One of the most challenging hurdles I’ve had as a dog trainer fixing a dog problem is the owner‘s misconception of their dog problem and what they think I will do in a series of dog training lessons. Here are a few misconceptions some owners have:
• The dog problem relates only to their dog (something is wrong with their dog.)
• I can tell them why their dog is misbehaving.
• I will straighten out the dog and the problem for them.
• The behavior modification program will center on their dog’s behavior.
• The success of the program should be guaranteed.
It has been my experience that what a dog owner expects us to do as trainers to fix their dog problem is usually based on very little fact, less experience and rarely resembles reality.
As unrealistic as the owner may seem, these “owner expectations” are very real in their minds and should be seriously considered. In other words you will have to deal with these unrealistic expectations sooner or later so know that it will take consideration, thoughtfulness and a sincere desire to want to motivate the owner, your client, towards a humane solution to their problem.
You may find that many owners believe it’s actually the dog’s problem – not theirs. A good example of that would be how insecurities in and older dog created a house soiling issue.
Often times the owner never understands how house soiling could possibly be connected to their constant doting on their dog. That is part of what builds their unrealistic expectations.
If gone unchanged, a dog owner’s interactions with their dog will perpetuate the very behavior about which they complain.
And, often times owners are unwilling to consistently restructure parts of their relationship with their dog, i.e., how they give their dog access to their space: beds, couches and chairs.
And you may find that some owners constantly pet, coddle and carry them around convincing themselves that this love and affection is what the dog wants.
It is the trainer’s responsibility to genuinely listen to their clients, recognizing that these real client attitudes are 99% emotional – not intellectual. It is our responsibility to sort this out and try to understand how owner attitudes affect their pet’s behavior.
These attitudes go hand-in-hand with how owners treat their dog and therefore begin to create stress causing unwanted behavior.
The emotional connection a client creates with their new dog in the beginning weeks and months of their relationship will form how their dog relates to and interacts with them, other family members, friends and strangers in the years to come.
How the emotional trail leads to dog behavior problems
Here are some interesting facts about a dog’s interactions with their owner that could improve your client’s understanding of their approach to changing the way they live with their dog. It is so logical how this emotional trail leads to dog behavior problems. The problem is that dog owners are too caught up with the emotional connection.
Help your client to rebuild the relationship with their dog to insure a more confident dog instead of living with the results of a frustrated dog exhibiting the dog behavior problems about which they called. Guide them to a better and logical understanding of the following about their dog:
Most of our relationship with our dog is emotional. Dogs draw us to them. Even with new puppies there’s that puppy breath – their total cuteness – not to mention they are so warm and cuddly. It’s the whole package, really!
Dogs are very sensitive to our emotions and feelings. We can pick up on this almost immediately. Come to think of it, if this sensitivity were not there, we probably wouldn’t have them as pets.
But know this about our dogs
Dogs in general do not do well with an over abundance of our emotional energy. Too much love and affection when we are home can really cause our dog to miss all that attention when we are gone. This could make them feel insecure.
- Dogs may become afraid when they sense anger or hear yelling and screaming. This kind of emotional energy creates an unstable environment and creates anxiety and tension in our dog.
- When our dogs feel emotionally insecure about their relationships with us, they become frustrated.
- Our dog then tries to relieve the tension caused by the frustration in his relationship with us. That’s when behavioral problems occur.
Successful dog training and problem solving requires that we counsel clients with insight which will allow your clients to perceive problems in a new way.
It will allow them to change their thinking and become motivated to finally want to restructure their interactions with their dog. This is the beginning to the process of problem solving.
Once you change the client’s thinking, the dog becomes a whole lot easier to fix. My experience has shown that when clients change their attitude towards their dog, from “I’ll only keep my dog if…” (conditional acceptance) to “I love my dog no matter what…” (unconditional acceptance), the dog begins to improve almost immediately.
Another part of the process of problem solving is making sure that your client understands the importance of balanced relationship with their dog. For most dog owners, the concept of earning everything consistently is foreign to their thinking.
At this point, it is valuable and timely to involve the client in a discussion about their relationship with their dog by asking questions and listening to their perceptions. For example, I will usually ask questions like:
• Does your dog consistently earn anything by doing a sit? If so, what. If not, why?
• Where does your dog sleep?
• Tell me about your dog’s feeding schedule. How many times a day is your dog fed or do you continuous feed?
• How many times a day do you walk your dog and how do you walk your dog?
Answers to these types of questions begin to provide you with a profile of how their relationship with their dog is structured and ultimately how their dog perceives its role in the relationship. I can then evaluate how I will recommend they can begin to problem solve issues with their dog.
The solution usually always involves adding more structure by putting their dog on an earn-to-learn program. That is, every thing their dog gets in life – food, treats, praise as well as life rewards (a walk, game of fetch, potty break, etc.) it earns by performing a command like sit or down.
As you go through this exercise remember to communicate and teach the owner in much the same way as you communicate and train the dog. You could view it as “clicking and treating” the owners. In other words, praise as they express understanding and contribute good ideas and redirect incorrect thinking or actions to a more appropriate idea.
In the course of my discussion with the client it never fails that the dog continuously comes up to be petted by its owner. This is a good time to discuss leadership skills. The dog is taking the role of leader by demanding attention. And my recommendation is to immediately reverse roles by having the client require their dog to first earn its pets and praise by doing a “sit.”
As trainers we need to create an understanding and acceptance by the client of their role in their working relationship with their dog. By doing so, they create a fair and balanced relationship with their dog allowing him to develop a strong “sense of place” as a follower. Dogs are less stressed in the relationship with their owner because of the consistent structure of knowing what to do. When dogs are less frustrated, behavior problems can be resolved and put to bed for good.
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