Breed Specific Traits and Behaviours


Hi All, lets have a quick look at breed specific traits and behaviours. I have written this article to give owners both new and old and indeed potential owners some basic knowledge that will help them understand a bit about what I think is a major influence on many modern dogs behaviours. A few examples of the many breed specific traits and behaviours would be the Collie to herding, the Rottwieler to guarding, the Husky to wanting to pull, the Staffie to loving people or the Labrador retriever to a good temperament.

When we talk of breed specific traits and behaviours what we should really be saying is that dogs from certain breeds will have a genetic predisposition to carry out certain traits or behaviours, it is in their genes (known in behavioural terms as the genotype), but whether these genes actually become expressed and ultimately become part of the adult dogs actual observable appearance/behaviour (known in behaviour terms as the phenotype) will be profoundly influenced by the environment and early learning that the dog goes through. Let’s have a couple of simple made up examples of the above to explain it.

1.A Staffie is taken as a pup at 8 weeks from a litter of five with mum and dad present, from a loving family home breeder having experienced a safe and stimulating environment throughout with good experiences with all people he came across. This good work was carried on by the new owners family with ongoing good socialisation and the end result is a well balanced dog that loves people, as most Staffies do.

2. A Staffie is taken as a pup at 6 weeks (too early) from a puppy farm having experienced no interaction with littermates and only seeing mum at feeding time, no interaction with other animals including people. The new owners keep the dog locked in a room most of the time, it gets no socialisation and it’s only interaction with people is to get chastised for any normal canine behaviours (driven by boredom and frustration) that it carries out. The end result here is a dog that reacts badly to most people.

In example 1 the genetic predisposition for loving people has been expressed and reinforced by the dogs early learning and environment.

In example 2 the genetic predisposition for loving people has not been expressed due to it’s early learning and environment.

dog traits and behaviours

For thousands of years man has selectively breed dogs for certain traits or behaviours that they liked or in earlier times were required, like a dog to guard the home or village to give warning of strangers approaching or to protect their animals. More recently man has breed dogs for aesthetic reasons (looks) and for temperament so they make a good companion dog. There are obviously still many working dogs around today and their owners bring out and reinforce their desirable breed specific traits and behaviours in the course of their training and work.

It is only fairly recently in the dogs evolutionary scale that man has wanted a dog more for a companion animal than a working animal and the previous thousands of years of selective breeding for certain traits and behaviours, especially in some breeds, can give a modern dog very strong genetic urges to carry out certain behaviours. Dogs that have these strong genetic drives do not make good pets for new or inexperienced owners but they do make good working dogs or pets for experienced owners who understand and can give them a life that takes care of their needs. If a dog with these high drives does not get to satisfy the genetic urge they may well carry out other undesirable behaviours (in our eyes) out of boredom or frustration.

Also if a dog is carrying out behaviour that does in deed satisfy it’s genetic urges it will carry on doing it as it makes it feel good, the behaviour releases feel good hormones within the dog that make the behaviour self rewarding to the dog, in this case a dog may become obsessed with carrying out certain behaviours (it becomes a fixed pattern of behaviour) this may cause problems too for the inexperienced.

On my website the dogs that I do not recommend for the first time owner are indeed nearly all high drive dogs, driven by different genetic urges put there by thousands of years of previous selective breeding, these vintage genetic influences can vary from breed to breed and can take the form of prey drive, scenting, guarding, fighting, loving people, dominance, herding, nervousness and many others. As I said earlier though these are genetic predispositions to traits and behaviours and whether they do actually become expressed and end up part of the adult dogs repertoire will be affected by that particular dogs environment and early learning, if you are a first time owner then these sort of dogs may well prove to be too much to handle for you without continuous expert help/advice, really they are not for the new owner.

