As dog trainers, we work on transforming unwanted dog behavior into appropriate dog behavior that makes life more enjoyable for dogs and their families.
A dog’s problem behaviors are preventable and able to be changed in nearly all circumstances.
When we meet a new client and their dog, they tell us all about their dog’s behavior that is causing discomfort or problems in their life. We immediately focus on how best to solve the problem in a way that is easy and practical for the family.
We listen to families tell us how their dog bites when playing, chews on shoes, runs around like crazy instead of relaxing with the family or simply does not listen at all.
Most conversations include phrases similar to “every day at eight o’clock…”, “whenever I am busy…”, and “his behavior is unpredictable”. All of these phrases have something in common. All of them are reactive to a problem.
The definitions for “reactive” are:
1. Showing a response to a stimulus
2. Acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it
3. Having a tendency to react chemically
The first definition of reactive is what some dogs do when barking at another dog, loud noise or something they are fearful of. For this blog, we are discussing reactive based on the second definition.
All of the phrases above are examples of people acting in response to a situation rather than controlling it. Most problem behaviors are easily avoided and changed when owners stop being reactive and start being proactive. To be proactive means to “act in anticipation of future problems, needs or changes”.
Here is an example of how being proactive can prevent problem behaviors.
Bob has a high energy dog typically used for hunting or sports. Bob and his wife both work and are the only family members that live at home.
During the warm months, Bob was able to use a large field every night to exercise his dog and fulfill the dog’s physical energy needs. Running was a fun time for both the dog and Bob but there was little training structure.
As anyone who has worked out knows, when you exercise a lot you build your endurance and need to exercise more. This is what was happening with Bob’s dog. The dog needed more and more physical stimulation to settle at night.
As cooler weather and less daylight set in, it became harder and harder to use the field to provide Bob’s dog with enough physical exercise. Eventually Bob stopped going to the field all together.
After a few days, Bob’s dog realized that the exercise was not going to be replaced with another outdoor activity and because the dog was just a young pup, he decided to turn Bob’s house into the replacement for the field.
Bob was surprised and frustrated that his puppy who had listened so well up until this point was now running around uncontrollably in the house, taking things off the counter, chewing eye glasses and stealing items the family valued.
Bob didn’t realize that the activity in the field was just building up the dog’s cardio and endurance but did not help improve self-control. He quickly learned that removing that physical outlet and not being able to replace it caused his dog to choose inappropriate ways to get the exercise he needed.
A proactive approach to this situation would have avoided the problem behavior, improved the relationship between the dog and the owner and still fulfilled all of the dog’s needs. Let us take a look at what could have been done to avoid this situation.
1. The exercise in the field is a great opportunity to work on behaviors like coming when called, controlling impulses, staying
in place and improving the communication between them. Instead of focusing on physically tiring the dog, focus on
strengthening communication through training.
2. When colder weather (and busy schedules) prevents us from exercising our dog, we need to come up with alternative ways to meet
their physical needs. Taking a dog training class, finding a well-lit park or discovering new training games and tricks will
help curb unruly dogs and unwanted behavior.
We always encourage dog owners to be proactive instead of not when it comes to their dog. We find the best way to do this is to discuss the unwanted behaviors you’ve been experiencing and identify the consequences you experience from those behaviors. Are your belongings being ruined? Have friends and family stopped coming over?
By analyzing patterns with your dog’s unwanted behaviors, you can identify ways to jump ahead of the problems! Maybe a certain noise or visitor sets off uncontrollable barking or maybe you know that every night at 7pm your dog runs circles in your living room. Use short training sessions to jump ahead of these things.
Sit goes a long way. If you can get your dog to sit in front of you and give you his or her attention you can avoid troublesome reactions 9 times out of 10.
Don’t kick the dog. Kick yourself (figuratively of course!) and try to figure out how to jump ahead of the problem. If you cannot do it on your own, contact us and we’d be happy to help you jump in front of problems.