By: Christy Paxton – DogLife Skills Instructor
1 in a series of 10 articles
Many dog parents/owners/guardians (POGs) have gotten “stuck” in a pattern of behavior when dealing with their dogs. Though big problems require professional help, sometimes our personal habits and common misunderstandings about dogs and how they operate can trap us and not allow us and our dogs to progress/succeed.
I’d like to share the most common traps with you so you can avoid them — or if necessary escape them — so you can have the best-behaved pooch possible!
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that! “Sparky is great, perfect! He just has this one problem…” Occasionally, I do run into a situation where there is a small adjustment to be made, but usually by the time I’ve finished my initial interview/evaluation, the problem list has grown considerably longer!
Problems don’t exist in a vacuum. Isolating and treating one issue usually fails because you have to look at the dog’s behavior as a whole. Typically, many adjustments are necessary to correct that “one problem.”
Barking is one of my favorite examples of this. If your dog is barking, there are probably multiple reasons why (attention, alarm/fear, frustration, etc.). I do an entire seminar on barking; it can be that complicated! And if you just concentrate on the barking itself (punish dog when he barks, no matter the cause), you will not see consistent results.
Think about your dog’s behavior in all situations, not just the troublesome one. “He’s always kind of nervous” or “He follows me everywhere” gives you insight into what the general issue is that needs to be dealt with.
Next, in regards to the specific problem behavior, answer this question: What is he getting out of it? If you can identify a benefit, then try removing it and see if anything changes. For many dogs, the attention they receive when they display the behavior is a big reward, and it guarantees the behavior will be repeated. There is a lot to be said for simply ignoring an annoying behavior. Just be sure you then notice and reward your dog when he has STOPPED that behavior. The reward is the most important part!
Christy Paxton is the owner of Hand in Paw: Rewards-based Training for You and Your Dog, based in Brook Park. http://www.cp-hipdogs.com