I’ve been hanging out on Facebook again. I had successfully reduced the amount of time I spent scrolling but it seems to be creeping up again. However that isn’t the reason for today’s story. No instead, for once, Facebook has provided inspiration, albeit in a backhanded fashion.
Facebook groups, especially those involving dog training are often a hot bed of misinformation. From my point of view it gets frustrating and disheartening so I normally avoid them, but for whatever reason there’s a particular group that I still haven’t left that recently has been more active than usual – or maybe just the infamous Facebook algorithm has changed again so I’m seeing it more. Anyway…….. often when an owner posts for help it’s because her (it’s normally women posting but not always but I’ve got to pick one or the other until we have a gender neutral pronoun….) dog is doing something she wishes he wasn’t. Then comes a slew of advice about how to prevent the annoying thing happening. So it’s all good right?
Well sadly no. More often than not that well meaning advice is directed at stopping the dog from being able to do X. The classic example is the dog that destroys the home/furniture/stuff when the owner goes out to work. Answers to the problem range from crating the dog, putting him in a different room, putting barriers around the sofa or whatever it is he is destroying, spraying things with bitter apple or some other agent designed to stop chewing, muzzling the dog, the list of possible solutions to prevent property destruction go on and on. What few if any of these solutions do is look for the why behind the behaviour.
Why is the dog destroying the place?
It’s absolutely vital to work out the why to have any hope of implementing a long term solution. If you don’t know the why then while you might stop sofa chewing by crating the dog, he may easily turn to crate chewing instead – and that can be dangerous, broken teeth and paw damage probably cost more than a sofa to fix.
Behaviourists (well the good ones anyway) will spend a long time trying to tease out evidence for the why behind a behaviour. Normally it involves asking a lot of questions, sometimes seemingly to be unrelated on the surface, sometimes asking for video footage of the behaviour including what happens before and after it. What the behaviourist is trying to determine is what is driving the behaviour – is there an emotional element that needs to be addressed? Is the behaviour being supported in some other way? The behaviourist will also be trying to get an idea of how you live your life and what solutions are going to be practical for you to implement. There’s no point coming up with a 10 point plan if point 2 is impossible for you to do.
Finding out the why matters. In the example above the list of whys could include: Panic at being left alone, fear of noises, frustration at being left alone, frustration at events occurring outside the home, fear of events occurring outside, frustration/boredom with nothing left to do, fear or frustration at something inside the home, pain, mice……. What will work for one kind of why, won’t necessarily work for another. There is never a one size fits all solution.
In my opinion some of the suggested solutions would be detrimental or even cruel to apply for some of the whys. It’s why advice on Facebook is rarely applicable. While the poster may have good intentions she can’t possibly have all the necessary information to be able to make an informed opinion. Dogs are not DIY projects or IT problems – there is no step by step guide that will apply across the board.
So if you’ve got a problem behaviour that you’d like your dog to just stop doing – get a professional in. I’ll discuss more on what to look for in a professional another time, but for now the list on the ABTC or APBC would be a good place to start. Or if you’re local, you could get in touch with me (I’m a member of those organisations too).
There are some things that can be addressed with simple how to’s though – normally when you don’t have that big of a problem, admittedly. I have created a page on my website where you can get hold of the information sheets I’ve created. Feel free to peruse at your leisure. Download, share, whatever. I just ask that you keep my information on them instead of chopping it off.
And a quick reminder that if you want to continue receiving these emails after the GDPR rules kick in towards the end of May you’re going to have to sign up again so I can be absolutely sure you really want them. I know it’s a pain, you’ve had to do this several times for various different newsletters, I’m really sorry. The form is really short though, so there’s that….