Writer Otsetswe Kootlhokile takes you inside the dog psychology and the reasons why suddenly more people are choosing to have them than before.
The cliché “a dog is man’s best friend” alludes to a relationship that dates back centuries. It has stood the test of time. Dogs have enjoyed a unique relationship with humans that maybe baffling to other domesticated species and fellow humans alike. It is a companionship that at its best reaches dizzying levels of camaraderie and is capable of whipping up affection from any self-confessed hard man. Despite the seemingly effortless relation between man and dog, just like any other relationship the bond is not foreign to misunderstandings and miscommunications. At the peak of conflicts, the dog is quickly dismissed and often at the receiving end of a brutal reprimand and cuss such as ‘Fotsheke’ and ‘mokgerwa’. Ishmael Monwametsi, co-founder and dog trainer and instructor at Flic K9 believes dogs possess untapped brilliance and in order to satisfy human’s whimsical and utilitarian needs, there needs to be proper communication and understanding between man and the canine. “We formed Flic K9 in 2009 because of our love and passion for dogs. We also saw the need to educate, train, and inform the public about dogs to reduce human and dog conflict,” says Monwametsi.
In his 24 years as a police officer in the Canine Unit and current position as Head of the Canine Unit in the Anti-Poaching, Monwametsi enthuses that humans misinterpret dogs gravely, leading to constant tension between the two. The breeding ground for conflict normally arises at the very first encounter. “Dogs function in a wolf pack model and there is a hierarchy. It is vital that when man acquires a dog he assert himself as the alpha (leader) in the wolf pack. Humans assert themselves through positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement could be rewarding the dog for something the owner feels is positive and negative reinforcement is disciplining the dog when the dog displays negative behaviour,” says Monwametsi. The accredited dog instructor says a lack of assertiveness by the human leads to the dog taking the reigns in the relationship. “Lack of assertiveness leads to certain behaviours that dogs will portray destruction behaviour such as digging holes in the yard and pulling things apart.Aggresive behaviour such as nipping, growling and aggressiveness towards dwellers of the home. Dominance behaviour is when dogs jump or become aggressive on visitors in the presence of the owner”.
Dogs as bastions of security
The sharp rise of robberies, theft and break-ins is only bettered by the ascent of paranoia and fear grappling dwellers in their own homes. The notion of dogs as bastions of security and protection is at an all-time high and this has fuelled the need to acquire dogs for guarding and watching purposes. However, Phatshimo Mogopodi, co-founder of Flic K9 and dog trainer warns against purchasing a dog on the sole reason of security fears. “It is important to have the capability, knowledge and passion to keep a dog. It’s important to know what type of breed best suits your purpose and home. For example, Belgian shepherds need a lot of affection, exercise and discipline to become a balanced dog that can guard your property very well. Though every dog needs attention, exercise and discipline, there are breeds such as Rottweiler and Dobermans that don’t require a lot of keeping. If not given in right proportions it leads to the dog portraying behaviour such as destructive, dominance and aggressive behaviour. Despite the perceived fondness dogs have for humans, too much affection from strangers is sternly opposed. Mogopodi further explains this point. “Oversocialising a dog is not ideal for dogs that are meant to watch and guard homes. Oversocialising a dog breaks security boundaries”.
Over-socialising dogs breaks security code
Monwametsi chips in to share an experience of how oversocialisation of dogs can break security barriers. “When I was still with the Botswana Police service, I once worked on a robbery case in Mmokolodi. When the culprits were arrested it turned out that they were the very same people who were working on the swimming pool in that home. Because the workers were allowed to interact and socialise with the security dog, the dog became familiar and friendly with the workers and when they returned to rob the dwellers, the dog did not identify them as a threat because of the pleasant encounter it had before with the workers. Mogopodi also advises against feeding dogs almost anything or nothing at all. “If a dog is not feed well it wanders off looking for something to eat and wherever it finds food it attaches itself to that place. We have had a case where a dog, at night would go to the neighbour’s house and guard that place. On one night, the owners got robbed while the dog was guarding the neighbour’s house. When investigating the dog’s behaviour, we found that out that the dog was more affectionate towards the neighbours because they fed it and it developed a sense of loyalty towards that residence”. Mogopodi advises that dogs are only as good as their owners and owners need to acquire knowledge about their dogs in order to get the best out of them. “Cesar Milan once said there are no problem dogs only problem humans. Humans must understand that the behaviour they give out to their dogs, the dog reciprocates because of that behaviour. Dogs are special animals and they need to be treated as such to fulfil their potential”.