How Inbreeding Can Create Sensory Disorders in Dogs

I have a lot of theories on dog behavior and WHY we see certain behaviors in dogs.

I wish I had the money to do some studies so that my theories could be proven or disproven, but for now I don’t.

I just have to go by my 20+ year knowledge and experience and hope that I draw some good conclusions.

And, I for one, think that dogs can suffer from the same emotional and mental disorders that people agonize from. I’ve said it before and I will undoubtedly say it again.

I just can’t prove it, because I can’t get into their little minds or ask them what they are thinking or why they do certain things.

But in this article I want to focus on Sensory Disorders.

We think of silly things, like children or adults who can’t stand if their food touches or mixes with other food.  Some people can’t eat food that has touched other food on their plate.  But it isn’t always so simple.

Sensory processing is how we transfer sensory information and our system of senses all work together to paint a picture of our environment.  Our ears hear the background noise, our eyes see both what we are looking at and our periphery, our skin feels our clothes and anything else we are touching as well as our aches and pains, our nose smells what is in the air and it all comes together to paint a picture of our current environment.

We filter unimportant information so that we can concentrate on what we are engaged in at the moment.

If you can’t stop thinking about the clothes on your skin, or the smell in the air, or the noise going on in the background on a continual basis you probably have some form of sensory disorder.

I Believe that Dogs, Also, Suffer from Sensory Disorders

I believe that some dogs, due to their breeding, also suffer from some sensory disorders.

Actually, I would bet that more dogs suffer from these disorders than people.

We people breed fairly randomly.

It is probably difficult to find a human that has “pure” blood, for example, Irish, Native American, African American, insert any other here ______.  Because we humans tend to fall in love with those we are around, and most don’t take genetics and heritage into account most of the time.

BUT…. We breed and in-breed dogs all of the time.

Not only do we breed one breed to the same breed, we often in-breed or as some breeders call it: line breeding to strengthen certain characteristics, meaning breeding a father and daughter etc.  These breeders often don’t take into account the “bad” things that are also being compounded by breeding like this.

I knew of one breeder who had a whole litter with birth defects.  One puppy was born with only 3 legs, one had encephalitis, and the others had severe learning disabilities.  They did the same breeding again and came out with some of the same problems.  Now a good breeder would have sterilized both dogs after the first litter.  And, I don’t believe even after the same horrors of the second breeding that either dog was sterilized.

These are the same reasons that family members can’t marry and have relationships with family members, as we learned from history, this causes all kinds of genetic and health problems.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is one of my favorite authors and if you read “Animals in Translation” you will read the problems that she witnessed when food animals were specifically bred to increase their meat.  Rage, fighting, and raping were just a few of the other “side effects” of breeding for one specific trait.  Interesting right?  If you haven’t read her books I suggest you do so!  She is an amazing author that brings a new set of eyes to how animals think and feel because of her autistic tendencies.  I find her work totally enthralling.

We don’t breed our dogs to eat them, but we do seem to try and breed odd, abnormal traits that we see to become more prevalent.

I believe this is why a large percentage of white boxers are born deaf.

I believe this is why many “blue” and “white” colored dogs (that aren’t normally this color) like Dobermans have horrific allergies and skin conditions.

And, we end up with breeds who’s heads have been genetically modified so that they can’t even have a normal birth, a Cesarean section is required.

In essence, we are often creating even more problems when we try to selectively “breed” a few select or certain traits that may or may not be inherent.

There are a lot of horrifying behaviors that I think can be very inherent, but today I just want to talk about sensory disorder.

We Have All Seen These DogsAngry Dog Barking

We have all seen these dogs; these are the dogs that totally flip out if you normally leave the toilet seat down but somehow someone accidentally left it up and the dog goes completely nuts.

Or the dog that hears each leaf fall off of the tree.

Or the dog that hears the mailman coming from 10 miles away

Or the dog that freaks out every time he hears a sound he doesn’t recognize.

I see a lot of these problems in our herding dogs.

We breed one sensitive herding dog, to another sensitive herding dog hoping that they will in turn make better more in tuned herding dogs.

And, for a couple of generations, I think this probably works, but after a bit if people are not carefully weighing the pros and cons and very carefully monitoring the quality of the puppies; you end up with puppies that are too sensitive to do ANYTHING.  So sensitive that they can barely function.

