having to rely on words like ‘many’ and ‘perhaps’ shows that there’s no real substance behind it, unlike the study completed recently on “Factors linked to territorial aggression in dogs” where, not on only are facts and figures used throughout, the study was carried out 711 dogs of various breeds, mixed and purebred, whereas you don’t get to find out what breed the 19 neutered DogsTrust dogs were.
Due to the lack of hard facts I can only surmise that the study and factsheet have been created to the furtherance of an end other than purely scientific. The collaboration between the two organisations seems to be designed to portray the domestic dog as a complex, self-aware creature that can regulate its own behaviour in an interspecies environment.
At the end of the day, leadership programmes, rank reduction programmes and dominance reduction programmes are just a set of house rules to make life easier in a mixed species household. Dogs need rules and they need the rules to be applied consistently and with the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991 we, as owners, have a legal obligation to ensure that our dogs are under our control.
As reported in the much more comprehensive and factual study carried out by Perez-Guisado and Munoz-Serrano of the University of Cordoba, using a sample of 711 dogs (354 males and 357 females of which 594 were purebred and 117 mixed breed) significant factors that contribute to territorial aggression in the dog are; lack of punishment from the owner when required, lack of basic training and spoiling the dog, and, in direct opposition to the Bristol study, one of the insignificant factors relating to the dogs bad behaviour was having more than one dog.
By Lez Graham
Cat Film Stars
This narrative will give some insight into the intriguing world of cats, their behaviour and relationships with their owners and the techniques used to obtain fascinating sequences for the Cat Care Video range and for the recent BBC television series. Cats are the pets we love to love, but only when they allow it, or so it would seem. So what kind of relationship do we have with our cats and why do they, at times, drive their owners mad? What sort of problems do cats exhibit compared with dogs? You can at least tell a dog to sit, come or teach him a set of rules, because they truly are a pack animal, in other words, designed to live with a family.
Cats, on the other hand, are in general, natural born loners and do not take kindly to being treated like a dog, nor do they respond to instructions, however they are given. Issuing commands or forcing a cat to do something provokes an adverse reaction; if you really get uppity with a cat it may simply pack its bags and be off, gone, end of relationship – Goodbye! Dogs, mistreated, will still hang about and take the good with the bad. Now I have made videos on marine and tropical fish, rodents and natural history television series, but cats have to be right at the top when it comes to the patience needed.
I have produced seven educational videos on cats with Roger Tabor the presenter. But cats still challenged our wishful thinking when the cameras rolled on the latest video Breaking Bad Habits for Cats; unlike the dog educational videos, filming cats was much more difficult. A favourite observation by John Bowe the cameraman, was “ Point the camera at any cat and all I get is a big bum in the viewfinder as the cat turns from the camera and disappears from sight”. Dogs just can’t wait to be a star, slobbering down the camera lens. “Film me!” they yelp, while cats can’t stand or be bothered with the attention from the unfamiliar “luvvies” and all that technology. When we attended the GCC show to do some filming, we went down row after row of cats. The amount of time and tape used was large compared to the amount of usable footage examined later. Yes, true to form, cats seem to turn the other way when a huge bulky camera lens is planted in front of them – often to the consternation of their breeders who wish to show off their most perfect specimen. Nevertheless, you have to realise that you don’t own a cat, it is the cat that owns you and one has to tread gingerly if cats are to be seduced into starring in your next film or television show.
My own cats, River and Meadow, were certainly candidates for mischief – they starred in the video as the terrible twins. When they were kittens one of Meadow’s bad behaviours was chasing River about the kitchen work surfaces and in so doing knocked off a brand new Cappuccino machine sending debris and broken bits of it across the floor. I was not impressed! So I began to make the kitchen surfaces somewhat less agreeable for the cats’ adventures. I left small ashtrays filled with several mothballs or orange peel on the surfaces – oranges and mothballs smelt disgusting to the cats. The next day Meadow leapt onto the counter only to be met by the foul smells. She smartly leapt back down to ground level and both cats soon found more pleasant playgrounds for their gymnastics.
Biggles, a Burmese cat, often scratched its owner Richard when he tried to tickle its tummy. John, the cameraman, was poised ready for action. Right on cue the claws would immediately embed into Richard’s hand. Naturally he would pull his hand away, because the pain was intense, well, wouldn’t you? He shouted at Biggles, which, of course, exacerbated the confrontation. Any form of aggression towards a cat will normally damage its confidence, but Biggles thought this was fun; after several more takes and a much scratched hand, we all sat down for tea whilst Biggles looked on unconcerned and quite content with his stunt work. I advised Richard to keep his hand still even though it would hurt initially; hurt being the understatement. I wisely did not offer a free demonstration; sometimes it’s preferable not to lead by example where cat’s claws are involved. With Richard keeping his hand motionless, the cat became less stimulated by the touch on the belly. Richard then had to gently move his hand and this seemed to provoke less counter reaction scratching by Biggles. In time the cat became less agitated and more benign and could be stroked. Take 8 marked the end of the filming session for that day.
