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This seminar offers an insight into the development of social hierarchies (debunking the “Dominance” myth) from the most comprehensive, long-term (30 years) dog behavior research study (Yale/Berkeley). We originally embarked on the study searching for physical “dominance” … but didn’t find it. Certainly, puppies spend a good proportion of their time play-fighting and fighting with each other to determine, establish and maintain their relative rank, but we saw no cases of adult dogs physically dominating puppies and we observed very few dogfights between adult dogs during the ten years of the study. On the contrary, we observed many instances of adult dogs spending long periods of time actually “tutoring” puppies and young adolescents to slow down, chill, sit, lie down and otherwise “show respect”. The puppies developed stable hierarchical relationships while growing up which served to prevent the need for fighting as adults. We found that dogs growing up and living together (without human intervention) develop extremely complex and sophisticated social structures. The social behavior of dogs is utterly fascinating — special friendships, preferences and allegiances, as well as special animosities. But by and large, when left to their own devices, dogs get along quite amicably. It is surprising, therefore, that so many dogs living with people become dog-dog reactive and fearful and aggressive towards people. Certainly, with a better understanding of how dogs develop stable social relationships, we can move beyond unfounded notions of “dominance” and the provocation of physical punishment and prevent or resolve fearfulness, reactivity and aggression towards other dogs and people. Our research findings taught us many things that had an enormous impact on reshaping pet dog husbandry and training during the late 70s and early 80s, namely: the extreme and long-lasting effects of early Socialization (or lack thereof); the notion that temperament may be modified; the overwhelming importance of Puppy Play, Bite Inhibition and developing Social Savvy as puppies, i.e., before adolescence and adulthood; the essential importance of variable-age socialization groups for building confidence, and resolving fearfulness and bullying; and a workable understanding of why dogs fight and bite, especially the notion of Multiple Subliminal Bite Stimuli, which made dog bite cases predictable, preventable and resolvable. Perhaps most enlightening, the socialization process appears to follow a pretty predictable, albeit deceptive, timetable. Predictable, because without ongoing socialization and extensive Classical Conditioning throughout puppyhood, whether friendly or not, 5-8 month old adolescents will naturally start to show incipient signs of wariness, standoffishness, fearfulness and eventually, reactivity and aggression. We must never forget that it is normal development for fears (and hence, reactivity and aggression) to develop during adolescence. Early socialization prevents these fears from developing. Deceptive, because two-, three- and four-month-old puppies appear to be super-friendly social butterflies and so most owners slack off from the intensive socialization program. Many people fail to adequately socialize their pup. They don’t see the point, because their pup is friendly. Of course the puppy is friendly and sociable, it’s a puppy. Unfortunately, by the time owners realize that their dog is becoming fearful and reactive, the impressionable Critical Period of Socialization is long gone. Whether or not, puppies appear to be super-friendly, heavy-duty socialization and classical conditioning must continue until dogs have weathered adolescence and reached social maturity (at about three years of age), otherwise adolescent dogs will predictably become fearful and aggressive. Rehabilitation techniques are pretty much the same as preventative measures, except that treatment takes much longer (MUCH longer) and often the techniques are difficult and not without danger. For example, whereas fearfulness and bullying may be resolved in a single class session with three-month-old puppies, similar problems in a five-month-old puppy would take several months to resolve. Moreover, it may take a couple of years to rehabilitate a fearful eight-month-old dog. But, the dog will unlikely be what he could have been. Instead far too many dogs that missed out on early socialization, suffer a reduced quality of life for life.
Speaker(s):Dr. Ian Dunbar
Contact: Jamie Dunbar