These are the herding dogs that are afraid of their own shadows, they bark at tiny noises, they spin, they rip fur from their tails, they can’t function if the things in their environment changes (toilet seat up) a new car in the parking lot or across the street.

It is like the sensitivity is compounded to the point that the dog can barely function, which is totally not what any breeder wants but a problem that I see a lot of breeders eventually suffer from and most ignore.

You actually end up with a dog that couldn’t herd if its life depended on it, because its sensitivity has over run and now the dog is fearful and conscious of everything.

I once tried to train a dog that was donated to my nonprofit service dog organization because he could sense seizures.  He was so sensitive that he could detect when a person would have a seizure.  But the problem is that he was overly sensitive to EVERYTHING else.  I couldn’t pop popcorn without him trying to hurl himself out of a window.  And, all my knowledge and training ability only helped a little.  In essence, he had to be dropped from my program because he would have never been able to handle life out in malls or crowded areas and he would have been more of a burden for a person with seizures than a benefit.

Protective Dogs

The same thing can and does happen with our “protection breeds”.  We breed one weary, aloof dog that bites to another over and over again and then people wonder why they end up with dogs that want to bite everyone.

And, due to the overbreeding of bad traits (weary and aloof) you end up with litters of dogs that are actually fear biters, who threaten to bite everyone, or they even do bite but deep down the bite comes from a place of fear instead of a place of protection or training.

And, some dog owners can’t tell the difference.  They think their dog is super tough, only to realize what a scared liability of a dog they have gotten.

And, although I see this mostly in pure bred dogs, I have also seen similar issues with certain mixes bred to perform certain skills.

Selective breeding doesn’t cause ALL of these problems, but I believe it is a major concern.

So What Do You Do?

My Scaredy Boy

My Scaredy Boy

First off, if you are a breeder; be careful what you breed.  And, before you breed two dogs for a certain purpose imagine what will happen to the litter if the opposite traits or bad traits (lets admit all dogs have some bad traits) take hold?

If you are searching for a dog to perform a task, make sure you find puppies from working parents.

And, meet the parents.  If the parents show any fearful signs or signs of anything you don’t like; search for another litter.

Confident parents usually breed confident puppies, provided that both parents are confident and you aren’t breeding for a certain sensitivity.

For instance when I am looking for a new protection dog candidate, I want a puppy from two very social and confident dogs.  If one dog is over protective, aggressive, or stand offish, I don’t want a puppy from that mix.

I want a confident dog, a social dog.  It is hard to determine if an aloof dog is aloof because that is just his nature, or if he is fearful and covering it up by being standoffish and aloof.  Remember fight/flight is something that all animals have and fight can be broken down into flight in a fraction of an instant.  So I avoid fight.  I prefer calm confidence.

A confident puppy is always the one that should be in demand, because confidence is an important trait in any dog.

What Do You Do if You Have One?

So what do you do if you have one of these dogs with sensory disorder.

A dog that is afraid of its own shadow, or a dog that seems aloof but lacks confidence?

Recognize that a genetic disorder such as this is difficult if not impossible to completely overcome.

Autistic children and those with sensory disorders can’t just “cope” with their food touching or strange sounds that bother them; they have to find coping mechanisms and that takes time and lots of work.

This is what we need to think of with dogs who have sensory disorders, we can’t just “change” them and giving them appropriate coping mechanisms may take time, even more so than with a verbal person that can be reasoned with.

And, just like our children with special needs they can’t be “changed” or forced to be what we consider “normal”.  It is all about trying to control the environment and behaviors to the best of your ability.

I had one of these guys, he was a herding dog and he was fearful of EVERYTHING.

  • People were terrifying.
  • Changing his environment was terrifying.
  • A cat on the toilet in the dark was terrifying .
  • The windshield wipers were terrifying…

When I was new to training I thought I could “fix” him, but I was wrong.  Just like I couldn’t “fix” an autistic child or person, I couldn’t “fix” him.  He was who he was.

We had to learn to find some kind of normalcy in his life.

So I kept people from petting him so that he never had to worry about being attacked (although we all know that would never have happened, he didn’t think that).  I never forced him to be petted, no matter how cute the child (or man 😉  This could have resulted in a bite, even after I had control.

