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  • Writer's pictureCarol Neil

Things I wish every person considering a new puppy or dog knew? Part 1

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

SO many things! Let’s get started! I will continue to share my top tips in a

regular column…

First, I wish people would properly research the breed/s they are looking at

bringing home. This will ensure the best fit to work within their family,

lifestyle, and environment. I do not mean looking at cute puppies on

Facebook, websites, or Kijiji as their research; I do not mean reading what

the breeders and breed enthusiasts have to say. While these folks are

mostly very well-intentioned, some of them are only going to talk about the

wonderful and fun things about the breed, not the reality of what humans

bred them to do and what that looks like in our lives. It is important to

remember that they are selling a “product”. It is not pleasant to refer to it

like this, but it is the reality. The book “Meet Your Dog”, by Applied

Ethologist and Behaviour Consultant, Kim Brophey, is an amazing resource

for people to better understand the “genetic” portion of a dog’s make up.

The best part is, it is available on Audible, so people can learn about the

likely predisposition of different breed groups while driving around in their

cars or cleaning their homes! Kim has created the fantastic acronym of

L.E.G.S. (learning experience, environment, genetics, and self) to help us

(the average dog guardians) easily understand the science of “phenotypes”

and what goes into making up an individual dog.

One of the top reasons I am called into people’s homes is for dogs who

perform behaviours that owners consider problematic, which are often

actually hardwired, genetic behaviours. These are behaviours that we

humans artificially tampered with canine genes to create, to use them to

perform a specific job for us. For example…let’s take a Great Pyrenees; this

is a Livestock Guardian Breed. We hardwired them to be protective of

livestock. No livestock available? “No problem”, says the Great Pyr. “I will

transfer these genetically hardwired behaviours towards my family, other

household pets, and home/property”. This means they have genetic

tendencies towards territorial barking on their property and aggression

toward unfamiliar people and animals, especially near their home and

property. Dog guardians (I much prefer the term guardian to owners,

shifting the long-standing psychological and legal perspective, that dogs are

chattel, to be owned and do with as we please) will then call a trainer,

insisting they “fix” something that is genetically hardwired.

One of my greatest joys is to help dog guardians learn and understand all

the amazing information different branches of science have learned about

dogs in the past 60 years, including the most effective ways to teach dogs

and humans. For example, we now know that our old ways of training dogs,

typically correcting or punishing the dog for a behaviour that we find

undesirable, is based on suppressing an undesired behaviour, by using

something the dog finds scary and/or painful and therefore, the dog works

to avoid that consequence; the punishment may suppress the behaviour in

the moment. Many ask why this would be problematic, given the

undesirable behaviour has stopped. There are multiple problems with these

approaches, but for this article, I will choose to highlight one problematic


Let’s use the example of the Great Pyrenees mentioned above, performing

its genetically hardwired behaviour of territorial barking or fear barking at


Someone unfamiliar enters the home, and there is a modal action pattern

triggered in the dog’s brain as a result. (A modal action pattern is a

genetically hardwired reaction that is automatically set off in the brain…no

thinking process is involved. - think Jack Russell Terrier seeing a squirrel or a

Border Collie seeing sheep). The trainer tells the guardian that when the

dog barks, to do something like spray the dog with a spray bottle; squirt

them in the face with a can of high-pressure air; yell and throw little bags of

chains beside the dog to startle it; use a collar that gives the dog a shock or

sprays it with citronella when they bark, etc. This aversive consequence is

delivered and the dog tucks its tail (fear response) and stops barking.

What’s the problem? Think about what unfamiliar people coming into the

home now start to predict for the dog. Happy/good things or scary/painful

things? Scary/painful of course. Now, we have a dog who, not only has a

genetic predisposition to be wary of strangers, but we have validated and

strengthened their concerns, which are - visitors are bad and scary! Often

this is when I get the call because now, the dog has actually bitten

someone! The correction, supposed to help, has made matters worse.

All of this could have been prevented with a better understanding of the

genetic predisposition of the puppy/dog the guardians have chosen to bring

into their home. Also having the dog guardians immediately start helping

the puppy understand that visitors are actually safe and fun. This is where

the guidance of an educated dog professional can be of great assistance,

helping dog guardians learn the fine art of creating situations where the

puppy/dog feels safe. I will also say that it seems like a pretty harsh, cruel thing to do, to punish a dog for simply being what we humans genetically hardwired it to be.

Let’s end there for this week and I will add to the list in an upcoming installation

of “What do you wish every person considering getting a new puppy or dog

knew?” ��

Carol Neil of Soul2Soul Dog

CPDT-KA, Fear Free Certified Trainer, Family Dog Mediator

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