All of the above and more is covered in more detail on my website dogways so why not take a look, it’s free. Hope the above gives you a brief insight into breed specific traits and behaviours and what it could mean for you and your dog and gives you some encouragement to look further. Thanks for looking!

dogways to help with dog behavioural problems

Guide to Pet Insurance

Insure your pet Why insure?
A recent survey by insurance comparison website GoCompare has shown that almost half of the UK’s pets are not insured. In the current economic climate, pet insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a short-term saving can lead to considerable financial and emotional concerns if our pet falls ill.In recent years, veterinary science has advanced considerably, and it is now common for pets to be referred for specialist treatment, including MRI and CT scans, complicated fracture repairs and ongoing chemotherapy treatments for pets with various forms of cancer. While it is great news for our pets that we now have access to such advanced treatment, it inevitably comes at a cost.

In the recent GoCompare survey, only 11 percent of the people who chose not to insure their pets had set aside the funds to cover any medical expenses. When asked how they would pay for any unforeseen treatment, answers included using savings, using a credit card and borrowing from family and friends. While these may be viable options for a few hundred pounds, would these options really be available if we had to find several thousand pounds?

If our uninsured pet falls ill, and we do not have access to the necessary funds to treat it, what do we do? Some vets will offer payment plans, but this is rare among specialist referral centres. In some cases, there may be less expensive treatment options, but there will usually be a reason why they are less expensive. In other cases there may be no other option, and if the funds are not available, we may find ourselves in a position where we have no alternative but to have our pet put to sleep. This is an incredibly hard decision to make at the best of times, but knowing that there are options available which could potentially save our pets makes this decision so much more difficult.

So, having decided that pet insurance makes sense, how do we find the most suitable policy? Price comparison websites are great, but take care not to just choose on price alone. The phrase “you get what you pay for” is often significant when choosing an insurance policy and the cheapest policies usually offer less cover and have more conditions and exclusions than the more expensive policies.

The best way to find a good insurance company (and there are some good ones!) is to check out some forums on the internet, and websites such as Which? to find opinions from people that have actually had to make a claim. Do not be fooled by the insurers own website, no matter how great it looks!

Pet insurance
What to look for in an insurance policy
Many pet insurance policies cover lots of eventualities, including compensation if you need to cancel your holiday because of your pets illness, and often payment towards posters and a reward if your pet goes missing. However, perhaps the most important part of a policy is cover for vets fees. The limit for vets fees can vary from anything from £1000 to £12000 and even sometimes “unlimited”. The average cover for vets fees is probably around £4000. This may seem like a huge amount of money but it is important to remember that specialist treatment at a good referral centre can often reach these figures reasonably quickly.As well as an overall limit, some insurance policies also have individual limits on certain sections of the policy, including specific lab tests or hospitalisation fees. This may not be a problem if your pet needs a routine operation which involves a short stay in hospital but can be an important point to consider if your pet has a complicated illness which requires a long stay in hospital and lots of regular tests.

These limits can apply in different ways. Some policies are “annual” which means that the limit applies within the insurance year of first diagnosis, but once the policy reaches the end of its term, the condition is no longer covered. “Lifetime” policies will cover your pet for a particular condition throughout it’s life (provided that the policy is renewed and payments kept up to date). This is the most expensive type of policy, but also the most comprehensive.

What is not covered?
Standard exclusions on pet insurance policies include routine treatment such as vaccinations, worming and neutering, and almost all policies will exclude pre-existing conditions. For this reason it is important to take out an insurance policy as  early as possible. It is also advisable to be certain what has been excluded from your policy, as some insurers will exclude specific illnesses, whereas others will be (perhaps deliberately) vague and exclude certain areas of the body. This can severely and perhaps unfairly restrict the cover on the policy. Like other forms of insurance, most pet insurance policies have an excess. Designed to deter people from making small claims, the excess is the first part of any claim which has to be paid by the policyholder. This can also vary wildly, and in some cases is a set fee, while in others it can be a percentage of the total costs. Like some other conditions on the policy, this can change as your pet gets older; many insurers require the policyholder to pay a larger contribution towards the vets fees for an older pet, sometimes as much as fifty percent! Another important point to note is that a percentage excess usually applies to the limit of the policy, not the total cost. For example if your limit is £1000 with a 50% excess and your bill comes to £1500, you will not receive £750, you will receive £500.