I taught him to touch my hand as a bridge to get closer to things he was afraid of, and because he trusted me he learned to accept new things in his environment.

When he wandered past the bathroom and noticed the cat asleep in the dark on the toilet and pooped himself and couldn’t stop barking; I flipped the light on and showed him it was the cat and not a toilet monster.

And, I never forced him.  I never forced him to do something I couldn’t convince him to do and so we built a trust.  (for instance, dragging him into the bathroom toward the cat on the toilet would have meant we lost trust, not gained it).

For the most part he learned to trust me and do almost anything I asked and I knew that I had given him obedience and coping mechanisms so that he wouldn’t bite or hurt anyone when he was scared.

Obedience was the biggest gift in both of our lives at that time!

The Truth

The truth is, these dogs exist.  And, they are often adopted or purchased because they look kind of scared and nervous and people want what they think is a gentle and calm dog.

But, what they need is a human that is kind, knowledgeable and will foster independence and confidence all while maintaining control of situations.

And, we need breeders who avoid breeding for only certain qualities, because sometimes genetics take those traits and make them too strong or too overwhelming, thus distorting what certain dogs were bred for.

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  1. Nancy says:

    Minette – I read every one of your columns, and your insight into why dogs “do what they do” is always so enlightening. You have such a deep, caring compassion and understanding. I learn so much from your experience, study and knowledge about these companions we choose to share our lives with. It can be challenging sometimes but always worthwhile. Thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    Thank you soooo much Nancy 🙂 I appreciate that more than you know!


  2. Julie says:

    Hello my name is Julie.
    I have been training dogs for several years and have trained many dogs to ride politely in their masters cars. I also am handicapped and have a severe back injury which keeps me from being able to pick things up or bend over. I recently had quite a bit of hardware put into my spine which limits me even further. My issue is that my service dog who I personally trained, has an issue with whining in the car. I have trained many dogs and dealt with this issue in the past including with dogs of my own. However, I have tried everything I can think of to keep this dog from whining in the car but she continues. she is not afraid and runs happily to get in the car to go places. She is very intelligent and does many tasks for me. Including picking up and carrying items opening doors carrying groceries bringing the items that I need etc. I just cannot seem to keep her from whining constantly in the car. Could you give me some suggestions. I would appreciate it greatly as I want to do a road trip with her. she is my constant companion I would never leave her behind. It should be noted that she loves to fly. She has absolutely no problems traveling except for her whining in the car when I am driving. If I sit in the back with her she does not wine however she does wine when she’s sitting up front with me. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
    Sincerely, Julie


    Minette Reply:

    Get it on cue, teach her to do it on command, then teach her quiet and eventually on quiet will be rewarded


  3. Duane says:

    Love your knowledge of the dog. I have two german shepards and two newfoundland dogs. Thank you for your info.


  4. DorisCollins says:

    I am a new puppy owner. He is a resque puppy about 3 months old. He is part schnauzer and we don’t know the rest. He is very smart and easily trained. He is 5 months old now , and paper trained barks to go out side to poopie. We recognize some of his bard commands to us. He very hipper on a leach to walk him. So far I am unable to keep his attention when there is so much pof interest to him. He has a strong pull. Treats or eye contact is not working. He is worth the time to train him. I understand better about breeding puppies. Thank you


  5. Cath says:

    I have one of these “sensory disordered” pups – my behaviourist/vet has likened it to Autism. She developed her issues almost overnight: she was social and well behaved until about 15 months old (I think that’s how old she was – she was a rescue) and then she started to be afraid of other dogs and would attack out of fear. Every month it seems she’s developing a new fear, so it makes walking her tricky some days. But despite the extra costs and the hard work, I’d never have it any other way. It’s not her fault! She’s the most loving, beautiful creature and she’s my little mate.
    Thanks for sharing the idea that there is such a thing – I think there’s work being done around it officially in the veterinary world!


    Minette Reply:

    Whew!!! That means I am not officially crazy yet 😉

    thank you for sharing!


  6. Toni says:

    Great article! We have a 4yr Aussie mix with this issue. Not as bad as it could be but with new people she does a high pitched yip if they bend over her (which we try to avoid always) but also wants to get the attention from the same people she does this with. Thanks for the insight.