My House Keep out Cats fighting
Cats by nature are solitary creatures. Tiger, a big male Tabby did not like the new arrival, Snowy, a five-month-old kitten that had been rescued by Tiger’s owner, Andrea. She tried in vain to get the cats to like each other, but as so often is the case, cat war broke out. Tiger relentlessly attacked Snowy at every opportunity. I advised Andrea to purchase a small indoor cage for Snowy to allow the cats to meet in safety. Snowy was placed in the cage when Tiger, the established cat, was present. Tiger eventually approached the cheeky Snowy through the bars and in time got used to his scent. Over a few more weeks Tiger began to accept Snowy on his territory, however, some cats will never accept a new friend and that is why some will even leave home. On one particular day it took John, the cameraman man, five hours just to film Tiger and Snowy sparring, which was then shown in less than seven seconds of the video Breaking Bad Habits for Cats.
Getting up in the morning to find a collection of dead voles, rats and mice strewn about your bedroom floor is a sight to quickly open wide those sleepy eyes. Maureen’s cat, Ginger, often left decapitated rodents for her inspection and delectation. Maureen has a phobia about such animals and getting from the bed to the door was frequently a skip and a jump with the odd scream. Even worse – and I have experienced this with my own cats – is live animals brought in that subsequently are released by the cat and then race around the living room with a cat in full pursuit like Sylvester and Tweety Pie. “How can I stop this she asked?” Cats are hunters and their wild side is part of being a normal cat. Ginger was simply bringing back the night’s food shopping in the same way that Maureen does from Tesco’s, only Ginger’s is not so well packaged, less hygienic and sometimes alive; if a live animal is brought in you can resort to the “wellie” technique. Using a wellington boot, place it against the wall where the animal is scooting along. The cat, or you, will get the animal to move and the dark hole of the boot will appear as an escape route. When the prey runs in, hold the top shut and release the lucky creature in the garden. A cardboard cereal box, minus the cereals, or long bag will also work. As for stopping them well that’s not really possible unless you keep the cat in during the night; this can be achieved by feeding early in the evening and then securing the cat flap. Though many people believe cats devastate the local bird population this is, in fact, untrue. Cats have little effect on any of the garden species except in keeping the healthy birds on their toes.
My cat hates me
Sheba was a rescue moggie brought home by Linda as a gesture of kindness; unfortunately, Linda is convinced that Sheba hates her and all humans and feels that whenever she wants to cuddle Sheba she has to chase and catch her. Sheba then cannot wait to get away from its fawning owner. I deal with these types of cats and know, as with dogs, that if the initial socialisation as kitten or puppy normally between 3 and 8 weeks is not managed well the result can be a cat that is not habituated to humans. Advice: Linda should now alter the cat’s entire routine. Manipulate Sheba’s feeding, encourage Sheba to work for tit bits of her meal, trail the food bowl to say, a low chair and as she follows, hungrily, Linda can offer Sheba small amounts from one hand whilst her other hand gently strokes her back. Sheba will, over several weeks, associate food time with touch and become less afraid. In time the tit bit can be placed on Linda’s lap and hopefully Sheba will leap up to receive the reward. The cat will now be following and seeking out Linda instead of the other way round. In conclusion never pursue any unfriendly cat for cuddles; it only reinforces the fear.
I hope that this new video will help many cat owners not only stop bad behaviour, but help understand the cat. Pleasant Pheasant & Scaredy Cat: I do a great deal of filming, movies and still shots, from the Centre. Bowe Tennant Productions, my film company is based in Watford and the Cat Behaviour Centre is in the Chiltern Hills near Berkhamsted. It is neither easy nor practical to bring over a cameraman at a moment’s notice just because my cat Lily is about to practice some extraordinary behaviour, which we may well use in one of our future cat productions. We, therefore, keep a second set of cameras at the centre.
