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How Dogs Cope With A Change Of Leadership And Environment

by Neil Ewart FBIPDT


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Who can explain what really makes owning a dog so appealing to humans?  Is it the companionship or is there a deep seated desire to be out hunting some imaginary prey with a faithful companion?

Or, do we like our dogs because they, often inextricably, like us humans?  There seem to be so many emotions involved and I suppose most are perfectly commendable.  This is undoubtedly the ego in us all that actually rather likes to have an animate being dependent on us.  

It does make us feel good!!

That is why when we sometimes have to rehome our dogs, for whatever reason, many rather like the idea that the dog will ‘pine’ for us.  When this does not happen, we do feel rather hurt and let down. 

‘After all I did for him !’   I have heard some miffed owner mutter.

There is nothing actually wrong with this as it is tied up with the pride of ownership and our innate desire to be liked.

Dogs are pack animals.   For them, a change of leader is perfectly natural.  When the top or ‘alpha’ dog is usurped from his position by a young upstart then the rest of the pack re-asserts their individual positions of status very quickly.  Each dog then gets on with its own life within the pack with the odd challenge being made to the new leader.  Usually, this dealt with firmly and all becomes peaceful again.  However, it is inevitable that every member will probably live through several changes and will accept them as a totally natural part of life.

We humans do find this difficult to accept as it so alien to our own behaviour patterns.  Virtually all domestic dogs will also accept a change of leadership provided the situation is handled sensibly.  There should be no need for the dog to necessarily experience any stress.

Dogs obviously can initially miss their owners but I strongly suspect that, in most cases, it is the actual ‘home environment’ that is the most significant loss to the dog.

Therefore, if you are in a situation where you have to leave your beloved pet for a short or long stay somewhere, try to leave it with something familiar like its bed or favourite toy.  This should also apply if the parting is permanent.

Many humans are very hurt by their pets when they are observed to settle down with minimum fuss and seem to become quickly attached to a new person.

But, is important to remember that he is behaving quite normally as a member of the ‘doggy’ world.  He is not being ‘disloyal’ or ‘unfaithful’ but merely behaving as nature intended.

There is a myth that dogs are actually really attached to the person who feeds them.  This can come as a surprise to many who believe the dog is ruled by its stomach.  Although, its food is vitally important more often their actual attachment is to the person who does something with them like, for example obedience.

I do not think it really makes much difference what the dog’s age is.  I suppose it would be totally wrong to dismiss the feelings of the more elderly dog but I still see a great many who change owners quite happily , if the situation is handled sensibly.

To get the above into some perspective you need only look at the career of a guide dog puppy… It will live with its litter mates for six weeks in a very secure environment.  It can then come into the Breeding Centre for a couple of days before being sent to a puppy walking family somewhere in the UK for socialisation.  If successful, it will then spend another eight months or so, in advanced training being prepared for its eventual guide dog owner.  After a period of bonding and training, the two then go to the new home where, hopefully, the dog will spend the remainder of its life.

While it is being puppy walked, a member of staff (Puppy Supervisor) will have visited on a regular basis.  This is another human to get attached to!  During the more advanced training it is very likely that the young dog could have a minimum of two trainers over the eight months….. A lot of changes and many would expect the youngster to become quite ‘screwed up’ but, in reality, it does not happen.

At the end of its working life, the guide dog invariably remains with its guide dog owner as a pet and a new dog will enter its world as the owners guide.

However, there are instances when this can not happen as  Guide Dogs are committed to finding it a good home and these more senior citizens will quite happily settle in a with a new owner for the remainder of their lives.

Despite, the fact that he has acted as a guide and companion for so many years I have never known a problem with a change of owner/handler.  The old dog quickly identifies the new environment as its home provided it is comfortable and well-cared for.

In conclusion, it is natural for any dog to change leadership and home.. Handled sensibly it really should not be a problem.

But is it natural for humans to miss the dog and have terrible feelings of guilt, etc?

Of course it is!!!!
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