  7. Christy says:

    rhabk you for this article. I have a little better understanding of what could be “wrong” with my dog. He screams bloody murder everytime my daughter, who is 4 years old, talks or laughs or sings. Any noise she makes with her mouth really. I’ve taken him to the vet and they say nothing is physically wrong with him so it must be something mental. Any thoughts on what we can to help him?


    Minette Reply:

    Associate all of those times with high value treats.


  8. Randy says:

    What an article! I have a purebred 3 yr old female schnauzer. She has developed sensory disorders. Noises, clicking, snapping of fingers, smacking of the mouth, crackling/popping of water bottles! She enjoys riding in the jeep, until the blinker is put on then she begins her high pitched whine. The movement of my toes in my socks…this has developed recently.

    We are full time RVers, and live in motorhome. We find her laying more and more away from where the noises are happening. Back in the bedroom when we are up front.

    We love her and would not think of giving her away. I was hoping to train her from barking at people and other dogs while on leash and using the clicker training for this but, after reading your article I might have to try some other method.


  9. emily says:

    Really good article! Could I possibly have it emailed to me to share it? Thank you x


    Minette Reply:

    I am not sure how to email it other than to email the link, which you should be able to copy and then mail!

    Thanks for sharing!


  10. Anna says:

    My almost 3 yrs old bichon po mix. She was found on a main street in the winter time. We stop to help not get runed over by car on this busy street. The vet said she was fine. Now if am am not in visible sight see barks and barks. This article seem so close to her behavior of sensory disorder.



  11. Harry says:

    I have a female that was purchased with the intentions of breeding. After reaching a year old +, she had been very fearful of strangers walking by and barks at them with complete terror in her barks. She’s very attached to me, so bad that if she sees me look at her she has to get up and come to me. She’s a hunting dog, so when she’s out on the field she can’t focus on anything but potential prey, no matter what. 100% alert of her surroundings, but for game only. My wife walked up to us while we were in the field and she went barking and darting straight towards her with the intentions of attacking her. She impatiently paces back and forth while we are swimming as a family, licking everyone and nipping at the kids. Not a hard bite, just a little nip that gets there attention. Will this be something that can be bred out with a stable male not in her pedigree? She is an inbred line bred, on the sire and dam side.


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs that bite should not be bred. Plus it is a huge liability to you.


  12. Thank you for this article. I just started researching as we have an ACD in our rescue with significant neurological issues. His behaviors are similar to an autistic child and he seems often on sensory overload. I actually cried reading this, it could have been written about him.


  13. Tammy says:

    My Rad, who is a border collie heeler mix, is the dog in this article. I need more strategies to help him achieve a % of normality. He has been doing well for 4 years but I know his triggers change with age. Please throw me a line as most people would have already put my boy down if he belonged to them… That is what people say when I have a wound visible. Heeler bumps are common in the house. Obedience is our God send. Holistic medication that mildly calms him without turning his filter off also helps. Basket muzzles when we are out around people. Tons of exercise. Very little eye contact and physical petting he likes to lay at your feet and place his muzzle in your hand as he heels at my side. He is a velcro dog. Try to keep changes to a minimum. But I teach and when school starts he gets frustrated and I end up with the annual bite. As with my kids I feel I should quit and be home with him so that his life can be stable. Any other strategies?


    Minette Reply:

    I would talk to a behaviorist about medication. I think quitting your job is a very drastic change that will affect your life for a lifetime and is not necessarily the answer. I actually think it will make this worse.


  14. Kathleen Crislip says:

    I have owned a dog I believe suffered from sensory processing disorder. He was also the smartest dog I’ve ever owned. And I mean monkey smart. However he over reacted to most sounds, misinterpreted the body language if other dogs. He was very defensive. I learned to manage his behaviors and work with them. I even got his CDX on him. However he was never a stable dog. I came across this topic and saw my dog. Wow. I also see this in clients dogs in foundation classes. This is an amazing topic.


    Minette Reply:

    Thank you! I, too, loved my boy who had sensory disorder and he was also extremely intelligent!


  15. Marney says:

    I think I have an autistic toy poodle, I know she was inbred as she was a rescue puppy from the owners and was also born with a crooked back leg. She loves to be close to me,sit on my lap and on my feet if I am standing, but doesn’t like to be touched, and gets very snappy and growly if I even accidentally touch her. When she was the only dog this was manageable, but I recently rescued another “puppy farm” small dog (Yorkshire Terrier) who won’t put up with her behaviour and then we have fights breaking out and poodle comes off worst and I am up the vets for various bites. Any suggestions? The yorky is a gorgeous little dog, but doesn’t understand the poodle’s behaviour (quite understandably) and often likes to snuggle which turns into pandemonium!!


