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USA Dog Behavior Blog

Dog Breed Information, Not Always Reliable


© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

I was looking through an expansive dog breed reference recently and found some things that bothered me - and should bother you too. The information I’m referring to is found on a smartphone app that documents over 500 breeds; there are many of these types of apps. I never take the information in encyclopedic dog breed references too seriously for three reasons:

  1. They are frequently written by breeders who have a vested interest in making the breed look as favorable as possible.

  2. While breeds certainly have discernible physical attributes, temperaments of breeds are much less quantifiable. Even within the same breed, dogs vary tremendously in their personalities.

  3. There is so much bad and misleading information about dogs on the internet, in books and in magazines that it’s almost an epidemic. It makes me uncomfortable to think how much of this erroneous information might be found in a really large reference on dog breeds.

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For example, if you look up German Shepherd Dogs in the reference mentioned above, you will find the pictured graphic that addresses the major attributes of this breed. I’m okay (for the most part) with the categories that are listed except for the last one, “Protection”. There are so many things wrong with this that it hurts my head.

When will the general public and the media learn that pet dogs don’t really protect their owners? Pet dogs don’t protect their owners; they are simply trying to scare away things the dog fears. The other behavior that looks like “protection” is when they resource guard their owners (which is very different from “protecting”). A dog breed reference should know better than this, especially one that addresses behavior attributes of breeds. For more information on this subject see: Do Dogs Instinctively Protect Their Owners?

And what does the continuum between “timid” and “assertive” mean? Dogs that may be viewed as “assertive” (or aggressive) are frequently actually just fearful and use aggression to keep things they fear at a distance. Conversely, dogs that are supremely confident can appear to be “timid”; they have no need to use aggression because not much bothers them. And sometimes dogs that are “timid” can actually be fearful and use avoidance to get away from things that scare them. The way it is depicted is erroneous and oversimplified.

German Shepherd Dogs do have some temperamental attributes that can be found in the breed. The “protection” issue as it applies to German Shepherd dogs in particular can be summed up in this article if you’d like to know more: German Shepherds are the Second Most Popular Dog in America. Why do you Rarely See Them in Public?

Be careful when you look for information about dog breeds. Always consider the source. For more information see: Fake Dog News, It’s Everywhere.

I’ve found that breed-specific rescue organizations can be one of the best sources of information about specific breeds. They aren’t breeding or selling dogs to make a profit and they see all the different life-stages of these dogs.

This Dog Owner’s Comments Raise All Kinds of Red Flags

© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

I recently received the following email from a lady asking about my dog behavior consultant services.

“I have an energetic 1 year-old male Mini Australian shepherd. Overall he is an okay puppy, but he is aggressive toward other dogs. He is aggressive toward me only when he knows he is in trouble. He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks. He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers, but he is extremely stubborn and doesn't want to listen. He listens only when he wants.”

“…her dog is now using aggression in an attempt to keep her away from him.“

If you are a long-time dog owner, you most likely already see the red flags in her email. Let me briefly break down my concerns sentence by sentence.

“I have an energetic 1 year-old male Mini Australian shepherd. Overall he is an okay puppy, but he is aggressive toward other dogs.”

Her first sentence is the least concerning to me. Her dog has dog-fear-aggression which is caused by his fear of unfamiliar dogs and his desire to keep them a safe distance away from him by using aggression. This is a common behavior problem in pet dogs that can be addressed with proper behavior treatment.

The first red flag raises its head with this statement, “Overall he is an okay puppy…” No one I know who truly cares for their dog would ever describe their dog as an “okay puppy”.  Frankly, it seems somewhat cold to me.

“He is aggressive toward me only when he knows he is in trouble. He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks. He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers…”

The dog owner is saying so much with these particular words.

Her dog does not know “he is in trouble”. However, her dog does know that the owner is acting really scary and threatening around him and he is showing stress behaviors because he doesn’t understand whatsoever why she is acting like this. Dogs don’t show guilt; they show fear – and in this case – fear of the owner.