In summary…
There are many important points to consider when choosing your pet insurance, but please don’t let this put you off! A “lifetime” insurance policy with a generous limit and a low excess, taken out with a reputable insurance company can still cost as little as £20 a month and can save thousands of pounds and some heartbreaking decisions in the long term.

Philip Webb
pet insurance comparison

Where can a dog’s behavioural problems start from?


Hello All, My name is Paul from dogways, a qualified and experienced behaviourist, long term volunteer to a large rescue centre and for most of my adult life a dog owner and lover. I have put together a free website giving advice and information to help prospective, new and indeed experienced owners a great life with their four legged friends. The reasons why a dog may have or develop undesirable behaviours can be influenced by what happens to them from the earliest times, actually in the womb. A male puppy that comes from a litter made up of mostly females can be affected by a process known as “estrogenization”, although obviously still a male dog he can be bombarded by female hormones in utero, these hormones can permeate the amniotic membrane (the sac they are in) and there is evidence for it happening through the foetal blood supply, the male dog will develop female traits and behaviours and as I said will obviously still be a male dog but may get unwanted attention from other male dogs throughout his life because of it. This process also happens the other way round, known as androgenization, a female foetus among a large amount of males can be bombarded by male hormones and develop male traits and behaviours, these females often grow up to become a bold, high status dog with the required learning and environment. Often (definitely not always) these are the female dogs that will cock their legs to urinate.

Puppy behavioural problems

If a pregnant bitch is in a calm environment during her pregnancy and is relatively free of stress and anxiety she will have calmer pups, indeed there is a phenomenon known as the “caress effect”, if you regularly stroke and calm your bitch during pregnancy this will have a calming effect on the pups. Whether they do indeed grow to become calm laid back dogs will be influenced by their future environment, personal learning and the future expression of certain genes. Certainly the most influential time is from birth to 12 weeks of age known as the critical learning period and what takes place during this time will have great effect on the type of adult dog you end up with. The breeder be they a professional or a private person/home will have a major effect on things and so where you get a pup from is of great importance. My website covers this and many other topics in good detail to hopefully get you on the right road to enjoyable dog ownership for it is a lovely thing.

In relevant up to date and easy to understand text you can find free advice and information about; canine evolution, how dogs learn, is a dog right for me, which breed or crossbreed, pedigree or crossbreed, where do I get my dog/pup from, which age dog should we get, picking the right pup, picking the right adult dog, picking the right senior dog, rescue dogs, housetraining, separation anxiety, socialising your dog, going to the vets, canine hierarchy, canine prey drive and much more.

Using my knowledge and experience I have put things down to hopefully stop undesirable behaviours manifesting in your dog, there is also good information on there for the experienced dog owner too. As a behaviourist I would only ever use dog friendly techniques and reward based training, any behaviour has to be looked at in it’s entirety with reference to history, context, environment, owner bond/participation, diet, exercise and much more for that particular dog/s only.

In the first instance any clinical problems for an undesirable behaviour should be ruled out by a vet before behaviour modification is looked at.

dog behaviourist

I hope that any prospective, new or experienced owner will find my site helpful and enjoyable to read, I truly want to see more people out there having a great life with their dogs. Please take a look at my website dogways, it’s free.

dogways to help with dog behavioural problems

Raw Food for Dogs – A “Complete & Balanced” Opinion

Correct Nutrition
While everybody agrees that correct nutrition is hugely important for our dog’s health, not everybody can agree on just what is “correct”. One of the most controversial differences of opinion is whether dogs should
be fed a commercial pet food or a home-made diet based on raw meaty bones, commonly known as the “BARF” diet (Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) or the slightly different RMB
(Raw Meaty Bones). There are countless books, articles and websites on this subject and advocates of each type of feeding are often equally evangelical about their method, making it very difficult for the pet owner to
form their own balanced opinion. The aim of this article is not to convince the reader about any particular method, but simply to offer the facts about raw feeding in such a way that the reader can form their own
opinion and decide which method is best for them and their dog.What is a “complete” food?
The term “complete” is a legal definition. If this term is used to describe a dog food, it means that the food contains all the nutrients that your dog needs to support its daily life. The essential nutrients a dog needs are
water, protein, fat, carbohydrate and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Requirements for each nutrient vary, but any excess or deficiency over a period of time will lead to problems for the dog. By feeding a “complete”
food, we can be assured that we are giving our pet all the nutrients that he needs.

Or can we? In Dr Ian Billingshurst’s book The Barf Diet, he writes a whole chapter on “complete and
balanced”. In summary, Dr Billingshurst believes that the legal term of “complete and balanced” is based onthe pet food industry’s current thinking. He believes that it is impossible to claim that any food is complete
and balanced and instead claims that a feeding plan shou ld be “nutritionally sound and nutritionally adequate”. He also claims that the legal definition of complete and balanced can mean that a food contains certain
nutrients which may not actually be available to the animal (for example, cooking can make some nutrients indigestible).

So, is a BARF diet the best way to provide all the nutrients a dog needs? Maybe… Feeding meat and bones as a “whole” food may very well mean that the dog can take certain nutrients from the food that may not be
available in a cooked processed food, as cooking destroys the quality of some enzymes. (Incidentally, freezing also degrades and destroys some enzymes, so technically, a raw diet should be fed fresh, not frozen).
However, as a pet owner choosing to feed with this method, we must take responsibility for providing enough variety in this diet to ensure that our dog gets all the nutrients he requires. “The Barf Diet” is a useful guide to
feeding a raw diet, but it is also an indicator of just how difficult it can be. In various sections of the book, Dr Billingshurst recommends vitamin supplements, kelp, alfalfa, salmon oil, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, slippery
elm bark powder and more. By feeding a commercial food, we hope that the pet food manufacturer takes care of this for us. On the Pet Food Manufacturers Association website, there is a link to the FEDIAF (European
Pet Food Industry Federation) Nutrition Guidelines. It is heavy reading, but it is a good indication of the amount of research which goes in to pet food manufacture, and also of just how complicated it can be to
provide a complete diet for our dogs, however we define it.

“The Evolutionary Diet”
Raw food advocates believe that their feeding methods work because they replicate the dog’s wild, evolution- ary diet, but this is not as straightforward as it seems. While some still believe that dogs and wolves evolved
separately from a common ancestor, most scientific evidence now confirms that dogs are a direct descendant of the Grey Wolf. Physiologically, dogs are certainly similar to wolves and are “built” to eat predominantly
meat. Dogs have teeth which are designed for shredding meat and do not have the large, flat molars which true plant eaters have. Dogs have powerful jaw and neck muscles and their jaws move up and down in a chopping
motion, unlike animals which chew vegetable matter, such as cows whose jaws move from side to side. They also have a relatively short digestive system and an acidic stomach, both designed to cope with raw meat.

However, dogs are not wolves. Most modern dog training methods are no longer based on the “alpha/pack leader” idea and perhaps we should also consider domestic dogs different to wolves in terms of their nutrition
as well. The domestic dog’s lifestyle and requirements are very different to their wild cousins. Most domestic dogs live in heated homes, and while enjoying exercise, do not need to travel miles in search of food. As dog’s
energy requirements have changed, so too have their nutritional needs.

When dogs originally evolved from the wolf, it is believed that certain individuals would have hung around human settlements, where both the dogs and the humans began to use each other to their advantage, until over
many generations, dogs were “domesticated”. It is likely that these early domesticated dogs would have scavenged scraps of leftover food from the humans. This may have been raw bones, but it may also have
included scraps from burnt out fires, which would have been effectively cooked. Indeed, it may have been the cooking of the meat which attracted the dogs to the human settlement in the first place. (It is thought by some
scientists that it was the aroma of animal carcasses being accidentally “cooked” on a fire that first encouraged humans to begin cooking our food). Domestic dogs continued to exist on scraps until quite recently when dog
food as we know it began being produced in the 19th century. However, meat, even leftover meat, would have been very valuable to humans, so it is possible that a large part of the early domestic dog’s diet was in fact
things like stale bread – cooked grain, which we shall discuss later!

As domestic dogs have continued to evolve, they are moving further and further from their wild cousin. Selective breeding by humans has produced dogs of all shapes and sizes, and in some cases, it is clear to see
how these changes could affect their ability to eat certain types of food. Some dog food manufacturers now produce food designed for different breeds such as specially shaped kibbles for dogs like bulldogs with shorter
jaws. Of course, how much humans have selectively modified the shape of certain breeds is a matter of much debate, but it is clear that some breeds are very different to their wild ancestor. There is also evidence of
internal changes as well. Some of the enzymes required to digest raw meat are no longer present in some modern domesticated dogs, or they have been “switched off”. It is likely that as dogs continue to have no raw
meat in their diet, they will lose some of these enzymes altogether. Is this because we are depriving them of their natural diet, or is it simply a case of evolution in action…?

The Raw Food Diet
Raw food diets are based essentially on raw, meaty bones, with some added supplements. The inclusion of carbohydrates is something of debate even among raw feeders, but most would agree that the percentage of
carbohydrates in most commercial foods is too high. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose which the body uses as energy. Dogs can produce glucose themselves, so carbohydrates are considered a non-essential
nutrient, however by providing it, we can give them a little helping hand, freeing up the enzymes in their body to do other things. This is one view. Another view is that they are totally unnecessary. Dog’s saliva does not
contain an enzyme called amylase which in other animals begins the process of breaking down carbohydrates. In dogs, this process does not begin until further in the digestive system, which indicates that dogs require
little, if any carbohydrate in their diet. If they do consume carbohydrates in the wild, most of it would come via the vegetable matter in their prey’s stomach. Some BARF’ers include up to a third of the diet as vegetables,
heavily liquidised to replicate the stomach content of the prey. However, other raw feeders do not include any vegetables at all.

As a dog’s saliva cannot break down carbohydrates, inevitably some of these sugars will build up between the dog’s teeth and turn in to plaque and eventually tartar, leading to some possibly serious dental problems. This
is one reason why if feeding a commercial diet, it is important to choose a good quality one, as any poor ingredients, additives etc will also accumulate between the teeth. One of the main benefits of a raw food diet
is the dog’s dental health, partly because the raw food diet contains little or no carbohydrates, but also because the gnawing and grinding action of eating raw bones helps to keep the gaps around the teeth clean and free of
debris. However, there are other natural products available which can have the same effect on the teeth, without the possible concerns of feeding raw bones. It should be noted here that raw feeders would never
suggest feeding cooked bones, and are also clear that the size of any raw bones should be carefully considered and suitable for the particular dog.

Many people are discouraged from feeding raw food to their dog because of concerns regarding parasites and bacteria. This is actually more likely to be a problem for us than our dogs, whose stomachs are much more
acidic and better equipped to deal with nasty bacteria than ours. Of course, we should use appropriate precautions when dealing with any raw meat products. So, assuming we can feed raw meat safely, there are
actually strong arguments for and against cooking. Cooking destroys some enzymes so feeding raw food provides our dog with more naturally accessible nutrients, however cooking also makes other ingredient
more digestible. Of course, if we have to cook an ingredient for it to become digestible, should we really be feeding it at all? It is often stated that wild dogs are not seen running through cornfields eating the crop. But,
neither are humans! We cook the grain to make it more digestible to us, and some scientists believe the ability to grow and cook grain was hugely influential in the advance of the human race. (However, an internet search
will quickly reveal that there are many people around the world who believe that humans should eat a raw-food only diet!)

Commercial Dog Food
If we are going to compare raw feeding methods with commercial dog food fairly, we must ensure that we compare the raw food diet with a good quality dog food. By feeding a raw meaty bones diet, we know exactly
what we are feeding our dog (a very important point, particularly if our dog develops any allergies or intolerances) and it is often claimed that we do not really know what is in our processed dog food. This is
certainly the case with some products, but, thankfully, not all. The term “meat and animal derivatives” can cover a wide variety of meat, from a range of different sources. Even if it is labelled as “beef” flavour, it need
only contain 4% beef in the ingredients. By using this term on their packaging, some manufacturers can vary the ingredients from one batch to another. We could buy the same dog food a month apart, and it could actually
have different meat in it, which is a scary thought, when we consider dogs with dietary intolerances. So, it is absolutely right that we should look for a dog food which states exactly what meat is in it, and the meat (as
well as other ingredients) should be of a high quality and quantity. One of the benefits often seen when changing to a raw diet is the absence of symptoms related to allergies. When feeding a good quality
commercial food with one protein source and no artificial additives, we can achieve the same effect.

Taking a look at the website of a good quality brand of dog food reveals that the meat that goes in to their dog food is actually of really good quality, and not the “heads, feet, and feathers” of the scaremongers. The same
is true of the carbohydrate source. While wheat is often used in lower quality products as it is cheaper, most reputable companies now realise that it can contribute to dietary sensitivities and so use better quality sources,
such as rice or potato. Equally, any additives or preservatives should be stated (cranberry extract, and rosemary extract are common natural ingredients) and not listed as “EEC permitted additives”, which again
can cover a whole range of, sometimes, unpleasant things.

It is in the pet food manufacturer’s interest to produce food which keeps dogs happy and healthy for many years, with their owners continuing to buy the product and recommending it to others. Some raw food
enthusiasts claim that all sorts of “modern” diseases are caused by commercial dog food, and this may be partly the case for some poor quality brands. But, the fact that so many more diseases are being diagnosed
could equally be a result of advances in scientific knowledge, and because our dogs are living longer, due to better nutrition and general care.

It is often suggested that the opinion of vets regarding nutrition is swayed by their allegiance to certain pet food providers. It is true that many vets make money from selling dog food, and it is also true that much of
the nutrition training offered to vets and their staff is provided for by pet food manufacturers. However, any vet offering anything less than sound nutritional advice will quickly lose customers and their reputation, so it
is in their interest to offer the best advice they can. Unfortunately for pet owners trying to make decisions, vets cannot agree on the right type of diet either! The letters pages in some of the veterinary press frequently have
correspondence from vets with differing opinions on raw food diets. Whichever method a pet owner decides, it is useful to find a good vet who has similar ideas or is open-minded and knowledgeable enough to offer
suitable, unbiased advice.

The purpose of this article was not to convince one way or the other, but to offer a balanced opinion of raw food diets and commercially produced dog food to hopefully enable the dog owner to decide which is best for
them and their pet. The conclusion is that feeding a diet based on raw meaty bones, with appropriate supplements can eliminate many health problems and can offer a completely natural, healthy alternative to
a commercial brand of dog food. However, if the dog owner does not have the time, knowledge and confidence to provide everything a dog needs in it’s diet, there are reputable pet food companies which spend
time and money researching and producing high quality products containing everything that the dog needs for a long, and healthy life.

Further Reading
Typing “raw food for dogs” in to an internet search engine reveals over five million results, but here are a few websites which I have found to be particularly useful;

The following dog food manufacturers all have informative websites;
Arden Grange
James Wellbeloved
Nature Diet
Natures Menu

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association website also has some useful information regarding the ingredientsand production of commercial dog food.
There are many books on the subject of animal nutrition. These are a few which I referred to while writing this
Small Animal Nutrition Sandie Agar
The Holistic Dog Holly Mash
The Barf Diet Dr Ian Billingshurst
Fat Dog Thin David Alderton
Philip Webb
April 2012