Owner inattention can cause unnecessary problems... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Owner inattention can cause unnecessary problems…

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI explains how owners could help prevent or ameliorate many of the behavioural difficulties with which we are currently faced by simply paying attention

“I’M on the train.” These words now seem designed to drive many of us mad. Along that is with the bleeps, burps and jingles that so often indicate someone has failed to turn off their “infernal electronic communication device”, no matter what the occasion.

And for many companion canines, the mobile phone also seems to have become a curse with an equal ability to undermine communal activities and spoil every outing that supposedly takes place for the benefit of the pet.

How so? Well, walks should always be more than just a change of scene, especially for those dogs that spend many hours alone or home with busy, distracted people, who are to all intents and purposes “absent” in the emotional, intellectual and satisfying companion roles that humans should play when there are no canine or other animal playmates available.

Variation, training, games and sniffing easily make walks interesting

“Taking the dog out” is simply not, on its own, enough. It really is our responsibility to make any trips away from home as stimulating and satisfying as possible for the pets that are dependent upon us for dictating how, where and when they carry out the whole range of their daily activities.

Of course, the value such opportunities afford for checking up on the outside world, investigating and collating new and changing environmental cues, be they physical or social, in the most meaningful way possible from the canine perspective should not be underestimated.

So short walks, if that is all that can be managed, which provide little more than the chance to sniff the olfactory information left by previously passing canines, can be very helpful in relieving boredom and adding interest to an otherwise rather dull day.

Yet owners and walkers, who are oblivious to what the dog or dogs they are in charge of are actually doing, can frequently be seen yanking a desperately sniffing pooch away from the base of the lamppost, car tyre or garden fence he or she is intensely scrutinising.

These people may be in an almighty rush, although often the same culprits are spotted doing the same thing on a number of occasions, which appears to indicate they simply don’t allot their pet’s needs enough time and should in his or her welfare interests rethink their priorities. And sadly, for many “animal guardians” the reality is that understanding of the significance of such canine activity and its importance for an intelligent, social species in counteracting the tedium that characterises the lives of so many of our pet dogs, particularly those that live an urban existence, is completely lacking.

Human preoccupations often undermine the value of outings

Such incidents, therefore, highlight a real problem. For too many owners, taking their dogs for walks, no matter how brief, brisk or mind-numbingly similar they are day in and day out, is all that matters.

While even for those who are diligent in ensuring walks take place frequently and in a range of locations, their own responsibility to actively participate often goes unrecognised. Thus, thanks to the wonders of the electronic age, outings become little more than an opportunity for people to carry on working, return social calls, arrange shopping or book appointments.

From the canine point of view, being tugged round the block, or even taken to a park and then just walked in the same old direction for the same length of time as on every other occasion while the supposed companion chats away on the mobile, is not only a let down but a significant factor in a range of problem behaviours.

Frustration is a constant issue with many dogs, especially those from traditionally working breeds, particularly if bred directly from parents who are still very much in the field, while their offspring have been transplanted to the town. Collies and terriers have an especially rough time so it really is no wonder they figure highly in the caseload of many behaviour counsellors. Even lap dogs, however, have minds – some of them very acute and also in need of a fair degree of stimulation to ensure they don’t start channelling their mental energies into unacceptable behaviours that set them on a collision course with their owners.

And whatever the type of canine or time pressure under which owners are labouring, there really is no excuse for not making walks, albeit brief ones, interesting, productive and fun.

Lack of awareness also contributes to other problems

In addition, another important issue should not be overlooked. For many owners, lack of awareness of whom and what their charges are meeting while out, and particularly the manner in which these individuals or things are encountered, and dealt with by the dog, figures quite highly in many fear and anxiety related cases.

It is an illusion under which numerous otherwise responsible people labour that they know where their dog is, what is happening to him or her and, most importantly, that they, the good citizen and owner, are in control of their canine charge.

Yet when questioned closely, they invariably let slip that they don’t really pay much attention to the pet whether on the lead or running free – “I know he’ll meet me when I get round the corner on the way home” being a typical statement. This demonstrates a terrifying complacency that can, and not uncommonly does, lead to a range of difficulties, including uncharacteristic aggression by very nice dogs.

When the authorities step in, as sometimes they do, the awful reality that a dog that is out of the owner’s/walker’s sight is not under control in a public place suddenly dawns and occasionally, sad to say, it is way too late.

Concentrating on our dogs can pay dividends

We are none of us infallible, and indisputably mobile phones can and do on occasion save lives, whether human or canine. However, there seems little doubt that if we could simply persuade the majority of owner/walkers when out on walks to direct the focus of their attention away from their own preoccupations, which increasingly involve electronic gadgets of some sort, and towards their pets, we could easily make them much more worthwhile and satisfying companions.

In addition, by helping them to understand just how unpredictable, potentially scary and frequently problematic the social and physical worlds our pets inhabit are, and encouraging them to actually perceive the emotional impact of what is happening upon the animal in question, we could go some significant way towards preventing or ameliorating many of the behavioural difficulties with which we are currently faced.

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