Plain and simple.
There are many methods and tools that we can use to train and rehabilitate our dogs. But at the end of the day, it’s all about you and the relationship you and your dog have. And quite frankly, it’s the hardest part to address when working with my behavior cases that are clearly centered around it.
Common behaviors that stem from an imbalanced relationship can be resourcing guarding of the owner, separation anxiety, reactivity, and territorial behavior in the home. I’ve heard some trainers consider all behavior issues, including genetic, as being related to the relationship because it usually comes down to no one telling the dog “no” in a way that actually means something to the dog. I don’t agree with this statement because, if that is the case, then any trainer that uses aversive tools in their training would be able to address more complicated forms of aggression that stem from genetics.
Albeit, when working with these particular behavior cases, the relationship is important in keeping those issues in check once the dog has been worked through things, it requires a different way of approaching the behavior to actually address it. For example, I’ve worked with a number of clients who had worked with another trainer that used prong and remote collar, but made the problem worse. So when they come to me and I tell them that we’re going to use remote collar, they tend to be apprehensive until I explain to them that it’s not the tool itself, but the way you use the tool that can either make things better or make things worse.
Anyways, to bring things back from the tangent I just took, at the end of the day how you treat your dog and how they perceive you is what can either help or hurt your rehabilitation process. If your dog misbehaves and you correct them and are super strict for a day, but then the next day you’re back to letting them do whatever they want. Then chances are, you are not going to get anywhere.
Once structure has been implemented into the home, it cannot change every other day. If you decide you do not want your dog on your bed and reinforce this rule for years and then one day decide, you’re fine with it, that’s okay because you were consistent for so long. But changing your mind day by day or week by week is detrimental to any progress made in your dog’s rehabilitation.
The best things you can do once you’ve started your journey in addressing your dog’s behavior problems is to be confident, consistent, and patient.
Confidence will help you work through all those embarrassing flare-ups. You don’t want to be bogged down with thoughts like “I can’t believe I let that happen,” “my dog will never get better, it’s hopeless,” or “I should’ve seen that coming.” Moments of regression are bound to happen, but those moments are also opportunities. Opportunities to reinforce what you will allow and will not allow your dog to do. Which leads to the next important piece.
Consistency. If I am working with a dog and it has 30 moments the first week, all 30 of those moments will be addressed to the extent needed in order to get the dog to stop the behavior. The next week may be 15. Again, all 15 of those moments will be addressed accordingly. The following may drop to 3. Then 1 every other week. Followed by nothing for months. Then, out of nowhere, another random flare-up and I address it just like I did every other time because I am confident in the fact that I can control my dog and that consistency is what really does a lot of the hard work because every single time that dog tries something it learns that I will not allow it and it’s resolve will eventually wear out.
Now this is where the relationship really begins to change because your dog will see your confidence and how much more relaxed you look because you are no longer worried about when the next random dog going to pop up around the corner. That in turn, relaxes your dog because they see an authority figure leading them and they can let, whatever it is they thought they were trying to achieve, go. The consistency on your part proves to them that you are capable of fulfilling this role because no matter how bad it may get or how many times they give it a shot, you will get what you want in the end. It may not be 100%, but if you aim for 100% then you’ll at least get 90%.
The last piece of the puzzle is patience. Things take time. Especially if your dog has been practicing said behavior for years of its life. Can we get a quick turnaround and cut the behavior in a short period of time? Yes. But in order for the new way of handling stress to kick in and become the new habit will take time. Dogs are what I call “reactive” animals in the sense that they are given a stimulus and they “respond” or “react” to it.
Humans are “proactive” animals meaning if I decide to get up one day and lose 50 pounds, I can do that. Dogs can’t. Your dog will not wake up one day and decide, “You know what Jesse. I’m going to cut my crap and be a new dog today. No more barking and lunging at other dogs for me! I’m a born-again canine!” Doesn’t work that way. But humans can. You can wake up one day and say, “You know what Fido? I’m tired of your crap and today is the day I stop it.”
So if you’re one of those people who has been pro-active in addressing their dogs behavior, but feel you’re stuck in a cycle of steps forward and steps backward then take a look at what you’re doing outside of training. Aside from the 3 things I mentioned in this article, there are other things we can be doing that will work against us such as coddling, being strict in the moments that need it but lenient in every other aspect of the dogs life, no rules in how our dogs interact with us, and the list goes on.
Sometimes the littlest thing can have the biggest impact on how your dog behaves so the answer may not always be clear, but I can assure you, it most likely has to do with a lack of structure, rules, and boundaries.
Until next time.