  16. Barb Lipps says:

    I have an aussie/lab mix who I’ve always said was pawtistic. I can see that all her inappropriate reactions are rooted in fear, but that isn’t going to matter to the person who gets bitten. She is fearful of noises, doesn’t like her food touched and can change mood while I’m petting her from being relaxed to tense and barred teeth. So if I stop petting her she will nudge me for some more pets only to tense up and bare her teeth again. Her phobias seem to be getting worse as she gets older. She now spends most of her days in her safe place in the basement. I believe she was inbred, since she was a ‘free’ puppy from a farm. I have to advise anyone coming into our house not to touch her, talk to her or make eye contact. Eventually, she will warm up. I think another owner may have given up by now and had her put down.


  17. Amanda Walker says:

    Hi. I have seen inbreeding first hand. Not by my self but an x boy friend. He is an x for this very reason. He kept a son of the mother and then let them breed. He did this quite a few times but i did not know him when he started it but i did see the mother dogs 5th litter I actaully told a few friends about the pups which they took not understanding what may happen. One friends dog when older has ear issues and is on meds for life plus scared of every thing and another friends the pup has great temperment but such bad skin issues that its on meds for life. The x kept one of this litter. It was a good thing he did because it end up being afaird of every thing like it was wild and had never sne people in its life. I tryed to tell him it was the inbreeding but he ignored me so i left him.


  18. Heather Fraser says:

    Thank you so much for this article!!! I have a 1.5 y.o. Cane Corso who I believe after reading your article definitely has a sensory disorder. Gracie is fearful of all people, the wind, leaves, vehicles, objects in a parking lot, mechanical noises, etc. The vet recently prescribed medication for her “anxiety”. She has been through obedience training but, as you stated, her inherent behaviors cannot be changed. She is very well-behaved thankfully and does listen which is essential for such a large animal. I must continue to be steadfast in controlling her stimuli and environment to reduce her fear as much as possible. I’m now not sure medicating her is the right approach and will continue to research this matter and further discuss this with her vet. Thank you again very much.


  19. Lona L Smith says:

    This came at the perfect time. We are trying very hard to figure out how on earth to get our deaf aussie to leave things alone. She takes specific things to play with, and plays with them next to her own similar toys. Ear of corn, sweet potato, carrot, anything plastic from the trash, her dad’s dirty socks, my fuzzy slippers. I believe she’s exhibiting the texture seeking behaviors of spd. What I can’t figure out is how to safely meet her need for various textures. It’s important that she have the option for each type of texture, but its not safe for her to chew that thin, clear plastic that food comes in, or eat fabric socks and slippers. I’m happy to let her eat any of the vegetables she asks for, since she really does eat them, not just chew them, but I have to limit that as well. I’d love any suggestions you might be able to throw my way.


    Minette Reply:

    I would put her on leash and keep her on leash in the house, giving her something else to do and training to work on until she develops these as habits.


  20. Jennifer says:

    We have a female German Shepherd who is about four years old. She is a rescue and we got her around age one. She goes through these phases where she exhibits these really weird behaviors and usually after a few months they subside. Several months ago she started reacting to my cell phone making any kind of a tone or beep. Same phone and same tones – totally out of the blue. She also started reacting to the sound of joints or knuckles popping. She reacts to the sounds by barking, running around, and/or whining. It’s very upsetting to her. With the phone sounds we tried giving her a treat when there was a tone but she’s so upset about it, she won’t take a treat. It’s almost like she’s being shocked. I feel like this has to be some sort of sensory issue, but I have no idea how to help her overcome it. I leave my phone on silent all the time now which I don’t want to continue. She reacts even if it’s on vibrate. Any thoughts? Have you seen anything like this before?


    Minette Reply:

    Sounds like sensory disorder or OCD. I would talk to your vet and get a referral to a veterinary behaviorist for behavior modification and drugs that could help her feel better while you are working on behaviors.

    Remember… if you had the same disorders you would want drug therapy too! So don’t discount it; some dogs truly need it.


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