During October I was typing away in my consulting room when I saw through the windows a big cock pheasant slowly making its way along the field of corn, which is still quite short. Suddenly the pheasant halted, froze and this told me something had made it cautious. I got up and then saw Lily stalking the pheasant along a low grass bank with not more than 20 yards distance between the two of them. The classic piece of theatre was set for the supreme predator, the cat and the rather dim pheasant, eyeing each other up. Now Lily often brings back an array of rodents, including rats, for me to film even though I’ve told her that I have seen enough, but this time I thought I would be presented with something different. Back to the drama: I quickly assembled my camera, surreptitiously slid out of the office door and placed my camera on top of a post for balance. The pheasant became quite concerned about my presence, but was so fixated with the approaching cat that I was then ignored. They stared at each other for what seemed like ages then the cat, with her belly pressed low to the ground, began her move forward; the gap closed and I was very excited, but not half as much Lily was. The pheasant, meantime, unexpectedly set off towards the cat. The pheasant did appear very curious as to what this creature was that was stalking it. Now great hunter cats like Lily are not used to the prey walking towards them – the stimulus for prey catching in cats is the prey moving away from them once the cat has been detected. Suddenly the pheasant ran at the cat. Lily legged it with the pheasant in pursuit. Lily ran towards me, the pheasant saw me, halted and slowly ambled away just like that cartoon grouse in the TV Famous Grouse Whisky advert. Quite comical really.
Cats About The House
I had to see a client with eight cats in St Albans, because the house training system had become untenable. Half the cats were kittens and suddenly there was an explosion of spraying and faeces dropped in the wrong places – namely the couch and so on. I filmed the general cat interaction to see if there were any bullying or other related disagreements between these beautiful cats. The cats were all over me demonstrating such intelligent and genial characteristics. They investigated all my behaviour equipment and camera boxes. These cats were, oddly enough, ‘wannabe’ film stars, so I shot as much play and climbing behaviour as possible. I eventually solved the problem and now they are all clean, the owner is happy and the cats all allowed back into the entire house. One of the Ginger Burmese kept posing for me over and over again in the fireplace and just in case I didn’t get a good shot the first time, turned the opposite way for poses 3, 4 and 5. So in conclusion, maybe I’ll take back a little and say not all cats are a cameraman’s nightmare, but like most cats, they just keep us guessing as to what they really think. The cat’s mind is still a mystery.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.
The most common problem brought to me with cats is toilet training in the home. This may seem strange to most cat owners who believe that cats are not only easily trained but for the most part train themselves when provided with a cat litter tray. Training cats to be clean is certainly on the whole less troublesome than dogs.
Most cats which toilet about the home, to the annoyance of owners, do so because of insecurity, conflict or a more unusual psychological state, which triggers such an action. This is especially true when the cat has previously been clean. Marking territory (spraying) is another area where cats can upset their owners. One cat I knew used the owners’ pillows on their bed for this purpose to the consternation of everyone.
To understand why cats urinate or defecate about the house and not in the desired location, e.g. the litter tray provided, we have to understand a little about their wild, non-domesticated cousins and how the cat evolved. The cat in the wild is a loner, has a large territory and rarely meets the opposite sex except for courting and mating purposes, which is once a year. The European wild cat has a territory of about 150 hectares, the female’s is about a fifth of that area, but the density is generally dictated by food supply. Compare this to an average house and garden.
Natural Marking of Territory
Cats, like most animals, mark territory using faeces, urination and scent glands. In the outside world cats will mark certain favourite areas or specific objects like tree stumps and bushes to help maximise their scent that signs to other cats “keep out this is mine!” The cat is instinctively a clean animal and fortunately for owners, most cats, due to their evolutionary territorial marking behaviour, quickly learn to toilet in cat trays. The proliferation of various substrates, which can be clay, soil, paper based materials to simulate soil and leaf litter, help give choice and can be helpful with certain toilet training problems. When of course, for a plethora of reasons, this system breaks down and the cat is spraying about the house or leaving faeces in places we rather they did not, people quickly call me for help. Some cats simply miss the litter tray, these generally need encouragement and/or larger or different trays.
This can be executed by dominant or less dominant cats, depending on their social status within their territory, including pressures that may be real or imagined. A territory is what a cat deems it to be – your house or garden. Spraying can result from conflicts with local cats or cats within the same household.
Territorial marking of a non-spraying type involves urinating or defecating in the wrong place (only, of course, according to the owner). These actions make the cat feel more confident; it is making a statement to other cats and if your cat is fearful or of the dominant type, spraying behaviours can be triggered. Litter trays with corresponding litter (substrate) are, for the average cat, quite acceptable. For the cats which are causing problems, however, the shape of the box, the type of litter, its positioning within the room or perhaps the room of the house in which it is kept can be a big deterrent to the cat becoming house trained even when up to that point all has been well. The presence of new people, especially children, can affect the cat’s toilet habits. Cats are by nature subtle, sensitive and affected by minor environmental changes.
Is this the problem – Substrate Dislike, Litter Tray?
Cats can either instinctively or learn to take umbrage when presented with certain types of substrate. Texture and smell are primary motivators to this attitude. Very coarse gravel-type material is less likely to attract a cat than fine soft types. The cat tray may be the covered type, because some cats prefer privacy whilst others do not. Even the depth of the litter is encouraging or discouraging to a fussy cat. The types of disinfectants used can also be a deterrent to a cat toileting in a litter tray. Trial and experiment often solves these issues, although not as quickly as many owners would like.
