Episode 2 of Baxta Talks: does a dog’s breed influence its personality?

Does the breed of dog define the type of characteristic traits that your pooch will have?

That’s what we’re talking about in this week’s episode with TV personality, Steve Price, and resident veterinary expert, Dr. Simone Maher.

The dynamic duo also chat about how important diet and being at a healthy weight is for our pets. Simone shares some fantastic pointers that we can use to slow our pets’ eating down and avoid over feeding our furry friends.

Wrap your ears around this episode by clicking on the links above, or read the interview with Dr. Simone to get the low-down:

Steve - Welcome to the second in our Baxta podcast series. Baxta of course, is your pet friendly destination. You can join our pet-friendly family of over 15,000 friends and supporters and partners, we chat on a regular basis with our resident vet, Dr. Simone Marsh. She's back with us - great to catch up with you again.

Simone - Likewise, Steve.

Steve - We talked in the last episode about how vets relate with their patients and with their owners. Today, I wanted to try and get inside the head of animals.

Do animals, dogs and cats in particular were talking about here, do they have human traits? Are they like four legged humans? Do they have different characteristics and character traits within their make up?

Simone - That's a really interesting question, Steve. I guess it's one that needs to be considered carefully because there's two things to consider in particular. The first one is that we, I think for many years, we've underestimated just how cats and dogs process emotions, and how that reflects in their behaviour.

It really wasn't that long ago, 100 years ago or so, that there was a perception that animals didn't recognise pain or didn't feel pain. As we learn more and more about them, we realise just how conflict, their cognition and their response to different experiences are. At the same time, I think it's important to recognise that they are a different species to humans, and they do have different responses, different needs and different requirements. I think it's almost disrespectful not to acknowledge that in them and to expect to be able to treat them just like small humans.

Steve - On the issue of dogs, do those character traits always follow a breed or is that too simplistic? I mean, people who don't understand pets as well as you do might look at a large German Shepherd, for example, and be a little wary because it's a big dog and they hear stories about German Shepherds being aggressive or Pitbull terriers. Is that necessarily the case or can any sort of dog of any size, if properly trained and looked after, be as docile as any other?

Simone - Yes, well there's two components to behaviour, one is the genetic side of it and the other part is the environmental side of it.

In considering that question, we need to remember that, for a long time, certain breeds of dogs have actually been selected for certain behaviours. Whether it's a sight hound that is very visually responsive, having been selected because they are traditionally used in hunting or perhaps a breed of dog has been selected for its tendency to be a guard dog, so they're quite territorial.

Because of many generations of breeding dogs for a specific requirement that we have of them, those traits do become associated with a breed. But there are always going to be traits that are stronger in some lines than others and perhaps even non-existent within a breed. So, there is consideration of a genetic component, but then as you mentioned, there's very much an aspect of how they are brought up or what their experiences are like. What negative and positive experiences have they had? Particularly in the formative stages of their development, that can have a strong influence on their characteristics and their temperament.

Steve - Are you suggesting to me that I shouldn't use my Dachshund as a guard dog?

Simone - I've met some Dachshund's that would make excellent guard dogs until you open the door and you see what you're faced with, you know, but on the other side of the door, they sound terrifying.

Steve - Yes, they do until you see them. That's quite right. You mentioned the pain issue, that only in the last 100 years we've realised animals do actually feel pain. As a vet and a person whose daily work is involved in caring for animals. Do you cringe when you see animals being inflicted with pain for the enjoyment of humans? I guess the most obvious example of that might be whips in horse racing. Do those sorts of things concern you?

Simone - Yeah, as I think I've said before, my background is very much associated with organisations that are really strong proponents for animal welfare. Having been at the RSPCA for many years, and the animal welfare league after that, I've seen just about some of the worst things that humans can do to animals. It really does sometimes actually risk your view of humanity when you think 'how can people do these sorts of things?'.

But, I think my focus has always been 'well, how can we learn to do better?' First of all, if I've got a patient in front of me, how can I make the world ease the discomfort for this particular animal? And then what can we do to make the world a better place for other animals? I think focusing on the education aspect and helping people to understand just how animals experience things, is really going to be the most powerful tool in changing that for animals.

Steve - It's almost impossible to believe that somebody could deliberately inflict pain on an animal.

Simone - Yeah but Steve, you know, it's almost impossible to believe that people could inflict pain on their significant others and their children and, yet it happens.

Steve - That's true. Criminal investigators will tell you that if you track back someone's behavioural patterns, you might find that they start being cruel by being cruel to an indefensible animal. Even as small as stomping on an insect. I mean, that's a proven fact, right?

Simone - Yeah and interestingly Steve, fairly recently there was a report released from I think the New South Wales Domestic Violence Association or something like that. That report actually reflected the correlation between abuse towards animals in domestic violence situations, and abuse towards people also within the home. So, there is that, particularly in domestic violence situations where animals are used, either as a threat, or they're equally at risk, in terms of receiving the violence as the human does.

Steve - Let's give our Baxta families some enjoyment and some fun. You recently answered some questions in the Women's Weekly or Woman's Day I think it was, that I found really interesting. Let's have a look at some of those: Food. Obviously, dogs and cats love to eat. I'm a sometimes minder of a dog and I don't really know what the eating habits are of that dog. How do you work out whether you should feed a dog or a cat once a day, twice a day? I mean, is there a golden rule from your point of view? Or do you just feed them when they're hungry?

