Sunday

Sighthounds and Displacement Behavior


Sighthounds can't be trained by a common template.In previous posts I have mentioned the importance of understanding a dogs' genetic behavior. Most dog trainers understand that while genetic behavior is a major factor in planning a training program, every dog is an individual and their training must be custom 'tweaked' to obtain the best results possible.

Last week I overheard a conversation between an owner and a professional trainer concerning a young show quality female Whippet I was personally quite fond of.
She was a family pet and clearly the mother and daughter had vastly different expectations of suitable behavior of the Whippet than did the father. Previous conversation with the family led me to think the dad needed his own dog, one that thrived on pleasing his owner like a Rottie or Standard Poodle, certainly not a sighthound...

On this day, it was Dad who was asking for advice from the trainer.

He was upset about the Whippet jumping on him when he came home. This is a concern for many dog owners and one I understand, especially if you value your wardrobe!

Jumping is what sighthounds do, it is one of the athletic activities they are especially well built for, and to them it feels pretty natural to use jumping as a means of expression.

We all know why dogs want to jump on us when we come home...

...it is the 'perpetual puppy' temperment that dogs have been selectively bred for over thousands of years...

In the past, our dogs' wild ancestors left puppies in the safety of their den home while the adults 'went to work' hunting for food to bring home. The return of the adults was met with great glee and the pup who didn't join in the welcome festivities might not get fed.

When we return home from work, our dogs are happy to see us because it is in their genes to behave that way.
So what happens when we curb this natural genetic exuberance in our dog?

What happens is displacement behavior...

I was already seeing the signs in the young adult Whippet as the two men talked.
As she sat quietly beside her owner, the last five vertebrae in her tail twitched back and forth( much as my cat does when he is at the vet, behaving, but unhappy). And when this Whippet walked quietly on her lead, her neck was thrust farther forward in a way that was not in keeping with her conformation, causing her to carry her head lower and rolling her eyes upward constantly to monitor her owners face as she anticipated with dread his next command. And as is typical of many dogs walking in this situation, her tail was wagging.
If this Whippet wasn't already destroying things in the house she soon would be, or else she would soon develop some other neurotic behavior like excessive barking or chewing on her feet, etc.

Displacement behavior is triggered by many different situations, but it is always CAUSED by going against the genetic grain.

If you stifle a dogs natural behavior, you MUST provide a suitable outlet to release the 'blocked' energy...otherwise the dog will find his own outlet and it most likely will be one you won't approve of.

I was saddened at this man's desire to extinquish the very essence of this Whippet by taking away two basic sighthound characteristics, independence and enthusiasm.

Sighthounds were bred to think creatively, independent of mans' direction and to pursue their prey with a single minded diligence. They do not accept dominance well.

In fact, the majority of sighthounds downright resent it.

The Whippet in this photo is a rescue named Lucy. After being a repeat return to a rescue group I agreed to rehab her. Supposedly she had a lot of displacement behavior but she never acted out at my house. She was obedience trained and I suspected she was trained more like a working dog than a sighthound and felt that could have begun her behavior issues.

After she was adopted by Ginger ( pictured with her), she immediately pee'd pooped, or chewed up everything in the house. And at the sound of any sort of dominating noise, storms, vacum cleaners, etc. she hid in the closet. I worked closely with Ginger ( Lucy was her first dog) and using flower remedies much of her fear was overcome and her destructive displacement behavior was overcome with AGILITY work!!

We took the obedience work she hated and paired it with a fun and rewarding sport that appealed to her sighthound competitiveness.

Agility released her 'blocked' energy and allowed her to overcome the resentment of earlier obedience training that had gone against her sighthound nature. In fact Lucy acquired her Canine Good Citizen certification.

To the owners of the other Whippet, I gently suggested lurecoursng as a sport for them and gave them local information on it. For the dogs' sake I hope they participate, displacement behavior puts a lot of dogs in rescue.