Wednesday, 26 August 2015
STOP focusing on the behaviour... think about the DOG...
I feel compelled to write this down as I have today seen several examples of what I am about to discuss, via the life-invading ever present Facebook of course.
So yeah, STOP focusing on behaviour - dog owners, pet parents, dog minders.. whoever you are.
Look away from that unwanted behaviour for a second, we aren't going to forget it entirely, no, but the first, most important, crucial element here is NOT that turd on the floor, its NOT that irritating barking, it is NOT that chasing of livestock or escaping the fence or humping Nanna's leg...
Its also not the expensive of the carpet cleaner, its not the irritation of your neighbours and its even not the scratches down Nanna's leg.
The FIRST thing you should consider here, is the dog.
Thats right, that goofy furry guy down there, him, or her of course - THATS your first consideration, THATS your priority (yes it is, I don't care if you have kids, elderly rellies, if the second coming of Christ is your godson.. the DOG is the priority right now)...
Look at the dog.
The dog is performing these behaviours, these behaviours did not manifest themselves alone, without the presence of a dog (if you have turds on your carpet and you have NO DOG then you HAVE got some serious issues that I am not qualified to deal with, move along please!)
Are you looking at the dog yet?
That furry dude has needs - he has inherited behavioural traits and desires, he has instincts. He also has some cognitive ability and he has emotions that are not dissimilar to your own.
He feels stressed, he feels relief, he feels hunger, thirst, pain and discomfort. He feels fear and anxiety as well as joy, he feels rage and he feels desire. Your dog can panic, and he can lust...
So whilst he won't have all the same reasonings for those emotions as we would, because he can't understand the concept of an over due mortgage payment causing panic, and he can't equate a bonus in a paypacket with joy, the basic, simple emotions are the same.
Ask yourself then, WHY did this emotional furry dude DO the behaviour you don't like?
He's not complex enough for the reason to be 'because he hates you' or 'because he wants to pay you back for leaving him home alone' or 'because he wants to take over the world' so you can rule those ideas RIGHT out, straight away.
If you focus on the DOG, and you ask why something happened, and how can we CHANGE things so that something doesnt happen any more... we can address most problems really pretty easily.
Why did the dog shit on the floor?
Because he needed to shit urgently? Because he didn't know where he should shit? Because he's scared to shit in the place you want him to shit? Because he got a sudden fright and effectively, shit himself? Because he couldn't GET to where he would have preferred to shit? Because you have inadvertently taught him to shit on the floor?
Loads of potential reasons there, you know not one of them is because 'he is a dirty bastard and wants to make you suffer'...
So how might we address this whilst thinking about the DOG rather than the behaviour as the priority.
Well when the DOG is the priority, that has to rule out all the methods that might be harmful to the dog - so lets take a guess that rubbing his face in this shit won't be an option, and probably shouting at him when you find the shit isn't an option. Those methods don't put the dogs needs as a priority, they put YOUR needs to feel like you are righting a wrong, in first place.
Here's a big newsflash - a dog has ABSOLUTELY, ZERO NEED to know he did something that you consider 'wrong'.
He does not need this, he will never need this and, you will never teach him this, in a million years. He is not capable of learning 'wrong' from you.
For sure he can learn ' this person is sometimes angry and scary' and he can learn 'never do THAT thing in the sight of THIS person'... but he has not learned that this action is 'wrong'.
Learning that certain actions are inherently wrong is a HUMAN thing, its a social construct and it changes from country to country and culture to culture. I can't really be bothered to list them but its safe to say there are things you can do in the UK that would be RUDE in Latvia, things you might find are considered polite in the USA but are shockingly, unspeakably wrong in China.
So stop wasting your time and confusing your dog, hes never going to learn it and attempting to teach it will frustrate you, and damage your relationship with your dog.
So, theres absolutely no need to try and impart the idea or knowledge to your dog, that he has done something humans consider to be wrong or bad.
What do you do then - well back to putting the DOG first, before the behaviour.
Your dog shit on the floor, did you teach him to shit outside?
Its a lot easier to teach a dog, and build a habit, that 'we always shit outside on this grass' and you do that by preventing any other option, and pairing the correct action with a high value reward.
We do this with children, its not hard - star charts and sweeties for sitting on the potty and making doodoo, nappies off and dust sheets down and a potty in every room to avoid the unwanted behaviour of 'shitting in our pants'.
We do not potty train children by just taking off the nappy and letting them run around and GUESS where the toilet is, and then when they make a mistake, rub their noses in it or drag them to it, point and shout BAD BOY...
If you did potty train a child like that, I am calling Child Protection/Social Services...
What if you taught your dog the wrong place to toilet, lets say you accidentally taught him to go on soft padded surfaces, ie, puppy pads.. and NOW you realise those pads are SO similar to carpet. oops your dog thinks thats the right place to go.
Same deal, prevent the error, provide the correct place to go, reward the correct action. Not hard, just requires some management and vigilance on your part.
We are now thinking about the DOG here - what does the dog know, what does he understand, what mistake has occurred and wrong thing learned, what will motivate him to repeat the action we DO want.
So way back near the start of this rant I said the dog takes priority over everything when you are solving a behaviour problem, the DOG is more important than Nanna's scratched legs or the ruined carpet.
I stand by that - you will not fix a behaviour problem by freaking out about Nanna's legs - yes that shouldn't occur, but no it does not justify an aversive methodology.
If we prioritise the dog, if we focus on MANAGING the dog so it can't happen, and in understanding WHY it happened, what motivated the dog, what produced that behaviour, we can address the behaviour in the right way and stop it happening again... which in the end is GREAT for Nanna, surely!
Trainers - this is why owners do things that are aversive and are, with the benefit of greater knowledge, horrible.
It is almost always NOT because the owner WANTS to be horrid to their dog, it is because in focusing on the awfulness or scaryness or expense of the unwanted behaviour, they FORGET the dog in the equation.
And that is very easy to do, when you have Nanna bleeding in the hallway and you have shit on the expensive new rug or you have neighbours threatening to call the authorities becuse your dog barks.. its SO easy to forget the dog and focus only on the behaviour.
Be sympathetic, YOU may know why the methods chosen are abhorrent to you but the owner is JUST trying to solve the problem and has prioritised the wrong thing.