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 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 Dogs
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.
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?
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 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.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.