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Fenton!…… Fenton!!

The voice from off camera can be heard imploring with gradually greater and greater levels of urgency as the deer move into shot from the right. The herd picks up pace and the off camera exhortations transgress into mild expletives as they come into view. They career in between the (thankfully) stationary traffic and we finally see the cause of the panic, a lean, jet black dog, (presumably called Fenton) haring after them and, sometime later, his slightly less lean owner pacing after him in the way only a mortified middle aged man can.

If you are not one of the 2.5 million people to have seen this video on Youtube then you should. Whilst the owner of the dog in this clip was clearly exasperated, and things could have turned out a lot worse, it is one of the undeniable pleasures of dogs that they are, or can be, wild spirits. Dogs are governed almost entirely by their id, their desire for instant gratification, they are not forward planners!

I think this is useful to think about when we’re trying to understand the various behavioural responses that we get from dogs and how sometimes our efforts to alter these can be counter-productive. I’ll give you a small but very common example; Dog sees postman at garden fence. Dog thinks this is something his owner should know about so runs down to the fence and starts barking. Owner is unhappy about his dog barking so starts shouting his name. Dog thinks ‘Great, dad’s joining in.’ Owner tries to encourage him back in with treats. Eventually when the stimulus has been removed dog stops barking and comes back inside to receive his reward thinking ‘I did such a good job of barking at the postman that dad gave me a biscuit, next time I’ll do it even louder.’ You can see how this makes perfect sense to both dog and owner although the desired results are completely different.

I always maintain that dog ownership should be quite straight forward; love them, feed them a good diet and exercise them and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. It is easy to see how these little idiosyncratic behaviours can become ingrained in the dog’s psyche and sometimes you have to change your perspective to understand the response. Understanding the solution is usually more difficult than understanding the problem but it is at least the start.

I think with Fenton, however, all the liver treats in the world would have made no difference. He had the call of the wild in his ears, a not too distant memory of dogs past echoing in his conscious. With the smell of hooves and mud and panic in his nostrils he could do nothing else, and all of this on a Sunday afternoon in Richmond Park: ‘Jesus Christ!’

Mr Richard Harper BVetMed MSc(Onc) MRCVS

T: 0208 4449006

E: [email protected]


About Richard Harper (25 Articles)
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