Mark's Dog Blog

My response to Vet Behaviourist Dr Kersti Seksel

My response to Vet Behaviourist Dr Kersti Seksel

This is an article written by Dr Kersti Seksel on news.com.au. My response to her major points are in blue

 

AS A vet specialising in behavioural medicine, I see a lot of dogs with complex problems.

About 20% of pets have an anxiety disorders (mental health issues), just like people. But sometimes the problems can occur when owners do not understand the dog’s normal social behaviour.

Below in her article Dr Seksel states that anxiety is a brain disorder that should be treated medically like Diabetes or thyroid disease. I personally believe that in more than 99.9% of cases, anxiety is triggered by environmental factors, and is NOT a disorder.

I am willing to bet, that if Dr Seksel released all of her client consult information, you would find that more than 90% of their dogs would be on some form of psychotropic medication. After all, her speciality is behavioural medicine, and not a background working with dogs in their environment. You may like to read this article by me, about Vet Behaviourists and the over use of drugs.

Here are four things people need to know when it comes to dogs.

PUNISHMENT IN TRAINING

In the past we used to believe that because dogs are ‘pack animals’ that they need to understand who is “boss” or dominant. This was based on what we now call the dominance myth.

But now we know this theory is fundamentally flawed. Dogs have changed a lot since they descended from wolves and were domesticated. And we now know that even wolves live in natural social groups (families) and not fixed dominance hierarchies as was once thought. Aggression is always a last resort as it does not help group harmony.

Whenever any animal or human controls another or takes control of its immediate environment, such as guarding a resource, it is indeed dominating. When a parent enforces rules and boundaries with their children, they are in affect dominating. When law enforcement enforces the law, they are dominating. When an employer enforces rules for his employees within the business, he is dominating.  To state that dominance in regards to dogs is a myth, is denying it exists in any social animal, including humans. We all know that all social animals have varying levels of dominant characteristics including humans, and to suggest dogs don't, indicates to me how little Dr Seksel truly understands dogs and natural instincts. All social animals control through dominance. Maybe Dr Seksel should get her head out of her medical books and go out and observe dogs in their environment, and actually work and be involved in training them?

Using punishment as a training method, instead of positive rewards, can increase anxiety, increase aggression, destroy the human animal bond and decrease the trust of the dog.

Punishing a fearful animal will not help the animal’s emotional state for the better. It is always better to teach the dog how you want it to behave and then reward that behaviour.

Firstly who uses punishment 'instead of' positive rewards? No trainer I know of. But then Dr Seksel has to put this misinformation out to shoot down balanced trainers, so as to make out we are abusive, and that her medication treatments are all positive....

However if appropriate punishment does cause:

  • Fear
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Destroys our bond
  • Decreases trust

Then how the f$%k have social groups survived for millions of years? Why haven't animals within social groups fallen in to complete chaos, if what Dr Seksel and her compatriots say are correct? It appears punishment, according to Dr Seksel, causes a complete break down of the social group. I guess mother nature has gotten it wrong after all these millions of years... Has she ever watched dogs instinctively punish each other to set social rules? Has she ever watched a mother discipline her pups? No, because in her world, Skinner and controlled laboratory experiments are more important, than respecting the dog and its natural instincts. This is why people like Dr Seksel resort to drugging dogs, as they know full well their positive-only methods are very limited in its ability to deal with all behavioural issues, and adjusting for different breed characteristics.

Why haven't Vet Behaviourists like Dr Seksel gone out in to the wild to save all of those animals living in social groups with their drugs? I mean anxiety. aggression and fear must be rife within these groups, according to her statement that punishment causes all of the above issues!

CHOKE CHAINS (COLLARS)

Choke collars are usually made of a metal chain, and pull tight around a dog’s neck when the leash is yanked, ‘choking’ the dog.

Choke collars come in many different forms, but they all pull tight around the dog’s neck when they pull on the lead.Source:Supplied

They are still far too popular in Australia, and often exacerbate a dog’s fear and hence an aggressive response.

If the dog pulls on the lead then using a front attaching harness is a much better way to manage most dogs.

Firstly, Dr Seksel needs to educate herself on the tools she is discrediting with misinformation. The correct use of a correction chain does NOT include choking the dog, but to always hangs loose on the dogs neck. A correction is a quick snap and release, where the chain is tight for a fraction of a second. Yes its designed as an aversive tool that applies discomfort for a fraction of a second.

Dr Seksel, states a front fitting harness is better. Well this is also a tool that applies an aversive to work, however unlike a correction chain this tool maintains continuous discomfort, causing discomfort and pain by rubbing and applying pressure around very sensitive areas of the dogs body..The harness also interferes with the dogs natural gait. You can't say that one tool designed to apply an aversive is more humane over another. It's the application of the tool. For me, in regards to the correction chain (as I prefer to call them), the trainer has more control of the applied aversive, than a tool that is designed for the dog to decide.

THINKING YOU CAN ‘TRAIN-AWAY’ ANXIETY

In clinical practice the most common problems I see are all anxiety based. These can present as separation anxiety, noise phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders and aggression.

Anxiety disorders are medical problems, and are due to a neurochemical imbalance in the brain. They need to be treated the same way as all medical problems and may require medication to help “normalise” the function of the brain.

People often think the dog just needs “obedience training” to resolve these issues but although teaching good manners helps with teaching manners and gives dogs and owners a clearer communication strategy, it cannot resolve an anxiety disorder any more than it can resolve diabetes or thyroid disease (both medical problems).

You know what causes anxiety? A lack of structure, a lack of predictable consequences, a lack of impulse control, and all caused by a lack of discipline. Anxiety in dogs is not a brain disorder, its caused by environmental factors, and in more than 99.99% of cases does not need medication, but more a change in the relationship between the dog and human, and/or its environment.

Extreme anxiety doesn't exist in the animal world. These social groups live by their instinctive nature, and use positive punishment techniques to maintain social order. Anxiety in animals is only prevalent when animals interact within the human environment, and are denied their natural instinctive needs to survive, by instead using the outdated Skinner model of controlling behaviour, because it works in the laboratory.

Why is it considered inhumane or abusive for humans to interact with their dogs by utilising their natural social instincts, as mother nature intended? And yet we sit back and admire the social interaction social animals have within their own social groups. The cooperation within these social groups is incredible, and without these instincts no social group could survive as they would instantly fall into chaos. And yet we demand that our dogs follow the Skinner model, and if you can't live by those rules, we will either avoid all social interaction for you, drug you, or put you to sleep to save you from your own suffering.

DOG PARKS

Socialisation with other dogs, when done correctly, can really help our pets learn about living with us and our community in harmony.

So what a lot of owners do is take their dogs down to the local dog park and let them run free. It seems like a great idea. But what people often don’t realise is that that environment can be very stressful for some dogs. Only socially polite dogs benefit from dog parks, and all dogs need to be closely supervised.

Well at least we both agree on this point!

Such a pity that these academics live in total denial of the evidence put before them, preferring to focus on an outdated model that has proven not to be effective anywhere but inside a sterile environment, under strictly controlled conditions. It's our dogs that must suffer due to this ignorance, and closed minded attitude.

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