When a cat always avoids direct foot contact with the substrate and stands outside the tray and projects its urine at it (or at least in the general direction) then the litter may be the culprit – try a different brand.
Is this the Problem – Litter Tray Location?
Try moving the tray if the cat toilets outside it consistently or change it for a new one completely; again, a new substrate and/or new location might also solve the problem. Other dissuasive signs to look out for are noises. Cats have an acute sense of hearing. Some high frequency noises from electrical devices can be very off-putting to the discerning cat. More obvious ones like washing and dish washing machines or ‘fridges, loud music or sudden vibration sounds from clanking hot water pipes could also disturb your cat’s toileting behaviour. The animated behaviour of toddlers nearby or the bumptious actions of another pet like a dog or puppy may be the sole cause; again, you can experiment by placing the litter tray in a more peaceful location or remove the trigger/fear from the area (the toddler or dog, etc.). Shy or fearful cats may be affected by the most mild, innocuous change in environmental noise and sometimes one has to ponder what has changed around the time of the cat’s breakdown of using its litter tray. It is like detective work.
Is the Problem Medically Related?
Good health – checking out your cat’s ‘water works’ is not such a bad idea especially if the change is abrupt and unusual. I recently dealt with a lovely 7 year old Persian cat that had never been 100 % clean but, since the arrival of a new baby, had started to defecate on the dining room table and a few other unsuitable places around the home. The obvious was clear – anxiety – however, my modification suggestions proved only partly successful. The cat was very thin, but the owner told me that it always had been and that she had had it checked out by a veterinarian previously for the same reasons. Despite it being unusual that a toilet training problem is medically related (excluding elderly cats) I instinctively requested that the cat be examined again. The owner telephoned me and stated that the cat was perfectly well according to the veterinarian. Three months later it died of cancer and another vet believed this was part of the cause of its toilet training problems. Veterinarians can only make certain physiological health checks, for behaviour/eliminating problems. The behaviour practitioner has to work within this remit.
The domestic cat does not have to compete for territory like its wild cousins so the constant need to mark out territory is far less. This does not mean that some won’t and when under the following circumstances marking territory can be activated or increased in frequency.
Aggression: When aggression is in the air a dominant or insecure cat that cannot behave will assert itself to protect its territory (inside or outside the home) or its cat group.
Anxiety: Changes in the hierarchy of its social system, other conflict within the same household, environment or area.
Is The problem Spray Marking?
A stream of urine directed at an object or a vertical surface (see previous “Other Causes: Marking Territory”), as opposed to a pool of urine (normal urination) indicates spray marking. It is a calling card to other cats: “This is my patch!” Bold cats, aggressive cats or an insecure cat that feels threatened may spray-mark often.
Is The Problem Faeces and/ or Urine Marking?
Marking areas of territory using faeces and urine may appear like the earlier described problems, but can and often are triggered by similar reasons as in spray marking above. Feline marking behaviour is probably simple and very understandable to a cat, but it is quite complex to us. The behaviour practitioner, often through a long series of questions, has to identify the causes in such cases before advice can be proffered. Visitors may be the associative cause of spraying behaviour; if so, cats often, but not always, spray the room they have slept in. One of my friend’s Burmese always sprayed in the sink of the guest’s bedroom the following day. This, of course, made the problem identification easy. Filling the sink with water the following morning did help. The solution, however, was not so easy as this was one determined by the cat.
Spray marking problems occur more often in houses were there is more than one cat. The more cats in one house/area the higher the probability of spraying. Cats are by nature loners and although they amazingly adapt to living in close proximately to their fellow cats, it is not nature’s way for this species. When we make the decision to own a pet, it is generally an education in the ways of another species. Overall, cats make delightful and loving companions and from their point of view, there are no problems.
Summary of Tips
In very complex cases consult a cat behaviour practitioner.
Castrating male cats will prevent spraying in approximately 90% of male cats, spaying prevents about 5 % of females spraying. These are guidelines only.
Consider reducing the number of cats in the household to that prior to the spraying problem.
Close the curtains so that the visual fear/aggressive stimulus is removed, if your cat sprays upon seeing other visiting cats enter your garden.
Place the cat’s litter tray elsewhere and place the food bowl near/on to the area being sprayed, if the cat is spraying in specific locations only. (Cats rarely spray near their food source.) As an alternative, place mothballs or spread tin foil over the area that is spray marked. Cats dislike the smell of mothballs and the feeling under pad of tin foil. You could also place cardboard boxes or large ornaments as obstructions in the cat’s pathway to spraying.
Clean the fouled areas with non-ammonia type cleaners: water, vinegar and biological washing liquids can be very effective.
