Monday, July 11, 2011

Behavioral Challenge

If it seems I've been writing about Innoko a lot lately, it's because his behavior has been at the forefront of my mind.  At seven months of age, Innoko is already the largest dog in the kennel, and we are known for running big dogs in comparison to the many racing kennels here in Two Rivers.  He is a cross between a Canadian Inuit Dog and a mixed Malamute / Yukon River trapline dog. 

From the earliest historical records I can find onward, Canadian Inuit dogs have a reputation for being the very best freighting dogs, but also for being very scrappy.  Even more-so than the Alaskan Malamutes, which are closely related.  People I know who have run these guys in their teams have observed the same propensity to want to fight with other dogs, and that isn't a behavior that I want to encourage.  That means that Innoko has become a training challenge, and I can't become a better dog trainer by ignoring challenging behavior.

Linda Newman and Lidia Dale-Mesaros are principals in the Hedlund Husky Preservation Project, and both have experience running Canadian Inuit Dogs in their teams.  They have provided a lot of useful information to me, which includes warnings as well as very good advice.  Those warnings give me a good idea of what I can expect in the future, so I can plan to prevent issues that could arise. 

I had a long consultation with certified canine behaviorist Janece Rollet regarding young Innoko.  Janece explained that like Besengis and some other rare breeds, Canadian Inuit Dogs are considered to be "primitive" dogs, in the sense that they are closely related and very little changed from the earliest dogs to be domesticated by humans.  During adolescence males of 'primitive' dog types go through a considerable hormonal upheaval, with testosterone levels rising at an exponential rate.  The hormone levels increase faster than more domesticated breeds, and also tend to peak at higher levels. 

Just as in human males, it takes some time and practice for them to mentally learn to function and cope with those high hormone levels.  Meanwhile, during the process once aroused they are unable to mentally process information.  As a result traditional methods of retraining and desensitization are unlikely to be effective until the dog's hormones have stabilized and the dog essentially learned how to adapt to their influence.

She is recommending good management to prevent fights and thus prevent the behavior from being rewarded (reinforced).  Meanwhile, we'll be working on obedience training with the focus on training a truly fluent "down", which will then be followed by training a fluent "watch me" behavior, cueing the dog to focus his/her attention on the handler rather than on distractions (such as another dog he wants to fight). This guys some time for the handler to intervene and prevent a potential dog fight.

Management doesn't mean isolation by any stretch.  It does mean I probably shouldn't house him in a pen with another dog, but he does well on a tie-out with easy access to dogs in adjacent circles with whom he can interract.  When we play "run amok" he can be in play groups consisting primarily of females or neutered males,  but probably shouldn't be given that much freedom to engage intact or older males, which seem to be his most frequent targets.  In other words, he doesn't get to play with Denali, Orion or Torus. 

Otherwise, he is treated like every other dog in the kennel. 

I've been reassured that I can do this, though I have to admit I have concerns.  I'll keep you posted from time to time on progress of our project, which will probably need to be on-going throughout Innoko's life.

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