It can be very upsetting, even frightening, when our dogs exhibit reactive and aggressive behaviour, or behaviour that upsets our neighbours, such as howling and barking overwhelming when so many different people have different opinions on how to deal with it.
Sometimes it might appear out of the blue, for no reason – unprovoked, but in truth, there could be many many underlying reasons why our dogs are finding situations difficult and reacting aggressively or defensively, and if we look at the whole dog and the big picture first, we can go a very long way in to improving, if not fully solving, most behaviour issues.
This is a pretty long read, but if this is where you are right now and you would feel you need some help, it is important that you understand how we work and why we approach behaviour modification in the way we do.
Our approach to all problematic behaviour is to look at the big picture, but first you need to know:
Our methods are such that we always seek to ensure that no matter how distressing or difficult the situation is with the dog in front of us, we do not want to in any way make it worse. We follow the PPG (Pet Professionals Guild) mantra of ‘Do No Harm’ in every aspect of our training protocol and believe that no dog should suffer punishment or pain for simply manifesting fear, frustration or confusion.
We work on the presumption that dogs don’t generally want to hurt us, but because they have no words to tell us how they are feeling or explain when they are hurting, confused or anxious, problem behaviours are the means by which they are attempting to deal with situations that they are finding difficult.
Our behaviour plan
- First and foremost, management. Preventing problematic behaviour happening in the first place until we can confidently be sure that the situation is resolved is key. Management can start with immediate effect, using crates, baby gates, mutually exclusive behaviours and leads. Resolving the issue completely is our aim, but we accept that this will rarely happen overnight.
- The overall health and possible causes of physical distress of the dog, this may involve a vet check, and looking at ways we can ease or resolve any presenting issues as we find them, such as soreness of joints, bad teeth, allergies etc
- Diet, exercise and life routines: these all impact on our own mental health. They can impact on our dogs too.
We then start looking at building the blocks that will actively change the dynamics of how the dog might respond in any situation, using both the sciences of behaviourism and scientific understanding of animal cognition.
Much of this will be tailored specifically to suit the individual family, but it must be understood from the outset that regular if not daily practice sessions will be vital to maintain this work.
- Overall confidence, trust and communication: Many people have some crazy irrational fear or phobia: spiders, heights, snakes, flying.. we might never have had an actually damaging encounter with any of these, but we can still find ourselves quite distressed by the mere thought of them. Our dogs can be fearful of things without due cause too. If we are afraid we can usually ask someone for help, and when someone is there to comfort us, we generally find these fears are eased. In our dogs, we need to teach them how to ask for help, and we teach our owners how best to offer that help when it is asked for.
- Obedience: During ‘the moment’, when our dog is actively showing problematic behaviour, it’s usually way to late to ask your dog to actually do anything, which is why management and prevention is our first tool.
This is not to be mistaken for avoidance where we simply seek to never encounter other dogs or whatever your dog’s triggers are as in the real world, it would be highly impractical and unhelpful, but once we have improved trust and communication protocol in place, we can then start working at introducing and desensitising our dog to it’s potential problematic behaviour triggers in incremental steps.
By this time we should also find we are more able to pre-empt when problems are likely to occur and use obedience to give us time to put a management system in place, and put the dog in a better place to prevent problems happening
Once we have this full circle of events in motion, we then expect to see quite significant improvements and then look at setting up more of an ongoing situation drills and fun games to play with our dogs to help keep up the progress we have made.
If this sounds like the help you are looking for, please do get in touch!