Cats that only spray in specific rooms (on beds, etc.) should be closed out of the room affected were practical; if caught early enough this should stop the embedding of the problem.
Finally, never punish your cat for any unwanted toileting behaviour, because they will not relate their action to the punishment given. Instead, they need redirection and your understanding – that is cat care.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.
Cats & Claws!
Lilly my cat is about one hundred yards from my office window, licking her paw, perched atop a fallen oak branch – all 30 feet of it – that had, unfortunately for the farmer, fallen into the ripened corn recently. Lilly often runs across to this huge branch, dashes up and along its bough then frantically claws the roughened bark. She practices this little routine several times daily and truly looks pleased with her performance. She is a happy cat – partly living in her natural world.
Living with cats not only brings with it numerous pleasures, it can also bring some problems such house training and clambering on surfaces you preferred they didn’t. Once you have successfully trained your cat not to toilet on the floor or in any other part of your home, you may think that all the fuss and bother you went through is finally over. The bad news is that it is probably not. As cats grow they develop their natural skills and tactics for survival in the wild. Cats are still only semi-domesticated creatures and as such still have their natural instincts very much intact, unlike the state of some furniture in many homes!
The house or flat is just another version of the outside world to a cat. Curtain rails, tops of sofa backs, carpets and even hessian wallpaper are just interesting architectural features that need investigation to a cat, as in its outside arboreal wonderland. While such clawing behaviour would in the wild help to ensure the cat’s survival, in the home it can create great distress for the cat’s owners. Sofas are expensive and the cat, unfortunately for us, is not aware of this fact. The good news, however, is that although deeply ingrained, most common cat behavioural ‘problems’ can be redirected (or altered) into less damaging behaviour.
Scratching can be one of the most costly of behaviours your cat will exhibit. Far from being just an irritating habit or an act of spite, scratching is actually a vital behaviour that helps satiate three basic needs of your cat:
- To keep it’s claws sharp and clean;
- Stretch and exercise it’s muscles;
- Distribute it’s scent, it’s I.D. (Cats have scent glands in the pads of their front paws).
In the wild a cat would use a tree or other similar object like Libby does, but in the home there aren’t usually many trees to hand so other, less suitable objects are used – like the back of your sofa! Scratching, unfortunately, cannot be stopped, no more than humans can stop their own natural behaviour like crying, laughing or scratching. What you need to do, therefore, is provide a suitable object for her to scratch. So here is my first suggestion: purchase a scratching post. This can either be bought from a pet shop ready made or you can construct your own by using wood and rope.
Once you have your brand new scratching post set up in your living room (or wherever you keep it) your cat will probably give it the obligatory sniff and scent mark it, then simply walk away in total ignorance of all of your efforts. Now you need to teach her what it’s for. This may sound strange, but what that consists of is demonstration. Without hurting your cat hold her paws firmly, then scratch them down the post yourself. When she finally does this for herself reward her with praise and maybe a food treat. You can also try rubbing some cat nip into the post or placing the post near/next to an area that the cat is already scratching, say the end of the sofa (a favourite spot for many cats). By doing this your cat will soon learn to associate this action (and pleasure) with the post and, coupled with her strong drive to scratch in the first place, should result in it using the post instead of your furniture. In addition, one or two food treats can be pressed into the post fabric to encourage more interest and therefore more use of it. It is also worth noting that sometimes a couple of scratching posts do the trick better than just one.
Where more than one cat is kept in the same house you may find that the more dominant cat will refuse to use the post, preferring instead to use your home. In these cases the best method to use is the water pistol. Quite simply this involves squirting a jet of clean, fresh water at the cat only whilst she is scratching the wrong thing. This will give her a mild shock, enough to stop her from scratching and if repeated often and accurately (timing wise) enough the unpleasantness should become associated with, not the scratching action, but the location. I call this location the “no go area”. One very important point to bear in mind here is that your cat must not associate you with the unpleasantness, because this can lead to a lack of trust in you, so always try to keep yourself out of view when squirting her. Then simply pretend that you have no idea what is going on and it’s the cat’s business not yours.
Houseplants: Digging Them Up or Eating
It is wonderful the way that cats seem to believe that they can re-pot our houseplants better than us. Re-arranging the foliage can be another time passing interest for the cat. Strangely enough, cats don’t seem to understand that we don’t like soil spread over the floor, nor do we like dozens of half chewed leaves dangling like limp hurricane victims. Equally, cats sometimes eat plants and again this is a distorted instinctive behaviour. Cats in the wild will munch away on various safe plants and do obtain various vitamin compounds, which help with their nutritional needs, moreover, it helps to remove the fur balls that they accumulate from their prolific grooming sessions. Many houseplants are in fact poisonous, but that I will leave for another article.