“He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks.” Now things are becoming very apparent, especially when she follows with, “He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers…” The owner is probably punishing the dog inappropriately for his misdeeds and her dog is now using aggression in an attempt to keep her away from him. The fact that her dog is fine with everyone else should be an important indicator to the owner that her relationship and actions toward her dog are improper and the cause of these problems.

“…but he is extremely stubborn and doesn't want to listen. He listens only when he wants.”

Allow me to translate what is happening with her dog in her last statement. She has not properly trained her dog in the things she wants her dog to know. At one year of age her dog still thinks like a puppy to a great extent. Dogs don’t come into this world or to a new home knowing all the household rules – they have to be trained (for more on this see 100 Reasons Why You Need to Give Your Dog More Respect). The occasional compliance she is seeing from him is for the things he does understand. Her poor relationship with the dog and the fear he feels around her certainly don’t help any of this.

I am not being judgmental here; I’ve learned that 95% of dog owner mistakes with their dogs are because they just aren’t informed about proper and better options. Most dog owners are not intentionally hurting their dogs when they make mistakes like this.  I believe that is the case with this dog owner too.

If you are having problems like this with your dog or you know someone who is, seek the services of an experienced and certified full-time dog behaviorist for help to objectively discern the real issues and get proper guidance.

Dogs Can Have ADHD. Here’s My Latest Case.

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© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC 

I first saw “Knickers” about two years ago. She is an Australian Shepherd and was 1.5 years old at that time. She had been in three homes before the current adopters, Joseph and Gail, had brought her home.

Joseph and Gail told me at our first visit that Knickers was “very energetic, restless and never stopped moving.” After watching her for an entire session, they were absolutely not exaggerating. Knickers couldn’t stop moving and I could see why she was now in her fourth home.

While Knickers seemed to be on the extreme end of high-energy, I was not particularly alarmed; I see dogs with boundless levels of energy all the time. I prescribed a regimen of techniques to bleed off some of Knickers’ enthusiasm, get her to focus on the new owners and learn some impulse control.

After working with the owners over several months it was obvious that we were “barking up the wrong tree” (pun intended). We were getting nowhere with Knickers. Something else was going on.

I considered that possibly Knickers had generalized anxiety issues and we tried some medications and exercises that address anxiety in dogs. We observed only a marginal improvement at best.

Although rare in dogs, I had to finally consider that Knickers might be one of the rare cases of hyperkinesis in canines – known as ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in humans. I’ve only seen a handful of legitimate cases of hyperkinesis in dogs. This looked like it might be one of them.

A common treatment in humans and dogs for ADHD is Ritalin or Adderall. Both of these medications are actually central nervous system stimulants. Humans and dogs that actually have ADHD have what is called a paradoxical reaction to these drugs. This means these medications act in reverse and have a calming effect on these patients. This paradoxical reaction can make it easy to diagnose ADHD in humans and dogs; if their hyperactivity and lack of attention get better with the medication, they have ADHD.

We tried these medications with Knickers with no positive results. I was not giving up on this diagnosis because, unlike humans, only about 20% of dogs with hyperkinesis respond to these medications.

I wanted to try one more medication. We tried a medication that was originally created in the 1950s for psychiatric patients experiencing psychosis. This was a bit of a long shot, but we were running out of options.

And it worked! It was such an incredible feeling to see a dog that never stopped moving and had virtually no ability to focus to rather suddenly turn into a dog that could calm herself and focus. I’ve only had a small number of these cases, but it is very rewarding once the issue is properly addressed.

If your dog has very high energy and can’t seem to focus, he or she has only about a .5% (1 in 200) chance of the cause being hyperkinesis. In almost every case it’s a result of many other factors that are usually fairly easily addressed by a dog behavior consultant or a dog trainer.