Anita was in the final year of her education. She was crazy about dogs. She almost pestered her parents to acquire an Alsatian (GSD) pup. The eight week old, purring ball of fur was cynosure of all eyes in the house. He walked with a dignity and did not pay any heed to the visitors in the house. When lifted up by a person not known, he would purr or sometimes growl menacingly. Many times he managed to scare the person and manage to get out of his grip.
Bozo the GSD continued to charm all by his antics. He was a fast learner and almost a proficient retriever at the age of four months. As per the common belief Bozo was not socialized and mostly kept away from all the strangers. Anita’s parents thought that Bozo would do better as a guard dog, if he did not mix up with many people. By the time he was eight months old, Bozo was already chasing cows or goats walking past the gate. In case the gate was accidentally open he would chase and lunge at these animals. Instead of being discouraged or stopped for such behavior, he was rather encouraged by his masters.
Anita had left home for higher studies. Bozo was an adult dog now-a powerful and beautiful GSD. The neighbor had acquired a pair of rabbits. The boundary wall between the two houses was high enough to obstruct the view of Bozo. But his nose was powerful enough to detect the presence of some animal which appeared to fire the taste buds of Bozo! During his morning walks he had noticed the pair of rabbits romping in the neighbor’s lawn.
After the walk, he was left on his own in the garden, while his owners got busy with their chores. All of a sudden there was lot of commotion in the neighborhood. People were shouting and Bozo was barking in rage. By the time Anita’s parents reached the scene, Bozo had already devoured one of the rabbits while the bother had been shred to pieces. This was most unexpected and unbecoming of Bozo. Anita’s dad was shivering with rage. He picked up a stick and tried to beat the hell out of Bozo. But like a defiant child he attacked his own master. Fortunately he could not really maul his master and was somehow controlled.
After the incident the owners contacted me for advice. Bozo appeared to be a perfectly normal dog when I met him in house. As per the character of a GSD he was aloof, eyeing from the corner of his eye, kind of chary of a stranger like me. It took about 15 minutes to make friends with Bozo. By then the expression of his eyes had become gentle and he had stopped growling. Of course being a GSD he did not wag his tail at me yet.
The moment I took him out of the house in the compound, he was a changed personality. He was eager to play, trying to win me by bringing sticks. I had put him on a long leash with a choke collar. End of the leash was under my toe. His highly sensitive ears perhaps heard the rustle of the leaves on the neighbor’s garden and he shot off towards the dividing wall. Had he not been anchored with the leash he would have easily leaped across the four feet boundary and made another meal of the remaining rabbit. This behavior was noted by me. But I wanted to know more about him.
We went out for a walk to a nearby park. Bozo was a perfect dog, heeling smartly besides me. In the park I sat on a bench and as usual his leash was under my toe, but I had reduced the length to avoid a mishap. A young woman with her infant was fascinated by the beauty of his posture and they approached us. Though I pretended to read a newspaper, I was observing Bozo through it. His ears were moving back and forth, nostrils flared. He raised his heckles even before he gave a growl. The woman was too much charmed by his lush coat and didn’t realize that this beautiful canine had an ugly side too. Had my grip on the leash not been firm he would have toppled me as he charged at the woman. I managed to stop him a few inches from the woman as she was frozen with fright.
A sharp ‘No’ and Bozo was once again a normal dog, though constantly growling now at the retreating woman. So scared was she that she did not even hear my apologies perhaps!
Bozo was not a cent percent normal dog. He had inherited the shyness from his sire, who was a vicious biter, I was informed later. Moreover the owners were blissfully ignorant about socializing a dog. Since he was brought up in isolation he did not know how to behave or react while with other ‘pack members’ that is his owners.
Dog lives in a pack and the pack has certain code of conduct. Each dog has to follow it without fail. When a pup joins his new home he virtually shifts from one pack that is his dam, littermates and the owners to the other pack usually consisting of the new owners. In the new home, dog tries to find the hierarchy and mentally selects a member as the pack leader and tries to obey him/please him in the best way he can. This pup if trained by a professional learns to respond to certain commands and the owners feel that their duty is over. They often proudly present their dog to the guests in their sitting room and make the dog perform some tricks. Everyone is generally happy.
The situation is almost like that of a teenage son. He is well behaved at home, good at studies, disciplined in the school; yet in the company of his friends he is kind of no holds barred. For such a behavior I do not blame the teenager-I blame his parents for not giving him proper training and not socializing him correctly.
Similarly a Bozo type dog needs to be socialized and corrected at every step. His hunting instincts need to be curbed; else all the animals in the neighborhood will be endangered. Teaching the dog to retrieve and make him retrieve, search and find hidden objects daily make him better disciplined. Such dogs should be gradually taken out to areas where other animals like cows, dogs etc are also present. Take him out on a short leash and each time he tries to charge and sharp jerk and reprimand set him right. Each time he stops and becomes normal, he must be rewarded with lots of praise. If the dog is a GSD or Doberman or a Great Dane in no time he learns his lessons. Toy breeds are more difficult to cure this way, but they are not much of a problem physically. A dog irrespective of his breed must be socialized and be never taken out of the house without a leash. He should always be made to think that the leash is part of his routine.
Being creatures of routine dogs soon learn that without leash they can not even dream of going out of the leash. Rather they start bringing their leash to the owner and beg to be taken out.
The socialization is not limited merely to acquainting dog to the neighborhood animals including dogs, but it also needs his getting used to all kinds of sounds, like dogs barking, cars honking etc. In addition your pet must be brought to the sitting room to meet the visitors. After he sniffs them and wags his tail, he should be moved away. All such meetings should take place with leash on.
Generally people have a notion that if a dog is allowed to meet everyone, then he will not be a good watch dog anymore. It is not so. A dog barks when he sees an intruder. You must always remember that generally an intruder is scared of a dog. The moment he hears a dog bark, his system releases adrenalin and your dog irrespective of his breed is able to sniff it. He will bark almost hundred percent. I have prefixed ‘almost’ because certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers are genetically meant to remain quiet, may not bark! A terrier on the other hand will bark the hell out of the intruder, because he is engineered for that job only.
Barking is okay to the extent of scaring away an intruder, but a dog lunging at the person at the gate, trying to maul him is bad. Such dog can be more of a nuisance for you than being an asset. These days often there is a tendency especially amongst the people who have become a rich overnight to rear dogs which attack the visitors. This is a wrong trend because the poor dog can never distinguish between a friend and a foe. He might maul some near and dear one too.
Thus if you have a dog which attacks unprovoked, please have him corrected before the situation becomes too embarrassing and goes out of your hands.