Letter from CAIRC
December 1997 Vol.1 No.1

For Living Comfortably with Pets in Collective Housing
(Apartments, Condominiums)

With society paying greater attention to "the relationship between humans and animals and the role that pets play with regard to people," the way that people and companion animals should live together in cities is undergoing reevaluation. Thus, in Tokyo and elsewhere, keeping pets in collective housing is coming to be widely accepted, as indicated by, among other things, the Bureau of Public Health of Tokyo's drawing up, in 1994, "Model Regulations for Keeping Animals in Collective Housing."

Now, how is "keeping pets in collective housing" understood from the standpoint of ethology? Last month, the Tokyo Chapter, Japanese Society of Human Care of Animals, with the support of the Companion Animal Information and Research Center, the Council on Animal Rearing in Collective Housing, and the Itabashi District Veterinary Association, held a seminar, in Kumin [District Residents] Hall at the Takashimadaira housing complex, on the theme of "How to Live with Pets in Collective Housing." Following a lecture by Dr. Aki Takumi, who conducts research in ethology at the University of Tokyo, a "Dog Training Class," in which dogs were actually used, was conducted by Mr. Satoshi Fujii, the main teacher of the Japan Dog Trainers School.

About 150 people (most of them live in collective housing with companion animals such as dogs and cats) participated this seminar and a questionnaire survey was conducted on them.

In this and the following issue of this newsletter, we plan to present the main points of the speech by Dr. Takumi and consider, from the standpoint of ethology, methods for living comfortably with pets in collective housing. In this, the first issue, we would like to focus on the behavior problems in dogs and how to prevent it.


Behaviour Problems in Dogs ; Their Development and Prevention

by Aki Takumi, DVM, MSc., PhD, Department of Veterinary Surgery,
Faculty of Agriculture, University of Tokyo


In order for people to live comfortably and harmoniously with companion animals in society, it is essential to know about animal behaviour problems that can hinder attaining the goal as well as how to prevent them.

Animal behaviour problems are behaviours of animals that are unacceptable to the owner. Examples of most common behaviour problems are aggression to the owner and noisy barking which are also disturbing to the neighbours, and there are also various other kinds of behaviour problems. In the Western world, the number of dogs and cats that are euthanized because of behaviour problems is great. I foresee that incidence of animal behaviour problems will increase in Japan as well in the near future. People in this country now keep more and more dogs of western breeds, and also have a more westernized lifestyle than before. This would mean that , with companion animals in Japan, both the genetic and the environmental factors, that play a role in the development of animal behaviour, are becoming similar to those with companion animals in the western world, and our situations with animal behaviour problems will therefore inevitably resemble to those currently found in western countries.

Behaviour problems can be divided into two types. One is behaviours that poses problems to the owner and other people, while the other is behaviours that are injurious to the animal itself. Canine teeth can serve powerful weapons, and the danger of canine aggression, the most common animal behaviour problem, is no comparison to feline aggression. Today I would like to talk with an emphasis on behaviour problems in dogs.

In understanding dog behaviour, the most important point is that dogs are pack animals as well as their wild ancestors wolves. Among individuals in a pack of wolves or dogs, there are dominance-subordination relationships which is thought to function to reduce conflicts in the pack. However, dominance in companion dogs may pose a problem to humans. When a dog is kept by humans, the dog regards the owner and family as its pack. Normally, the dog takes up the most subordinate position in the family, but sometimes it so happens that the dog perceives itself as being in a social position dominant over the owner or other family members. In such a case, the dog shows aggression in response to the behaviour of the person which is perceived by the dog as a challenge to its dominant status. Example of such behaviour include approaching the dog while eating, attempting to remove from the dog objects in possession, disturbing the dog while resting, handling the dog, and so on. The dog may growl, bare teeth, or even bite. Aggression occurring in such contexts is called dominance-type aggression.

Canine aggression towards the owner and family is a problem for people to live with the dog, and should be corrected. I think training a dog for obedience, that is, teaching the dog to sit or wait on command, is very important especially as a preventive measure of many canine behaviour problems. However, I would also like to emphasize that obedience training alone would not eliminate behaviour problems in dogs. Behaviour problems are developed through a complicated process under influences of many different factors, such as, genetic predisposition, hormonal states, socialization, and learning. Of these factors, socialization and learning are those the owners can exert some effects on by controlling the environment they offer or the way they interact with the dog in everyday life.

Socialization is a process whereby an individual animal learns to recognize others as a social being and to behave appropriately towards them. In dogs, the critical period of socialization is from three to twelve months after birth. A puppy's experience during that period may have a deterministic effect on its later behaviour for the rest of its life. If a puppy is separated from its mother and littermates early during that period, or if kept in a box in total isolation with little stimulation, socialization will not occur. Such an animal is unlikely to develop appropriate social behaviour, and may grow extremely timid or to attack unfamiliar people because of fear as an adult. During the socialization period, it is extremely important to expose a puppy to as many different kinds of stimuli as possible, not only people, but also to inanimate objects, sound, and so on.

Learning is a process whereby an animal comes to perform a new behaviour under the presence of specific stimuli. this is what so-called dog training or obedience training makes use of. In teaching a dog to follow a command, people attempt to establish leaning in the dog. On the other hand, incidental learning that occurs when the owner is not aware of it may lead to behaviour problems. For example giving food to a dog after it has been barking may teach the dog to bark to beg for food.

I hope now you understand that the behaviour of an animal is influenced by multiple factors. What is important to note is that the owner's daily interactions with his or her dog or cat may have an enormous effect on the behaviour of the animal. Dogs are highly social animals and thus have a strong need for attention from the owner. In order to control a dog's behaviour, it is indispensable for the owner to put the dog through the kind of training given in obedience classes and get the dog to obey. This will help the owners to establish dominance over the dog. I know some people who feel that placing a dog in a subordinate position is cruel. However, I would like to emphasize that dogs are animals for which subordination is a part of their natural makeup, and they will never suffer from being in a subordinate position. In fact, if a dog is not taught being subordinate to the owner, its position in the pack (family) will remain undetermined, which is far more stressful to the dog.


On the Responsibility of Owners

the Tokyo Chapter, Japanese society of Humane Care of Animals

So that owners can live comfortably with their companion animals (dogs and cats) in collective housing, it is desired that they increase their knowledge, and behave in a responsible manner, as regards their companion animals. In this connection, it is important that they see their dogs and cats as a member of the family, and that they care for their pets properly so as not to cause other people any bother.

* "Model Regulations for Keeping Animals in Collective Housing"
These are model rules which, in 1994, in response to the growing popularity of keeping pets in collective housing, were drawn up, by the Bureau of Public Health of Tokyo, for the purpose of helping pet owners avoid trouble with their neighbors caused by the improper keeping of pets.

In the next issue we will consider ways of preventing stress to companion animals that live in collective housing, as well as the results of a questionnaire survey that was conducted at the seminar.

copyright