My friend’s cat, Tiger, is very adept at destroying potted plants in the house. She does, however, rarely touch the garden plants (although this may be more difficult to discern in a well planted garden). Generally, houseplants are meant to be pleasing for us and I believe it is the human’s way of bringing a little piece of the outside world into our home. It is comforting and pleasing to the eye. Its also comforting and pleasing for the cat who no longer has to make the effort to pop outside for a chew or scratch – we’ve saved him the leg work. Now if that’s not kindness from the cat’s point of view I don’t know what is!
What we have here is a conflict of interests and somehow the cat has to learn that there are some things that are simply not acceptable; this can be done by making her realise that certain actions can have unpleasant consequences and is the basis of the ‘operation’ to save the plants.
In the wild a cat learns by trial and error – if she were to pop her nose in the wrong hole and bugs or bees were to appear and sting her, her drive to survive would associate that action or place with the unpleasantness and the chance of repeating the same action in the same place in the future would be less. In the home we need to create a natural teaching deterrent. Mothballs spread about the base of a plant do nicely, because cats find the smell rather foul. Several companies produce Bitter Bite, which when sprayed on the low plant leaves (check for compatibility), makes the experience of chewing the leaves less enjoyable to say the least. You will need to offer some alternatives of course; cat ropes, toys and the like are plentiful on the pet shop shelves. The ubiquitous water pistol can be used again, but when you’re not present it is rather useless, because cats will only learn by an immediate association. Cats dislike strange crinkly uneven surfaces so tinfoil sheets crinkled on the floor underneath the plant is another harmless deterrent for the cat.
As mentioned earlier redirecting unwanted behaviour is a safe and non-stressful way of preventing plant tasting sessions, so you may like to provide your cat with a small indoor pot of seedlings of her own to nibble on. Again, pet shops often sell these in convenient containers, or you can simply dig up a small clump of lawn, which has not been treated with any garden chemicals and place it on a tray daily or once or twice week for her to chew. For the very determined cat or the cat that ignores all manner of persuasion then the “Aboi Master Plus” from “The Company of Animals” does work wonders. This device emits a 2 second spray of harmless citronella from a little plastic box, up to about 50 yards from you the operator (it is operated by a small remote control device). When the cat attempts to bite a leaf or dig the soil out of a plant pot you can trigger the collar remotely so that the cat receives an unpleasant spray of citronella. I do believe the sound of the spray working has just as good an effect in deterring the cat from that area as the citronella does; of course, if you have many houseplants spread about the home this system is not so practical. It is important to note, however, that this product must never be used with a sensitive or neurotic cat as it can create much more serious problems than it will solve.
All in all cats are creatures of their evolution and that includes, like all other pets, behaviours that don’t always suit our view of the world. Try to remember that whether you own a cat, dog or any other pet, the key to solving any behaviour problem is to understand what the species is designed for in it’s wild state. Understanding your pet and being very patient is the way to alter it’s behaviour without a divorce.
Lilly my cat still brings an endless supply of dead rodents into my home each week. A mangled vole placed inside my shoe is not my idea of a present, but it is Lilliy’s, and that’s the point.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.
Cats Behaving Badly!
Cats are the pets we love to love, but only when they allow it. So what kind of relationship do we have with our cats and why do they at times drive their owners mad? What sorts of problems do cats bring compared with dogs? You can at least tell a dog to sit, come or teach him a set of rules, because he truly is a group animal – in other words designed to live with a family; cats, conversely, are natural born loners and do not take kindly to being treated like a dog. Shouting or forcing a cat to do something provokes an adverse reaction, if you really get uptight with a cat it may simply pack its bags and be off, gone, end of relationship. Dogs mistreated will still hang about and take the good with the bad, not unlike some people.
Colin has made seven educational videos on cats, which are presented by Roger Tabor. Cats still challenge their wishful thinking when the camera rolled on the latest video BREAKING BAD HABITS FOR CATS. Unlike Colin’s dog educational videos, filming cats was much more difficult, a favourite joke by John Bowe the camera man was “point the camera at any cat and a big bum is the view I get as the cat disappears from sight; dogs can’t wait to be a star, slobbering down the camera lens. “Film me“ they yelp, while cats can’t stand the attention from the unfamiliar. Crew patience is important for success. Colin Tennant, the director and producer of Cats On Film videos series, describes the mischief that our pet moggies get up to whilst he filmed the series.
Colin’s own cats, River and Meadow, were certainly candidates for mischief – they starred in the video as the terrible twins. When they were kittens one of Meadow’s bad behaviours was chasing River about the kitchen surfaces and in so doing knocked off a brand new Cappuccino machine damaging it badly. Colin was not impressed, so began to make the kitchen surface a disagreeable area for the cats’ adventures. He left small ashtrays filled with several mothballs or orange peel on the surfaces; oranges and mothballs smelt disgusting to the cats. On day one Meadow leapt onto the counter only to be met by the foul smells; she leapt back down to ground level and both cats soon found more pleasant playgrounds for their gymnastics.
