Difficult Dogs Part 2, Shelter Stress, and More with Ursa Acree

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla is back with a bonus part two episode about difficult dogs in conservation work. She is joined by Ursa Acree, previous co-host on the retired podcast Canine Conversations.

  • What are some environmental factors in the shelter or in the home that can make behavior problems worse?
    • Change in environment is stressful, especially when going to a shelter
    • Shelters are usually loud, stinky, and have a lack of enrichment 
    • The same can happen in the home if there is a lot of overstimulation but no adequate outlets for the dog 
    • Lack of exercise can be a factor, but adding exercise is not a magic fix. Generally speaking, exercise is not enough to fix behavior issues.
  • Some dogs may have a future in detection work but no other working field. This is because depending on the behavioral issue and the context in which it appears, conservation work may be completely suitable 
  • Some conservation dogs may have behavioral difficulties such as:
    • Noise phobia
    • Handling sensitivities
    • Dog-dog reactivity or aggression
    • Car reactivity
    • Stranger danger
    • Separation anxiety
  • Many organizations look for dogs with drive and simply manage the rest
  • Some Conservation Detection Dog organization do behavior modification training for those kinds of behaviors, but many do not
  • Many, but not all, behavior issues stem from unmet exercise/enrichment needs that may be satiated by this job.
  • It is also difficult to “fix” these behavior issues if the dog’s needs aren’t being met 
  • Fears, phobias, anxieties, and aggression may also reduce due to increased behavioral wellness, management, and a change in environment
  • Why are these behavioral difficulties improved? 
    • Reduction in triggers (reduce stress, lowers ability to “practice,” fewer opportunities for mistakes)
    • Out of the shelter/stressful home environment
    • Often away from city life
    • Careful management from skilled handlers: crate-and-rotate, leash skills, even fully kenneling dogs
    • Increased exercise and enrichment
    • Many arousal/frustration behaviors improve with this alone
  • Other troublesome behaviors, like dumpster diving, pulling on leash, jumping on guests, barking, etc, might simply not be an issue for your average conservation detection dog
  • Some minor behavior problems do not need to be addressed, but if they do, it’s important to modify the issues in a way that will be beneficial to the dog using modern science-based methods. Often times, older out-dated punishment based methods lead to worsening the behavior or creating new problem behaviors
  • Sometimes management isn’t enough; both for the welfare of the dog and the risk of your business 

Patreon Question: For Ursa Acree, I would love to hear you guys talk about reactivity (specifically towards people) and how that is dealt with in the field. I have heard you talk about how some positions may be better suited for reactive dogs (like bat searches on windmill farms, versus zebra mussel boat searches), which makes sense! But does that severely limit the available work options? Also just generally curious to know what it’s like having a dog in a working capacity that has those types of behavior issues, what are things to consider, etc.!

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find Ursa: Behavior Vets

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