Audio link: Youtube: duration 13 mins 11 secs https://youtu.be/ltwmdaKLhPk?si=Vthk-ic74kxVRGHC
In the previous prey drive blog I explored the role of genetics, epigenetics and genome mapping in understanding the predation behaviours of dogs.
It is important to acknowledge genetic influences on dog behaviour as dogs are evolving all of the time. With each litter the genes from their parents do influence behaviour. DNA is altered by the methylation, which affects gene expression in future generations depending on the behaviours of the mother. (1)
It is also equally important to also respect that the environment, learning through life and the opportunity to rehearse behaviours, especially successfully contributes to how much a dog's behaviour is influenced. (2)
Early experiences for a dog will dramatically affect their behaviour throughout their life, researchers have found that if a dog was to be ill as a puppy, the guardians would experience more unwanted behaviours than that of a guardian with a dog who didn't experience illness or unwellness as a young dog. (3)
The documented behaviours found were fear related behaviours and “aggressive” behaviours towards strangers, separation anxiety, barking and humping.
As a personal note, I know of many dogs who experienced illness during early life such as giardia, parvo and bone problems which inhibited these dogs as puppies from early life experiences, some dogs were absolutely fine and some dogs needed support. So I would just like to reassure anyone fearful of having an unwell puppy. This does not mean that you will absolutely have behavioural problems as your puppy grows into adulthood. With any academia we have to remember that many sample groups for statistics are very small and data is not always accurately given.
A poor diet and a lack of nutrients in a puppies life can also alter their behaviour as they grow, a dog's brain development is reliant upon polyunsaturated fatty acids. As the brain needs these nutrients for cognition and learning. (4) If you would like to learn more about diet and nutrition you can refer back to my previous blog on diet to learn more. Look at this post on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/share/iUgafRQKsnVv6J9u/?mibextid=WC7FNe
Phenotyping a dog is a delicate balance to include validity, sensitivity and to be as objective as possible. In medicine diseases are easy to identify as there will be specific components to look for to diagnose. However there is no such thing to identify behavioural traits, which makes diagnosis more complex and restrictive. Which means researchers rely on questionnaires from dog guardians to gather data, but we always have to be mindful that what the guardian interprets may not be accurate if there is limited knowledge as to the dogs behaviour and motivations. Just as we as behaviourists would not understand the coding of blood tests for example whereas trained and experienced medical staff do know this. We are all experts within our own forums and professions and this does not mean that anyone is lacking in knowledge, skills or intelligence, we are simply on different paths of study.
There are many tests that have been met with scepticism due to human error and bias when interpreting behaviours of a specific breed. Especially if a particular breed is a favourite of the tester. This was shown by Diederich and Giffroy (5), they found in their research that there was a lack of standardisation widespread within the parameters. These parameters included indoor and outdoor dogs, age ranges, social and environmental stimuli used. For example when looking at sound sensitivities there were far too many variables from an alarm clock to a siren. They also found a lack of standardisation in canine laterality tests. (6)
Laterality simply means the preferred side the dog has for example being right handed or left handed. Many of my conditioning and Trick clients know that I always say that every individual dog has a preference to which they will prefer to lie on to roll or step forward with to interact with a piece of conditioning equipment.
Some tests only looked at one behavioural trait to understand such as the Ainsworth strange test which specifically looked at dog and guardian attachment using a series of controlled tests and a controlled environment. (7)
As mentioned above results can also be influenced by external influences, such as judges. Another test is the mentality test, used to test thousands of Swedish dogs annually. These results would be compared with the answers from the guardians completed questionnaire.
Ruefenacht ( identified the heritability of traits within German Shepherds such as hardness, defence drive and confidence which is influenced by the age and sex of the dog, the breeding and the judge. (9)
Whereas when looking at livestock guardian breeds, objectivity in selection for herding breeds and successful breeding programmes for the complexity of traits of the livestock guardian dog. (10)
But again it is important to be mindful that many testing areas are unfamiliar to the dog and the dog may not feel safe or the dog maybe too engaged with the new environment. This is where guardian questionnaires are valuable as nobody knows their dog better than their guardian. The dog is also in their own home which again many who work with me know how much I value this environment and not a strange environment to travel to. There are two types of main questionnaires which guardians have been asked to participate with for reliable data. The Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire also known as C-BARQ which has been used by many researchers for data. There is also the Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire - Revised (MCPQ-R). (11,12)
The other problem which has been identified is the use of terminology and the understanding of the behaviour. It has been found that too many behaviours were being grouped together instead of being identified as their stand alone sub-type. For example aggression, resource guarding, defensiveness, fear and anxiety. There was too much divergence between the emotional state and motivation of the dog as perceived by the testers, which meant as a stand alone diagnostic tool the results would be inaccurate. This included 15 international Veterinary behaviourists. Which shows due to human error just how a dog's behaviour and emotions can be interpreted in different ways by using different language to identify essentially the same diagnosis of behaviour or emotion. (13,14)
It may seem strange that I am breaking down and explaining genetics and phenotyping in depth to simply share how to work with your dog with prey drive and predation behaviours. But as said before in the previous blog, in order to truly understand your dog as an individual we first need to understand all of the components that brings about this behaviour for you both to be successful in your learning journey!
Champagne FA, Curley JP: Epigenetic mechanisms mediating the long-term effects of maternal care on development. Neurosci Biobehav Rev2009,33(4):593–600. 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.10.009
Scott JP, Fuller JL: Genetics and the social behaviour of the Dog. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1965.
Serpell J, Jagoe JA: Early experience and the development of behaviour. In The Domestic Dog: Its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Edited by: Serpell J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1995:79–102.
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Topál, J., Miklósi Csányi, V., and Dóka, A. (1998). Attachment behavior in dogs (Canis familiaris): a new application of Ainsworth’s (1969) strange situation test. J. Comp. Psychol.112, 219–229. doi: 10.1037//0735-7036.112.3.219
Ruefenacht S, Gebhardt-Henrich S, Miyake T, Gaillard C: A behaviour test on German Shepherd dogs: heritability of seven different traits. App Anim Behav Sci 2002,79(2):113–132. 10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00134-X
Thomson PC, Wilson BJ, Wade CM, Shariflou MR, James JW, Tammen I, Raadsma HW, Nicholas FW: The utility of estimated breeding values for inherited disorders of dogs. Vet J 2010,183(3):243–244. 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.12.002
Arvelius P, Malm S, Svartberg K, Strandberg E: Measuring herding behavior in Border collie-effect of protocol structure on usefulness for selection. J Vet Behav:Clin Appl Res 2013,8(1):9–18. 10.1016/j.jveb.2012.04.007
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Image description: A three window comic panel which is grey. The title reads: prey drive and livestock force and fear free solutions.
The first window is of a Wolfdog chasing sheep on a country hillside. With a blue and yellow sky. The text box reads: You don't need an e collar to stop this behaviour, but a little bit of common sense and a responsibility.
The second window is of a wolfdog running in a secure dog field. With a blue sky background. There is a fence and tufts of grass growing by the fence.
The text box reads: utilise enclosed dog fields, long lines and check fields for livestock. Avoid fields with livestock.
The third bottom window is of a Wheelchair user with blonde, pink, purple ombre hair sat in a Wheelchair with a Wolfdog either side engaging with a backdrop of a sheep herd on fields with a blue sky in the distance. The text box reads: working on predation substitute training and work on stimuli which triggers a prey chase behaviour.
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