For Pups and Monster Mutts
Often, pet parents will spend gobs of money trying to get their pups to behave in the fashion that they desire, only to find out that they really should have sought the assistance of a professional canine behaviourist!
There is a difference between Trainers and Behaviourists, not all problems require retraining your pet.
Before contracting with any animal professional you should understand exactly what each one does to help fur kids.
Canine Behaviour Modification
Canine behaviour modification can mean a variety of things for pet parents and guardians. There are several ways to define behaviour, one of them, is the way an animal or human reacts to a situation (or stimulus). In our minds, behaviour modification, generally speaking, is the systematic approach to changing behaviour.
Unlike dog obedience training that trains a dog to perform specific actions when requested, behaviour modification looks to change a dog’s reaction to situation, a person, a thing, and animal, etc … in other words, modifying a dog’s behaviour for the purposes of increasing or decreasing wanted and unwanted behaviours. Behaviour modification programs, therefore, are employed by dog behaviour specialists, ranging from dog trainers well versed in dog behaviour, up to certified applied animal behaviourists and veterinary behaviourists. As with any field, the techniques used for dog modification programs vary from one trainer / behaviour specialist to another, and not all programs are necessarily created equally.
While some behaviour modification makes use of obedience training techniques such as teaching a dog to sit or lie down, these taught behaviours are called on as tools in an overall program that hopes to change how the dog thinks, feels and acts. Lying down and “sit-stay” (where the dog sits when asked and stays seated until given the signal to go) may encourage self-control, deference or relaxation, for example, in combination with other methods.
These behaviours can be helpful, but not if we are only focusing on what your fur kids does, and not what is going on inside them, why it happens, when it happens, and what it looks like before the undesired behaviour starts. We need to set up your fur kids for success.
Dogs ultimately thrive in an environment where they are provided with clear structure and communication. Desirable behaviours are rewarded, whereas, undesirable behaviours are discouraged by implementing clear rules and avoiding any forms of psychological and physical intimidation. Modern scientifically-based dog training and modern dog behaviour modification focuses on teamwork, and ultimately, the creation of a harmonious relationship between dogs AND their pet parents or guardians.
“Because fear and anxiety are common causes of aggression and other behaviour problems, the use of punishment can directly exacerbate the problem by increasing the animal’s fear or anxiety“~ (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour 2007).
The environment around your fur kids may also lead to behavioural changes because of consequences. From a dog’s perspective, there are three possibilities taking place when faced with stimuli.
- Neutral stimuli: the environment neither increases nor decreases the probability of a behaviour being repeated. To your fur kids, the colour of the sky is irrelevant and has no effect whatsoever on his behaviour;
- Reinforcing stimuli: the environment increases the probability of a behaviour being repeated. A dog may, therefore, increase its jumping behaviour because he or she is given attention when he does this (positive reinforcement), or a dog may increase the behaviour of hiding behind a couch because when he does so, the owner stops chasing him (negative reinforcement);
- Punishing stimuli: the environment decreases the probability of a behaviour being repeated. Punishment weakens and extinguishes behaviour. A dog may stop pestering a cat after the cat has scratched him (positive punishment) or a dog may stop jumping on the pet parent because the pet parent leaves the room every time he engages in such behaviour (negative punishment).
It is important to point out that in behavior terms, the words positive and negative are not used to mean good or bad, but rather, positive means addition and negative means subtraction. Also, as mentioned earlier, the term reinforcement denotes a behavior that increases in frequency, whereas, the term punishment, is not used to entail anything hostile, but simply denotes a behaviour that decreases in frequency.
- Positive reinforcement, in this case, positive means adding something so to make a behaviour increase, (reinforcement). Example: you start giving (add) attention when your dog jumps. With time, the behaviour of jumping increases.
- Negative reinforcement, in this case, negative means removing something so to make a behaviour increase (reinforcement): Example: you stop staring (subtract) at your dog in a threatening way the moment he looks away. With time, the behaviour of looking away increases.
- Positive punishment in this case, positive means adding something so to make a behaviour decrease. Example: in this case, you start giving (add) a squirt of water in the face the moment your dog barks. With time, the behaviour of barking decreases.
- Negative punishment, in this case negative means removing something so to make a behaviour decrease. Example: you stop giving (subtract) attention when your dog jumps. With time, the behaviour of jumping decreases.
Let’s investigate the difference between dog trainers and behaviourists.
Trainers = Teachers
Professional trainers perform an important service. Everybody wants to have a beautifully behaved pup by their side as opposed to a monster mutt that cannot behave properly. A dog trainer can help teach your pooch to be the perfect companion.
Not all trainers provide the same type of service. Some train in basic manners such as sit, down, stay, come, go to your space and walk nicely on a leash. There are other canine educators who work to teach dogs not to jump, dig in the trash bin or lounge on the couch or beds. Still others perform more advanced training such as scent discrimination, protection training, complete off-leash commands or even search and rescue training.
Before you contact a dog trainer, know what you expect him or her to do for you. If you are simply looking for someone to teach your pooch to sit and come called, almost any professional dog trainer can help.
It’s best to thoroughly discuss your needs before entering into a training contract. This will ensure that there is a complete meeting of the minds and each person knows exactly what is expected of him or her.
Behaviourists Make for Better Behaved Buddies
More and more pet parents are beginning to seek out the help of animal behaviourists. Problematic pups can be difficult to live with, and in all honesty, they aren’t very happy pooches. A skilled behaviourist can help transform your mutt from a monster into the perfect pooch.
You should be aware that an accredited behaviourist undergoes extensive training and studying and should be registered with an organization such as the Animal Behaviour Website, COAPE SA Website, SABCap Website, Friend of the Dog Website. As we stated in the beginning, before you enter into a contract with said professional, make sure you ask the behaviourist for a copy of their registration papers. This would also be a good idea with trainers. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with people who have done a 2 week correspondence course and call themselves behaviourist.
Dogs that have been experiencing emotional problems can lash out in a variety of ways. A behaviourist will first do a complete evaluation before creating a plan for helping your pet overcome his issues. You will definitely be an integral part of the transformation, so it is critical that you the pet parent and / or guardian, make your time available as part of the contractual commitment, otherwise you will set your fur kids up for failure.
Because of in-discriminant backyard breeders, puppy mills and people who breed canines for fighting purposes, behaviour problems within the dog world have increased tremendously. Puppies that lacked proper socialization and human interaction when they were little tend to grow up to be unstable adults. Living with a pet that cannot be approached by anyone besides its owner must get help quickly. These puppies tend to eventually become fear biters or very aggressive.
Destructive dogs can benefit from a professional behaviourist. There isn’t a pet in the world that truly wants to do things to annoy the heck out of their pet parents. An experienced behaviourist can help you find out why your pooch is destroying your home. Most of the time, dogs become destructive because they are bored when they are left alone; however, some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and the only thing that soothes them is to chew on your things.
The behaviourist will be able to make your dog realize that you will always come back home or show you how to keep your pup busy when you are away from home.