Afghan Hound Times
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An interview with Mrs Pat Oliver Dog Behaviourist
By William Hansen (Jhanzi) New Zealand 1997
Email address: William. Hansen@wcs.co.nz
Q. Are these general traits as far as dogs go or are they breed specific?
PAT "Yes, I have actually found these very same traits in other breeds. I do not particularly see this as a breed problem, I think it is just the nature of that particular dog, which can be overcome to a large extent."
Q. With the aloofness being the most common problem that you have found with the breed, what are your keys to the management of this aspect where it appears to be a problem and can you provide several case examples?
PAT "The greatest key would be re-socialisation that is, by taking the dog to places where people and other dogs are for example, recreation areas where there are other people. I also would encourage the owner and the dog within a stimulating environment to focus and concentrate on completing a task together, no matter what the outside stimuli may be. Happily completing these tasks, no matter how small, is satisfying to both dog and owner, builds confidence in the dog and builds rapport between them.
I advise owners to ask other people to talk to the dog and where possible scratch the dog's chest, while the owner keeps the dog on a loose lead and keeps an aloof attitude toward the dog and not showing any so called reassurance. Furthermore, introducing and familiarising the dog in built up areas, such as main streets, where there are shops and people is advised, once again keeping the dog on a loose lead and walking purposefully."
Q. Where all attempts at rehabilitation fail, as must occur from time to time, have you found any common cause and if so could these situations have been prevented?
PAT "I believe if a dog is in the right hands most problems can be ironed out, however, if the dog has an unsound temperament then there is no guarantee that it will ever be completely cured. The most common cause for dog problems is people not understanding them as dogs, nor the characteristics of the breed and how to work with them."
Extreme wariness of strangers which manifests in fear-based aggression and/or excessive timidity appears from time to time in the breed. (Keep in mind that the breed standard calls for a certain aloofness). This is a problem facing breeders and dog owners. For breeders, these characteristics can appear in some puppies of a litter where puppy rearing and socialising have been the same. For new dog owners, who can inherit a puppy with these seemingly inherited problems, is it a four-way disaster as follows: firstly the dog; secondly the owner; thirdly, the breeder and most important of all, finally for the perception of the breed as a whole.
From your observations:
Q. How much influence does genotype, that is, the dogs inherited genetic "blueprint," play on outward behaviour?
PAT "Genetics play a major part in dog behaviour for example, fear based aggression, if the parental background of the puppies is fear on both sides, what chance does the puppy have of not being the same, very little I would say."
Q What is your advice to breeders or new puppy owners where inherited anti-social characteristics have clearly surfaced?
PAT "To the breeder I would say, take a long hard look at your lines, think about where you are going and the damage you can do not only to the breed but to other people as well. In the end human safety is at stake here. To new puppy owners I would suggest they take their puppy to a professional trainer and have it temperament tested, before taking any alternative action."
Q. How much does phenotype, that is, learnt environment, play in determining attitudinal and behavioural patterns?
PAT "While I see the odd unsound temperament in a dog, the environment plays a much greater part in determining attitude and behaviour patterns. In fact, the first 7 weeks in a puppies life are the most important of all. During this time they learn much from their mother, and certainly things you and I can not teach them ourselves since we are not dogs. How the puppy is handled after that is all environmental, and any mishaps that do happen can be easily corrected."
Q From your observations can you detect which characteristics may be inherited (genotype) and which characteristics are learnt from the environment (phenotype)?
PAT "By temperament testing yes, one can certainly ascertain wether a certain problem is genetic or environmental. If the problem is genetic it may never really be corrected. If it is environmental it is easily corrected. Usually just from simple observation I can tell where the problem is coming from."
Q. What range of training techniques would you recommend to promote good social skills for puppies and young dogs?
PAT "First and foremost I make sure that the puppy is socially well adjusted by taking it out into the environment where it can meet all kinds of people, in various situations. I also socialise it with other dogs. Precautions are required here as far as health issues are concerned for I insist that all other dogs in contact with the young puppy have been vaccinated for parvo-virus and other diseases that may be around at the time.
I also make sure that the puppy is not put in a position where I could lose my cool with it because it did not measure up to my so-called standards.
I am a great believer in crate training, both for toileting and sleeping, also for travelling in cars which ensures a safe journey both for the owner and the puppy. I strongly discourage children from taking the puppy out of its cage without supervision, as mishaps can happen.
I do not allow anybody to play-fight, or play tug-of-war games as this only leads to aggression.
I also keep a light collar on the pup and take it out on a lead when I need to. I do not use slip-choke chains on puppies. When feeding the puppy, I make sure that it sits before it I allow it to have its food. If the puppy does not eat the food then I pick it up and put it away until the next feed time. I do not recommend over handling puppies, in fact, I try to be a bit aloof so they can learn to recognise me as their leader."
Q. Does anything specifically apply to the Afghan Hound, as an example of the sight hound breeds and that of a relatively recently domesticated dog breed?
PAT "Because these are sight hounds and I like to set the boundaries and territories very early in the piece. I do this by long and short sight communication and commands combined of course with a positive voice and actions to go with it. For distance training, I use a long line, similar to that used in horse training, until the dog is well tuned to me both visually and orally, at close and long range distances and at my every whim and fancy. It is very important to labour in this area, as these dogs love to run and run, doing what comes naturally and with little regard to instruction. It is vitally important to establish leadership right from the beginning because as we know, the Afghan Hound has not been domesticated in the West for very long."
Within the Afghan Hound community there is much debate about show training versus obedience training. Some consider that they are not always compatible for a breed who prefers to be more aloof and independently oriented.
Q. From your experiences, could you offer any advice with respect to training an Afghan Hound for obedience/agility/breed showing in comparison with other breeds?
PAT "The debate you mention regarding show training versus obedience training, this actually applies to ALL breeds of dogs, the only difference is that some dogs are good for obedience competition whilst others are good for other types of work. I can not imagine most of our obedience dogs for example, like the beagle, going on the hunt for a start. I think confusion arises from our show people simply because of the way our competition obedience training has been set up. There is no reason why a show dog can not be taught to sit, stand or down, in fact they have been doing all of these things plus much more long before they went into their new home. All dogs need to be taught to respond to their name and come in when called.
Basically it depends on the character of the dog as to whether it would take to agility or competitive obedience or even show training for that matter. I think it is what the dog owner prefers to do themselves, however, I know all dogs need to be trained otherwise we could not live with them or they with us. I like to bring out everything I can in a dog including hunting, retrieving, searching for people etcetera."
Q. From the Afghan Hounds that you have worked with what is your overall impression of their intelligence and is there any mental characteristic or quality that distinguishes them from other breeds and that clearly stands out?
PAT "Once again we find no two Afghan Hounds the same, even though they may have similar characteristics some are more highly socialised than others which makes it easier to train them to do other things. Contrary to what some people believe, I have found the Afghan Hound quite intelligent, especially when it comes to reading people, they are quick on the uptake."
Finally Pat, I wish to conclude this interview with you by asking you one question
Q. What is the most important goal which you wish to achieve with your work?
PAT "My aim is to help the average person in the street to be able to train their own dog, thus bringing much pleasure to all around. I also would like to help my country as a whole to overcome the difficulties we are currently experiencing with our out of control dogs. Dogs are a lot of fun when they are correctly trained. I am well aware that no dog laws are going to change people, however I will do everything I can to make this a better environment for both man and dog. Canine education is the key."
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