Offering advice on how to train a new puppy can be a minefield, especially during a pandemic
If a neighbor’s dog infuriates you with persistent barking or the way a new owner is raising their pet infuriates you, you’re not alone.
But is it still okay to tell someone how to take care of their dog, especially in a closed world?
“This is such a loaded question,” says Dr Mia Cobb.
The animal welfare scientist, who is based at the University of Melbourne, says that deciding whether or not to offer counseling depends heavily on the relationship and the context.
She likens it to offering advice on raising children.
Dr Cobb specializes in dog care.
Some dogs she has worked with are food motivated. Others “don’t care” and are more motivated to play with a toy to help reinforce good behavior.
“If we reward the behaviors that we want to see more of by paying attention to things like food, that’s what we’re going to reinforce,” she says.
But it works both ways.
“If we ignore the calm and placid behavior but focus on the dog when it jumps and bites, guess what we will encourage more? More jumps and bites,” she adds.
“Because even… if it is negative attention, some dogs might find it more rewarding than being ignored. And so, they will persist in these behaviors.”
Avoid giving “bad advice”
Melbourne-based animal behavior specialist Dr Kate Mornement says advice from well-meaning friends and family can often be outdated.
“This includes rubbing your puppy’s nose out of order when he has a toilet accident, the ‘alpha roll’ where you force your puppy or dog to submit and slap your dog on the nose for a bad behavior or bring him to his knees if they jump on you, ”she explains.
She says it’s now widely recognized that positive reinforcement training is also much more effective and enjoyable for the animal.
“As long as you know the latest scientific evidence regarding pet behavior and training, you can give advice, but [generally] I would suggest leaving this advice to the experts, ”says Dr Mornement.
Research has shown that people tend to have different attachment styles to pets.
Just like parenting – where there are four attachment styles such as bossy, bossy, permissive, and uninvolved – these different styles can also be applied to pets, adds Dr. Cobb.
“You might have… an introverted person who has what we describe as a permissive style of taking care of their dogs. It’s actually more likely to be an overweight dog,” she says.
The bossy style, which involves someone with high expectations but also very supportive, is a good way to strive for achievement, she adds.
But again, she says it’s best to leave this kind of advice to the experts.
It is also not uncommon for a pet owner to have an illusory bias. This means that you may not know as much as you think about dog breeding.
Dr. Cobb was involved in a study that asked more than 2,000 people to rate the well-being of dogs in a variety of settings.
The study included guide dogs, police dogs, racing greyhounds and even their own dog.
“So it’s unlikely that I had only the top 2,000 dog sitters who responded to my survey. But it’s the first evidence that we possibly have this illusory positive bias on how we take dog care. “
Pets in a locked world
With more and more people spending time at home during the lockdown, the number of pet adoptions has increased recently.
However, this irregular lifestyle can lead to behavioral problems in pets – and possibly unwanted advice – later on.
“The most common behavioral issues that I have noticed in pandemic animals are separation anxiety and fear and anxiety issues related to limited socialization,” says Dr Mornement.
“Many puppies were unable to attend puppy school and training classes during their socialization periods, which had a negative impact in some cases.”
She has been inundated with calls and bookings in recent months from people with pets suffering from separation anxiety after their owners return to work.
“Getting in and out of confinement is so confusing for the pets who get used to being home all the time. Then suddenly we start to leave for the day,” she says.
“Common signs of separation anxiety are barking and yelling, dirt in the house, destructive behavior, and not eating when the owner is away.”
She says those considering having a pet during the pandemic period should think about it very carefully.
And those with any advice to share should consider whether or not it’s worth it.
Finally, Dr Cobb says it’s important to recognize that, as with any advice, there are some more effective ways to make suggestions than others.
“I think if I say ‘you’re doing the wrong thing by walking your dog this way’, it’s probably not going to make someone really want to know more about my ideas,” she said.
“But if I can say ‘Oh, looks like you’re going through a rough time, do you want some advice or do you want the number of someone who could help you with that’, that may be more effective.”
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