How Does A Dog Really think?
Welcome to the first of many blogs in the All Dogs Blog series. If you're a client at All Dogs Toronto, welcome back. If you're new here, we hope that you find the website informative and helpful. We believe that the more education we can provide dog and pet parents, the better off we all are.
You may think that your dog spends most her time plotting how to get into your refrigerator, or how to extend your walk time by just an extra ten minutes at the end of each long day. You may have a dog that growls at you when you sit too close to her on the couch, or snaps at you when you try to take something away from her that she wants. And you may be forgiven for thinking that she is trying to be the boss. However, the truth is, she actually isn't. This is a case of mistaken motivation.
Many dogs suffer from poor behaviour. Behavioural problems stem directly from one, or both, of two sources:
1. A lack of clear, consistently reinforced rules to live by.
2, His or her bad behavior, in the past, has been rewarded.
Let's look an example.
Your dog is on the couch. You ask him to get down, and suddenly, your dog's body language changes: he begins growing at you and being defensive, maybe even snapping at the air. As a result, you back off. No one wants to get bitten, and the reaction to move away is a natural and correct one. What's happened here is that the dog's poor behavior (growling) has been rewarded because she got what she wanted (to stay on the couch).
To be perfectly clear, never challenge or punish a dog that's growling or aggressive. That's a different discussion and we will address what to do in those situations in a future blog post.
To summarize, if, by behaving in a certain way, the dog gets what she wants, then of course she's going to behave that way because it gets her the result she wants. If there is a lack of ground rules and the dog is capable of getting away with bad behavior then, just like a naughty child, she will do so.
Keep in mind as well that all dogs are unique. They have their own personalities, and different stimuli will make them tick (or not tick, as the case may be). Don't be afraid to try different things with your dog. Provided you come to a single method that you use consistently to reinforce good behavior with your dog, take the time to figure out what works.
If bad behavior persists despite consistent rules and the reinforcement of good, as opposed to bad behavior, a trainer is a good option. A skilled dog trainer will assess your dog as an individual, figure out what excites them and use that knowledge to build the dog's confidence, motivating her for reward-based training done right.
It helps to keep in mind, during these often frustrating moments with your dog, that a dog's emotional brain power is very similar to that of a two-to-three year old child. Anger, fear, disgust, and love are all in their repertoire, as are optimism, envy, and grief.
If you want to communicate with your dog, speak to her in a way she can understand so that she has a chance to obey you. Don't make the task too complicated. Break it down into small parts, or baby steps, so that your dog can learn.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.