One of the things I get asked a lot is “do you want to see what happens when….”. It seems that many clients are desperate for me to see the problem behaviour in action. There is a belief that I need to see it to be able to help, or that maybe I won’t believe how bad it is unless I see it for myself.
Nothing can be further from the truth. If you tell me your dog is doing X, I believe you. But I still don’t need to see the problem to be able to change it. And I really don’t want to see it. One of my goals for working with you is that we never see the problem behaviour again. And no, that’s not entirely realistic, but still it’s worth striving for.
I work mainly with aggression, reactivity, fear and anxiety. Management is vital to prevent your dog from performing unsafe behaviours. To do otherwise puts you, me, the public, or other animals at risk. If the reason you are seeking help is that your dog is biting people, I definitely don’t want to see that in action.
If your dog is feeling unsafe, fearful or anxious (often emotions involved in aggression and reactivity) then their brain is not receptive to learning. When clients tell me, “I’ve tried using treats but it doesn’t work, he ignores the food” I’ve got a fair idea that their dog is overwhelmed.
In order to teach your dog anything we need them to be calm enough that they can learn. One indicator that they are receptive to learning is that they can eat in that situation. If we can see the problem behaviour happening, it’s a fair assumption that they are too stressed to learn anything.
I’ve seen it before, I believe you
I’ve spent years studying behaviour science and its application to pet dogs. I understand the underlying causes of problem behaviours without needing to see them happening. I know what questions to ask in order to identify patterns and determine the cause of the behaviour and what’s keeping it happening. That’s why there’s a questionnaire for you to fill in before we start working together and why I still have follow-up questions at the initial consultation.
From your answers, I build up an imaginary picture of what is happening. Then I determine what is going to work best in your behaviour modification plan.
Occasionally I’m not sure, and so I might ask to see a video of the behaviour. But only if it’s safe for you and others to do so. Or I may refer you to someone who I think is better placed to help you like a veterinary behaviourist, or another clinical animal behaviourist that specialises in the problem you are dealing with.
Practise makes permanent
The more an animal (humans included) practises a behaviour, the better they get at doing it. If the goal is to decrease the problem behaviour we don’t want them to continue practising it and getting better and quicker at performing it. It’s why management is a critical piece of the behaviour modification process.
It’s possible to change problem behaviour before it happens. And for best training efficiency, it’s desirable to do so. You don’t need to wait for your dog to start barking at something before you do some training to stop it. There’s lots of options to do something before the barking happens, so that it never happens at all. And for the most part, that’s where most of our focus will be during a behaviour modification programme.
Behaviour is different to your boiler breaking down
I think for most of our lives we are conditioned to believe that an expert has to see the problem happening in order to diagnose and fix it. Like if your boiler is on the blink. It might only fail intermittently, so if when you call the gas fitter in it’s working, there may be only limited things they can check.
The same thing happened to me when our old boiler was dying. It hadn’t worked in days, but when the gas fitter came round, it lit just fine. He couldn’t see what the problem was, so I had to wait until it stopped again. Then call him out again with fingers crossed it kept failing so that he could see the problem.
When things like boilers or cars have problems, if it’s working fine, it’s hard for anyone to see the symptoms. Unless the expert is good at asking questions about what the problem is and when it happens, or there’s a fault code log it’s hard for them to diagnose. And we don’t want to be paying for them to fix something that isn’t broken and won’t fix the problem.
Many experts over time become adept at recognising symptoms of common problems from customer descriptions even without the error log. Or they recognise that a particular grouping of fault codes actually points to a different problem than it might seem. I’ve often found that they can diagnose and fix the problem even if everything is working as it should at that moment.
How I work instead
I piece together bits of information from you and your dog’s medical history so I can determine what’s going on. Sometimes I seem to ask random questions that may feel they have nothing to do with what we’ve been talking about. That information will slot something into place for me, or help me rule something else out.
My questioning is like me building a mental fault code log for your dog. I recognise smaller patterns and can place them together to build the full picture just like working with a jigsaw puzzle. And that means I don’t need to see the problem behaviour in action to be able to help.
And because I don’t need to see the problem, it gives me much more flexibility in the ways I can help you, including remote options.
If this has convinced you that I don’t need to see you in person and/or at your home to be effective and you’re ready to discuss how I can help you book a discovery call so we can get you started on your journey to some relief.