With a few dog behaviour books on sale, I often receive enquiries about whether one or another of my books will help to stop a dog’s behaviour. This makes me a little bit sad because many of the behaviours are completely natural for dogs and the feeling behind the action is often overlooked. I always tell people that it’s better for them to understand the feeling behind the choices their dog is making, because if a dog feels a certain way, it will affect their choices.
We live in a quick fix world, people are busy and stressed, we pass that energy over to our dogs who are busy and stressed in return. They show how they feel openly and honestly – because that’s who they are. And sadly, their choices become inconvenient. An example is attention seeking behaviour which can occur because the dog really does need interaction in a world where we are so distracted by digital influence, so the dog might bark or throw toys at his human – sitting nearby on the phone. Here’s a fact; ignoring pathological attention seeking behaviour can lead to clinical depression. If a dog is making a choice over and over again – we need not to stop the choice, but to start listening to the dog.
Another example is barking, dogs bark it’s what they do. Just as we relieve tension by talking (there is a whole range of talking therapies for a reason) our dogs release tension by vocalising. It’s a perfectly natural stress relief for them and they have a right to bark, just as we have a right to talk. If a dog tends to bark all the time, we need to ask why, not ask someone to help us stop the noise – because the noise is telling us something important. The barking dog is telling us that they are tense for some reason, we need to ask what the tension is about and help the dog to relax. Whether that’s by getting more physical or mental exercise (both are equally important) or teaching them that the triggers they react to are not a threat or dangerous.
Unfortunately, empathy is not always present in our species, not for our own nor for others. We are in the midst of a quick fix world where everything is available now. We are so busy that anything we can get done quickly will be a popular choice. Many people want to do the very best they can for their dog, yet if someone promises a quick fix, it’s tempting to lean that way – especially if the trainer is charismatic and strong natured (as many of these brutes are). A zap with a collar to shut the dog up. A threat and the behaviour stops (is suppressed) Job done and the trainer gets paid leaving everyone happy. Everyone except the dog because his feelings have been suppressed with fear or pain but they are still there.
So, I ask you now to help me spread the word. We need to ensure that the behaviour we work with and the ability to change it quickly is not the aim of teaching dogs. The aim is to make life better for the dog by addressing the feelings, the reasons that the dog makes the (inconvenient) choice over and over again and explaining that to their human. By being excellent interpreters, we need to properly interpret between dogs and their people, build their mutual trust and help them to live together in accurate communication, with empathy and kindness. Which is the fundamental relationship that most people want with their dogs. When the dog is restored to excellent balance, he will make different choices and the behaviour will naturally melt away.
We don't need to focus on how - we need to start with why!