Freedom #5: Allowing Animals to Exhibit Normal Behaviour, but What Constitutes Normal Behaviour?

Oct 4, 2017

What if an animal exhibits an undesired behaviour? To address problematic canine behaviours, for example, prevention should be the primary goal of pet owners, veterinarians, shelters, trainers and breeders. Prevention is best achieved through education and the setting of realistic expectations for what constitutes context-specific normal and appropriate behaviour.

Reputable educational material and information should be obtained by owners prior to or at the time of obtaining a puppy or adult dog. Such material should include breed and age-specific information on appropriate behaviour and development, sensitive developmental stages influencing socialization, and strategies for minimizing fear and distress through the appropriate management of environmental and social exposures.

Biting is not ‘normal behaviour.’  It can be a normal reaction to worry or fear. Veterinarians can, in most cases, work with the dog using positive reinforcement to help a dog cope in the perceived stressful circumstances. Punishing only reinforces the undesired behaviour and does little to change it.  There are many games and techniques to positively teach dogs how to cope in stressful circumstances, but the person looking after the dog has to be willing to commit the time and hard work it can sometimes take to do that. 

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association supports the use of humane training methods for dogs that are based on current scientific knowledge of learning theory. Reward-based methods are highly recommended. Aversive methods are strongly discouraged as they may cause fear, distress, anxiety, pain or physical injury to the dog. Read our full statement here.

The Dogs and Kids – Dog Bite Prevention Program also has some great information about things to remember with dogs and owner responsibility: