This post is supposed to be somewhat educational through the exapmle of Daisy, a wonderful, lovely and neurotic belgian malinois.
Daisy stays with me for two weeks while her owner is on a vacation. Daisy has her problems. She reacts to stress with some “undesirable” behaviour, namely chasing and biting her own tail. Tale chasing is known by laics as a somewhat normal dog behaviour, but it is not. It’s a form of “stereotypical movement”, which you can observe in wild animals kept in captivity, like circus tigers circling around in their small cages. Stereotypical movements occur when the animal experiences some sort of unhealthy stress on a regular basis, mostly it happens when their needs aren’t fulfilled.
Chasing and biting the tail on a regular basis means something is wrong for a long time now. And it can lead to injuries so bad that the tail has to be amputated. BUT amputation of the tail just ends the physical pain caused by the wounded tail. If you don’t treat the original cause of the neurotic behaviour, the dog can develop other forms, like biting it’s leg, or worse. Many cases, when a dog is so neurotic that these stereotypical movements occur, sooner or later it can become aggressive for seemingly no reason. But the worst in all this is that the dog’s happiness, the quality of their life deteriorates, and the life expectancy drastically shortens.
So how does it correlates with your breed of choice? Belgian malinois is an agile working dog. Malis known as police dogs, search and rescuers, even military bomb squad dogs. They are bred to be obedient and hard working. Of course, some individuals of this breed can be lazy couch potatoes, it happens, but rarely. Work is in their genes. Just like it was in German Shepherds’. When German Shepherds first became popular with families, at first there were problems, many cases of bites, but thank god, dogs are a very easily adapting species, so with enough training and activity, the number of accidents decreased, and with consciously separating the breeding of “hobby” and “working” German Shepherds, they can now be a perfect and obedient companion dog to active families, the numbers decreased to “statistical error”.
Malinois are not that popular yet. The breeding of non-working companion Malis just began a few years ago. That doesn’t mean if you want a Malinois – who wouldn’t want one – you have to be in the bomb squad. It means that if you want one, you have to give them the excercise they need, some “work”, taking them to dogschool, doing some doggy sports besides the daily walks.
Daisy’s owner is a 80 years old man, who can’t grant the activity Daisy needs, but was a dog trainer before, so he thought he can handle her. He is so stubborn he still thinks. He loves Daisy, but cannot realize that the lack of “joint action”, where the owner and the dog does something together under the owner’s guidance lead to this kind of neurosis. In Daisy’s case it could be solved with playing LOTS OF fetch, using interactive dog toys, and going on a hike together on a regular basis. It’s not much, it could be worse. But the man won’t do it – honestly, I think he couldn’t even if he wanted to -, he thinks everything is okay. If he was a concious owner, he wouldn’t choose a breed like this at his age.
I can’t help Daisy, all I can do is provide the best two weeks I can. I’ll try to talk to the owner, maybe he’ll let me meet Daisy sometimes. But I can’t do this for all the badly chosen dogs I meet. This is my profession, I make my living of this, so I can’t say every time I meet a dog with an unmatching owner that “oh, I will take care of your dog for free”. Plus Daisy’s owner lives far, just the fuel for my car to go there costs like one hour of work.
But I always feel sorry and want to help, and I feel super bad when I can’t.
So please, be concious when choosing a breed. Please know your circumstances, know what you can and can’t provide, know how you can or can’t change for the sake of the dog.