Marcie, a Burmese cat, often scratched its owner Charles when he tried to tickle its tummy. The claws would immediately embed into his hand and Charles would naturally pull his hand away, because the pain was intense and he shouted at Marcie thereby exacerbating the confrontation. Any form of aggression to a cat damages its confidence.
Colin’s advice to Charles was to keep his hand still even though it would hurt initially – hurt being the understatement – Colin wisely did not offer a free demonstration, he does not necessarily lead by example where cats’ claws are involved! By Charles keeping his hand motionless, the cat became less stimulated by the touch on the belly, Charles then had to gently move his hand, this seemed to provoke less counter reaction than scratching. In time Marcie became less agitated and benign and could be stroked.
My House Keep out
Cats fighting. Cats by nature are solitary creatures. Tiger, a big male, tabby did not like the new arrival of Snowy, a 5 month old kitten, that had been rescued by Tiger’s owner Andrea. She tried in vain to get the cats to like each other, but as so often is the case, war broke out. Tiger relentlessly attacked Snowy at every opportunity. Colin advised Andrea to purchase a small indoor cage for Snowy and allow the cats to meet in safety. Snowy was placed in the cage when Tiger, the established cat, was present. Tiger eventually approached the cheeky Snowy through the bars and in time got used to his scent; over a period of a few more weeks Tiger began to accept Snowy on his territory. Some cats, however, will never accept a new friend and that is why some will leave home.
Getting up in the morning to find a plethora of dead voles, rats and mice strewn about your bedroom floor is a sight to open wide those sleepy eyes. Maureen’s cat, Ginger, often left decapitated rodents for her inspection. Maureen is phobic about such animals and getting from the bed to the door was a skip and jump with the odd scream. Even worse – and Colin has experienced this with his own cats – is live animals brought in, which subsequently are released by cats and they then race around the living room with a cat in full pursuit. How can I stop this she asked?
Cats are hunters and their wild side is part of being a normal cat. Ginger was simply bringing back the night’s food shopping in the same way as Maureen does from Tesco’s, only Ginger’s is less packaged and sometimes alive. If a live animal is brought in, use a wellington to catch it, place it beside the wall where the animal is scooting along, the cat or you can get the animal to move and the dark hole of the boot will appear to be an escape. When the prey runs in, hold the top shut and release the lucky creature in the garden. A cardboard cereal box or long bag will also work. As for stopping them well that’s not really possible unless you keep the cat in during the night; this can be achieved by feeding in early evening and then securing the cat flap. Many people believe cats devastate the local bird populations, but this is untrue. Cats have little effect on any of the garden species except in keeping the healthy birds on their toes.
My Cat Hates Me
Sheba, a rescue moggie, was brought home by Linda as a gesture of kindness. Linda is convinced that Sheba hates her and all humans; she feels that whenever she wants to cuddle Sheba she has to chase and catch her. Sheba then cannot wait to get away from her fawning owner. Colin deals with these types of cats and knows that as with dogs, if the initial socialisation as a kitten or puppy normally between 3 and 8 weeks is not managed well the result can be a cat that is not habituated to humans. Advice: Linda should now alter the cat’s entire routine, manipulate Sheba’s feeding, encourage Sheba to work for tit bits of her meal, trail the food bowl to say a low chair and as Sheba follows hungrily Linda can offer Sheba small amounts from one hand, whilst her other hand gently strokes her back. Sheba will, over several weeks, associate food time with touch and become less fearful. In time the tit bit can be placed on Linda’s lap and hopefully Sheba will leap up to receive the reward. The cat will now be following and seeking out Linda. In conclusion, never pursue any unfriendly cat for cuddles, because it only re-enforces the fear. I hope that this new video will help many cat owners not only stop bad behaviour, but help understand the cat.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.
There are several dog breeds carrying a genetic pre-disposition to deafness. Sound-signalling and voice-instruction communication are redundant for them. Deafness means that other primary senses – smell, touch, taste and sight – become enhanced and more significant for a different approach to training.
Talk to the Hand
Those dog breeds known to be carrying a defective gene for deafness are in gundogs primarily, especially the English Setter, in livestock control breeds or pastoral and working dog groups, such as the Australian cattle dog and shepherd, boxer, border, rough and smooth collies and Old English sheepdog. In the terrier group it is in the English bull and miniature bull and finally, in the miniature poodle.
