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Personality of dogs as complex as humans

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Editor’s note: This is the first installment of Ollie’s three-part series on dog behavior.

Updated: January 3, 2013 6:20AM



Dear Readers: “People behave the way they do for a reason.” Hmmm.

Any human attending a life-skills training class will have their eyes opened and ears bent back by an enthusiastic trainer making that point again and again and again.

Well, my woman-human and I met Lisa Bataska, a dog trainer, while attending her recent class on recognizing a dog’s body language, at the Canine Country Club in Valparaiso. Bataska believes in relationship-centered training and that “dogs behave the way they do for a reason.” Bow wow.

She maintains that each dog’s personality and temperament is different and certain breeds have characteristics that are part of their unique genetic make-up.

Add to that mix their history of relationships with other pets and humans, and you have the possibility of a lot of different dog behaviors, she said.

Some dogs are huge cuddle bugs that just love their people and need to be around their humans all the time. Others are standoffish and can care less about cuddling. This makes sense when you think about people — no two are alike. Some people are reserved and others aren’t. Some families and cultures are also more “touchy-feely” than others.

Since you function as part of your dog’s “family,” or pack, you determine what your dog’s boundaries are, she said.

In her class, Lisa uses the example of introducing a new dog to its new home. “If there are other dogs, look at the dynamics of the present group. Every group will change when presented with a new person or dog,” she said. If you don’t believe that, ask any teacher about adding students to large or small group late into the school year. Or, ask a dog trainer how an obedience or agility class dynamic will change with the addition or subtraction of just one dog.

People and dogs behave the way they do for a reason, and people or dog groups will change their dynamics and balance with the simple introduction or subtraction of just one person or animal.

Dogs get anxious if put into new situations too soon or too fast. As with people, each pack of dogs (three or more) has a personality and hierarchy of its own based on the many characteristics of its members.

Bataska advises watching canine body language carefully.

First the old-timer dogs will sniff the new “kid on the block” to find out what he or she is made of and exchange scents. Some dogs, like people, do not like each other. Why? No one really knows. “When we look at dogs and their personality we look at two aspects; nature and nurture. Some of it is hard-wired and some isn’t,” she concluded.

Humans must stay with the animals while the new one is being introduced. Generally, you will see the sniffing ritual, play and then resource guarding, which is being protective of people, places, toys, bowls, etc. When they start resource guarding, don’t physically correct it. Carefully supervise and orchestrate any interaction between the dogs with careful attention to body language.

Bataska may be reached by contacting the Canine Country Club in Valparaiso at 548-3604.



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