31 July 2017

A pet from abroad?

In a lot of countries, dogs are treated inhumanely. Many of them are strays. It’s only natural that you want these animals to have a better life... here in the Netherlands for example. But are you really helping a stray dog by bringing it home with you? Socialisation is the key issue here, and at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behaviour Clinic they know all about it.

The socialisation phase is a crucial period in early life. Behavioural Biologist Claudia Vinke of the Animal Behaviour Clinic explains: “During the socialisation phase, a dog absorbs a huge amount of information about its living environment. It is an extremely important learning period, that has consequences for the rest of its adult life.

With dogs, the primary socialisation phase starts when they are approximately three weeks old. At twelve weeks old, this phase is already over. Therefore, it is a very distinct and clearly identifiable period.

Socialisation deficiency

Animals that were insufficiently socialised, or not socialised at all, are referred to by behavioural scientists as being socialisation deficient. Claudia: “Stray dogs are primarily socialised to conditions on the streets, without people and with other stray dogs. They have difficulty dealing with the new stimuli in a Dutch residential area: you know in advance that these dogs will have a high chance of showing behavioural problems if they suddenly have to learn to survive in a family environment. Half of all the dogs that are brought to the Animal Behaviour Clinic with anxiety problems come from abroad from these kinds of situations. The prognosis is often bad.”

Anxiety disorders

Animal Behaviour Clinic vet Marjan van Hagen adds: “These dogs are often separated from their mothers at an early age. That often causes attachment problems in later life. They also have to fight for food and have had bad experiences with people. Due to all the negative experiences, they develop anxiety disorders which make it difficult for them to cope with the stimuli in our modern society.”

All the impressions that a puppy misses in its primary socialisation phase cannot be caught up with later in life. “People are often very dismayed when they give a dog a loving home and offer it everything to make it happy, and the dog does not seem happy in its new situation”, explains Marjan. 

What can you do?

There are often local organisations at holiday destinations that try to help stray dogs. By giving supporting these organisations, you can improve conditions for dogs in their own environment. If you still want to offer a dog from abroad a good home, then make sure that you immediately look for assistance with training the dog. “At the Animal Behaviour Clinic, we can help owners to determine their dog’s special requirements and what the best way is to fulfil them”, tells Marjan van Hagen, “This applies to accommodation and care, as well as behavioural training and supplements or behavioural medication.” 

Treatment

Whether it is possible to treat stray animals depends on their origins. Claudia Vinke: “The first generation of stray dogs is usually less fearful than the second generation. After all, they spent some time growing up with people.” The second generation of stray dogs grows up in the wild, without close contact with people or only negative contact because they are chased away. These are actually more or less wild dogs.”