Owners with a dog that is partially or completely deaf from an early puppy stage will usually adapt to a situation when sound becomes irrelevant for communication. Dog and owner become conditioned to ‘sign language’ or touch in order to find a practical way around the disadvantage. As is common with humans who have some sort of sensory disadvantage, other senses become heightened to compensate. In the case of many of the working breeds, they appear to settle when they come to recognise visual cues, which is perfectly understandable when an innate skill that comes from centuries of selective-breeding for livestock-control is taken into consideration. Think of a farmer waving a stick guiding a dog for clockwise or anticlockwise for come by and away and then hand signals can start to be fun. It is when a dog, without the ability to hear dangerous sounds or listen to verbal instructions, is presenting unwanted behaviours that deafness can become a disadvantage.
Some of my earliest cases of behavioural issues relating to hearing-impaired dogs involved English bull terriers. In one household two bitches were triggered into aggression when the hearing dog of the two reacted to unusual sounds and began barking. The increasing noise-sensitivity had reached the phobic stage where hyperactivity and tail chasing in a dog OCD-like condition caused the dog without hearing to panic, resulting in inter-specific aggression. Both dogs were strongly attached to the client and owner separation related issues, including destructiveness, inappropriate urination and repetitive barking, were also being presented during absence. It soon became clear that both dogs were easily aroused and when over-stimulated, fight or flight adrenaline was causing a range of progressive stress related conditions.
One of the first products I introduced to clients as a useful tool for communicating with the deaf dog was a remote-controlled vibrating collar known as the Pet Pager. In circumstances where visual contact had been obscured or lost altogether, such as during an off-lead walk when the dog enters dense vegetation, the collar could be used as an owner contact reminder. The collar would be initially used around the home and with close contact where a food treat would be offered for attention and recall to an owner’s side. Sessions arranged around the home would eventually condition the dog to the vibration and reward. This system worked successfully in promoting positive contact, but at first it was not clear if the system could be used to interrupt the initial hyperactivity that would eventually progress to an aggression episode.
The hearing dog was trained (conditioned) to the clicker (reward) and training discs (removal of reward) over a week in separate sessions; the latter was successfully used to signal a required cessation of barking. Once the dog stopped vocalising, the clicker was sounded to reward the result. It was important that the owner did not shout or physically interrupt the early stage of the mode of behaviour, because this dramatic attention was reinforcing other fixative behaviours such as tail chasing. The dogs were also encouraged to sleep and rest in separate travel crates to help reduce a cycle of reinforcement between them. The vibrating collar was used to attract the deaf dog’s attention. The offer of a food reward to come away from the hearing dog (when hyperactive behaviour commenced) was successful in preventing the behaviour from escalating into any form of aggression. Other methods to reduce noise sensitivity contributed to the successful reduction in unwanted behaviour.
A Sign of the Times
When a deaf dog shares a home with a dog that enjoys normal hearing it is usually the case that training challenges are overcome through a ‘learning and following’ process. When retrieval games are introduced the hearing dog often provides the competition in which both dogs try to out compete each other for the prize of a retrieval toy. These games can be useful for introducing hand signals into basic training. Bringing a hand flat to chest when a dog is approaching can be conditioned and then used for the ‘come’ signal. Game over is hands brought in a horizontal movement together and then quickly spread out away from each other in a swift sideways movement.
Owen, a young Border collie who is deaf, has cat bells attached to his collar so that if he vanishes into the undergrowth the sound informs Rachel, his owner, where he is. Another idea introduced by Rachel is a bandana on which “I am a deaf dog” is written, that informs other dog walkers instantly the reason Owen may not react to voice interaction. Rachel has chosen not to inform her parents that Owen is deaf in a fun experiment to see when or if they ever realise he has an issue. In a recent episode, her mother shouted ‘off’ at the top of her voice and Rachel, almost cracking with laughter, then advised her to gently put the dog on the floor. Rachel has also taught Owen to touch-target her hand in a single training session. Her hearing dog is learning many new games and tricks using this method and her hope is that it will help to mentally stimulate him.
Information Box – Case File on ‘Owen’
‘Owen’ is a smooth-coated border collie, born on a working farm near Swansea on 14th February 2010. He was kept back from the litter to train as a working sheep dog. At approx 13 weeks old the farmer realised that Owen was deaf and rather than drown or shoot him he took the dog to Bridgend (South Wales) Dog’s Trust. Owen is currently an entire male. The Dog’s Trust provided a neutering voucher and they insisted that he must not be castrated sooner than 14th Aug 2010 or later than 14 Sep 2010. The Dog’s Trust also micro-chipped Owen and arranged 4 weeks free PetPlan Insurance cover and a 15 kg bag of Arden Grange ‘kibble’.
In the final part, Dr David Sands discusses the practical pros and cons to owning Owen ‘the deaf dog’ and how Rachel is coming to terms with various aspects of his development and training.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Animal Behaviour