Understanding CARAT for Dogs – Dr. Carr’s Insight

Mar 23, 2017 | Behavior, Dogs

Dogs are people too. Well, not really.

But they do have many of the same personality traits that people do. Yet, we as humans, seem to lump many dog breeds into categories. Such as, all Labradors are friendly.

Seeing dogs for who they really are isn’t easy. A woman I know, Suzanne Clothier, has developed an assessment tool called CARAT/ (Clothier Animal Response Assessment Test). I call it the Meyers Briggs for dogs. Without going into the details of how it works, this test has taught me to really look at dogs as individuals. It helps understand WHY dogs do the things they do.

One of the areas that this test looks at is called Social; Social tolerance, Social use of space, Social interaction with both other dogs and with people. A dog can by very social but have a poor social use of space. A good example is that Labrador that effusively greets any human by applying themselves bodily to that person. A dog can be social and still have poor social tolerance. A dog that greets you, but won’t let you pet them.

A client of mine had a wonderful Great Dane, loved by all members of the family. When he passed along, the family got a new Great Dane puppy. The husband was so disappointed in the new pup. He thought the pup might be aggressive.  He had a game he played with the previous Dane that he wanted to play again with this pup. He would blow “raspberries” into the previous dog’s face and the dog would try to “catch” them. They both thought it was great fun. But this puppy would snarl, growl and finally try to bite him in the face. He thought Dad was quite irritating, he tried to tell his Dad in the only language he had, that he didn’t like this game.  He would try to leave, turn his head, and then growl a warning, all unheeded. He finally resorted to a snap to make his point. This puppy had less social tolerance than the previous dog. After talking to Dad about the dog’s personal space, he understood. They now have new games they play with each other that are more appropriate for this dog.

Some people call this personal space, I call it a “bubble”.  Ever had someone stand really close to you? Or try to talk to you right in front of your face? For some people, it is fine. Others back away and try to reestablish a distance they are comfortable with. Most retrievers have a tiny bubble. They are super comfortable greeting other dogs nose to nose, (usually at 100 mph speed too). Other dogs, like my first Alaskan Malamute, are more like; “I see you just fine over there, no need to come over here and lick my face.” However, if a dog did come try to greet her close up, she would try to bite them. I always thought she was an aggressive dog. Now I understand that she was uncomfortable with other dogs that close to her and responded in the only language she had. Suzanne has a wonderful article on her web page I think everyone should read. “He just wants to say Hi.” (Here is a link: http://suzanneclothier.com/he-just-wants-to-say-hi#.V5YiOvmANBc).  It will really make you see how silly we people are about our assumptions on dog behavior.

I often hear clients call their dogs stubborn or untrainable.  Let’s look at that from a different angle. The CARAT test also assesses VAKO (Visual, auditory, kinetic and olfactory) awareness and persistence. Let’s take a beagle, born and bred to chase rabbits. He has a great nose and won’t give up the chase easily. We make him a pet and then get upset when he won’t come when he is called, because he is too busy sniffing.  He is only doing what he is born and bred to do, stay on the scent, and we call him stubborn.  Not all beagles are this way, some don’t have the drive at all for chasing rabbits.

Suzanne believes dogs and people are genetically “hard wired” to be who they are. Put another way, you can take the retriever out of the field, but you can’t take the field out of the retriever. Yet, we expect our pets to conform to our idea of what we want them to be.  Sometimes it is not only unfair to the dog, but potentially dangerous to other people.  I have a Catahoula, Boarus. He is a great home protector, and a mushy, laid back couch potato inside the house. Outside of his own environment, he is a nervous wreck. He dislikes crowds and really doesn’t want anyone to pet him or “get in his bubble”.  It would be extremely unfair of me to expect him to become a therapy dog. The only avenue he would have is to warn people of his discomfort with behavior signs that may escalate to a bite if left unheeded.  I can teach him to tolerate short periods of handling, such as a veterinary exam, but he is never going to like it. How about a human with an acute sense of hearing, to the point of noises being painful. Would anyone ever expect that person to be an orchestra conductor?

We can teach our dogs tolerance for the things they don’t care for, or control of their stronger drives, but we cannot make them into something they are not. It isn’t fair to expect our next dog to be just like our last dog. Too often we pick our dogs with our hearts and not our heads. By really looking at what each individual pup’s personality is, we can make better choices for our life style. And for theirs.

– Leslie

Dr. Carr has been the lead practitioner and owner of the Arnold Pet Station since 1992.

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