Simone - Well, look, I think feeding them when they're hungry, or when they're behaving hungry is a slippery path. I have met some dogs that honestly would eat until they explode. I've had dogs presented to me that have thought nirvana had come when they've found access to a bag of dog food and just eaten themselves until it's become an emergency situation.

Steve - You're saying their BMI is not that great?

Simone - Precisely! So, I think there's probably not one specific answer to that, because it would be the same as asking the questions of humans wouldn't it? There's not one guide that everyone should follow or one frequency of eating that everyone should follow.

There are a few rules, though, which is that younger animals will need feeding more frequently. They have smaller stomachs that empty faster and also fill up faster so they can only eat a small amount at any one sitting. Also, you need to be really aware of the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats which are different to that of humans. I would definitely be guided by your vet. When you go in for annual check-ups, if your vet says your pet could lose a little bit of weight, then listening to them and following their advice is really important for your pets’ wellbeing.

Steve - Yeah, I sort of look and my eyes glaze over a little bit. So, you're saying to take that seriously, right..? That if your animal is overweight, then they do need to be careful just like a human?

Simone - Absolutely Steve, because although you think 'aww but they're so sad if I don’t feed them and oh my goodness, they just look at me and I can't help it.' The thing is that there are unintended consequences if they do become overweight, just as there are with humans who have to suffer health consequences. Our pets are the same, so it is important. We are their carers were responsible for their wellbeing. And it's important that we do everything that we can to make sure that we're optimising their health.

Steve - You examine the question in Woman's Day about pets that eat too fast. Is that a problem? How would you control that?

Simone - Yeah, well, it is a problem in a couple of respects. One is that they can inadvertently bolt something down, without chewing it, and end up with an obstruction or something like that. It also removes a lot of the stimulation that they get from eating if they're just hoovering it down and it's all over in 12.2 seconds. So, there's a few little tricks that you can use, and I think these are wonderful things to be doing regularly because it does help to make an environment more interesting for a pet. There are a number of, what we call, flow feeding implements that are available. There are bowls that have mazes and things in them that the food falls into.

Steve - Sounds like torture to me!

Simone – No it's stimulation, Steve! There's a difference. Doing some different things like that or it might be spreading out their feeding into a number of small meals, so that they're not at risk of eating a massive amount really quickly and ending up, with bloat - which certainly for larger breed dogs, can have some pretty serious consequences. So, there's a few different things that you can do to help resolve that.

Steve - Should you vary their diet, as in the sort of food they’re eating? Is it okay to introduce new stuff and see if they like it? Or should you (like a lot of people, I suspect do) just buy the same tin of dog food every day, every week and that's all they ever feed their animals? Should you give them variety?

Simone - I don't think our pets crave it. Look, we'll probably get a whole lot of people responding that say 'my dog won't eat the same thing two days in a row,' but I don't think that dogs and cats generally crave the variety in the way that we do. Cats in particular can be a little bit neophobic or scared of new foods when it comes to dietary changes. I think the most important thing to do is to make sure that their nutritional requirements are met, that all of the minerals and the protein balance and everything that they need is being delivered in their diet. If you are making a change from one dog food to another, ensure that you do, do it over a period of days, say five days or something like that. This is to give their microbiome time to adjust and adapt so that you don't end up with any unfortunate consequences, any diarrhoea or discomfort that can be associated with that.

Steve - Clear one up for me, Simone. Is it okay to feed a pet cooked meat or raw meat? What is better?

Simone - Well cooked meat, as long as it doesn't contain bones, because cooked bones can cause a number of issues. Blockages and things like that. Raw meat can be associated with salmonella which can present some risks and not just for the pets themselves. They tend to be more resistant to things like salmonella but in certain instances it can make them unwell. There's also that consequence to the human as well if you're cleaning up after your pet. There are some of those pathogens, when you're doing the cleaning up, that you become exposed to, that can be a risk. The current thinking from a lot of experts is that any benefits of raw food potentially are outweighed by the risks. I think it's probably something that you need to be guided on by your vet, in your particular circumstance. I'm not sure that there's a one size fits all response to that.

Steve - So, you're saying 'bigger the dog, the bigger the bone,' is not necessarily right?

Simone - Not necessarily the case. Yeah, it tends to be quite a contentious issue among the veterinary community because some people will say behavioural issues are a real concern in dogs, and they're one of the biggest reasons for animals to be surrendered. If you can enrich their environment and their lives by doing things like feeding them bones that give them stimulation and relieves boredom, you might actually improve their behaviour. But then the other side of that is that bones can cause fractured teeth, they can cause obstructions and also there's risk of diseases. There's sort of pros and cons on both sides of the fence for that one.

Steve - Dr. Simone Maher is with us. We've set off the Baxta family, get onto the Baxta app and let us know what you do feed your animals and if you've got any queries or questions, we can possibly answer them for you in our next edition. Dr. Simone Maher, talk to you soon.

Simone - Always a pleasure, Steve - chat soon.

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