Evaluation of dogs

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Aug 10, 2015, 10.13 PM IST

It has been yet another week of intensive learning – much of the focus has been on evaluation of dogs. Though it is not common in India it is fairly common in other parts of the world. What started out as a tool to be used for dogs in the defense industry has now extended to several other areas such as therapy and temperament evaluation of shelter dogs. In some cases it has even become a leisure activity for enthusiasts. While its uses are varied, evaluation can be a great tool for behaviourists to understand dogs and see problems that their caretakers may not be able to articulate.

However, dog evaluations suffer from a certain insensitivity in the way they are being conducted world over. Many involve putting the dog under severe duress and pushing the dog to his/her limits – just to know where those limits lie. So it was refreshing to learn about the new methods of evaluation that Turid Rugaas is developing and propagating across Europe and hopefully in the US and other parts of the world, soon. 

While in India we don’t have any structured evaluations for dogs, I still believe that these methods can be used quite effectively to understand our pets, get to the bottom of what might be ailing them and further behavioural investigations. These evaluations require minimal resources, no specialised equipment and provide great insights.

The evaluations happen in a confined space that is relatively free of distraction. The space has to be enriched with some interesting objects such as boxes, rags and other odds and ends. Everyday objects that one would find around home should do just fine. This is what we call an ‘enriched environment’. The dog is allowed to freely explore the space while humans remain calm passive observers. Everything that the dog does from the start to the end can be quite telling.

We spent a lot of time observing the gait of the dog, the back line, the number of times the dog pees, the number of times the dog goes back to his/her guardians and his/her general interest in examining the objects around the room. 

The gait and back line tell us about the health of a dog. A dog exhibiting an odd gait is in pain. He/she will consequently have behavioural problems too. A dog that pees a lot is not marking territory, but is stressed. Such a dog’s life needs to be examined to figure out the source of stress. A dog that is yo-yoing back to its owners too much could signal helplessness. Such a dog may need some confidence building exercises and therapy. A dog that is unable to examine the objects and is just flitting across them could indicate high adrenaline. This dog would require reduction in exercise and therapy too. A dog that shows no interest in the objects could suggest that he/she has never really had an opportunity to explore. He may need some mental enrichment. Each story is telling and fascinating. 

Through small and subtle ways dogs tell us a lot. However, at no point should a dog be put under duress. Putting fingers in the food of a dog, scaring a dog, hugging a dog just to see what he tolerates is absolutely unnecessary. It may be a good idea to take your dog to a new place, sit back and just observe. What is your dog telling you?


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