Thursday, October 27, 2011

Social Butterfly or Wallflower?

Need for Social Interaction

Author, Jan Casey

You’re a dog lover. You play with your dog. You exercise your dog. You feed her, you shelter her, you see that she gets her checkups with the veterinarian. This is what dog lovers do. They care for the beings they brought into their homes, it was a promise
they made, that they would attend to its needs. What happened to that promise,
that some owners now relegate their dogs to the backyard, no longer providing
the dog with the basic need of companionship?

I read an article - Critics Challenge ‘Dog Whisperer’ Methods (
– searching for any new insight in support of positive training. The article
focuses on the contentious battle between trainers who use current scientific
methods and those who still use traditional, punishment-based methods. While it
delineates the arguments of those with differing philosophies, it also notes
the sides do share some points of agreement. “Both sides of the training spectrum teach that a lack of discipline or structure is not conducive to a well-behaved dog… ‘You
have to be calm, you have to be clear, you have to be consistent, and you have
to make sure you meet your pet’s needs for other things: exercise, play, social
interaction,’ says Herron of The Ohio State University.” … The sad existence of
some dogs receiving no social interaction with people keeps popping up in my
daily conversations and consultations.

Social interaction is vital to the well-being of people and pets. When
humans are to be punished for crimes against society, short of death, solitary
confinement is considered the harshest punishment delivered by a civilized
society. Parrots, considered by scientists to have the intelligence of a five
year old human, can literally go insane from lack of attention. These birds
pluck their feathers until their bodies are naked, they scream night and day,
and swing back and forth endlessly. Parrots did not evolve in a relationship
with man, yet lack of interaction with him can make them crazy. Dogs and man
evolved together and have the closest interspecies relationship in existence.
What does lack of interaction do to dogs?

The relationship developed as one of mutual benefit. Man used dogs for many
purposes – to retrieve game, to protect, to pull carts loaded with goods. Dog
used man as a resource for necessities – food and shelter. A bond formed
between them. It’s been a nice relationship through the centuries. Now things
have changed, at least for man. With the development of grocery stores, guns,
and cars, dogs are no longer vital to our existence. Dogs still count on us for
food and shelter. People are able to interact socially with one another through
computers, jobs, phones, and social engagements. Dogs? They are still dependent
on owners for companionship.

I realize the people who read this column are not the ones I am writing
about. It’s more likely I am writing about a neighbor, a family member, a
friend, even a stranger who has a dog and refuses to meet its basic need for
social interaction. While we are more likely to see our dogs as family members,
they view their dogs as property. The question arises “What can I do about it?”
The best you can do is attempt to enlighten the owner who thinks his dog is
“just fine” left alone 24 hours a day.

When I work with people whose dog is not valued, I try to find out why.
Certainly no one goes out and gets a dog with the intention of having it sit
outside, alone, consuming food, while the owner gets nothing in return. Try to
find out what changed. Did the dog get too big? Is the dog too rambunctious? Is
the dog destroying the owner’s possessions? Has the dog become aggressive? Is
the dog barking day and night? Is the dog not housetrained, or loosing its
ability to control its bodily functions due to age or a physical problem? Once
you can determine the “why,” it can be easy to resolve if the owner is willing
to try some things.

For behavioral problems, once any physical problem is ruled out, providing
mental and physical exercise can do a lot toward resolving the dog’s issues.
Suggestions which I offer to owners : try using a frozen Kong or a Tug-A-Jug
with breakfast and dinner inside, making the dog work to eat. Play hide and
seek with some of the dog’s favorite toys. Teach the dog some tricks. Walk.
Play with a disc or tennis ball. Hire someone to exercise your dog. Get help
from a trainer for problem behaviors. If the owner is not receptive to working
with the dog, suggest re-homing. There are some wonderful rescue groups. Most
are overcrowded, but often have a waiting list. It’s a far better alternative
than to allow the dog to suffer by spending its life alone with no social

Until better laws protecting our pets are enacted, we can only try to help dogs who are isolated. To quote Dr. Patricia McConnell, "I wish more people would consider owning smaller pets, such as rats. They're social, interactive, trainable, and you don't have
to feel guilty about not walking them."

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida at Courteous Canine, Inc. and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs. Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet Pages and Kid's Korner . This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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