Is my dog bored?

'My dog is bored' might be one of the most common phrases I hear on a weekly basis along with 'my dog is jealous' and it may be misleading dog lovers the world over into filling there homes and yards with highly stimulating squeakers, fluffy teddies, rope bones and any number of assorted consumer appealing items designed to keep the dog stimulated and ideally prevent boredom or more accurately, destruction, chewing/digging, whining, barking and escaping which has been attributed to boredom.

But what if I told you they've got it wrong. What if I told you that the very toys designed to prevent these behaviour problems may actually be a significant contributor to those same problems.

Lets look at this from a purely logical (like the dogs mind) perspective. If you have a child, or remember being one, and you spent a good portion of that time each day over a period of a few weeks at a playground where over stimulation is par for the course, would it have a calming effect on behaviour or a stimulating effect on behaviour. Before you answer consider this; Is the child calm when they go back to the playground after a period of being every day for weeks on end or are they stimulated. Obviously there are a significant number of variables that can contribute to the overall outcome but for the sake of consistency I'm willing to bet that in most cases there will be a marked increase over time due to the process of environmental conditioning.

If a dog goes to a dog park they are often stimulated as this is clearly an exciting environment due to the interactions/experience that go on. In contrast a daily walk can become a modest or somewhat humdrum affair when we compare the two.

So let's imagine that we introduce a number of highly stimulating toys to our home environment, a place in which most people would want calmness to prevail, the most likely outcome over a period of exposure is a connection to both the item itself as a product of over excitement in addition to the general environment representing thus.

This is not to say that toys are inherently bad or that they are causing behaviour problems. In fact appropriate low level stimulation, chewing a bone for example, can help stimulate the nerves around the mouth creating a calming effect, provided there is no competition around. The point is that if we are using toys as a distraction to the idea of boredom we are missing the point in terms of the root cause of the problematic outcome.

So next time you think about purchasing some shiny, squeaky, clearly marketed towards humans dog toy, perhaps instead think about how your daily routine/interactions may be contributing to the problem and focus on sharing calmness in the form of massage to create the outcome all dog lovers desire - contentment.

Rescue dogs - Pre loved pawfection

There's a lot to be said for rescuing a dog from a shelter, pound, facility etc. Even the word 'rescue' itself lends to the idea that we are doing something heroic and in a way that is true. For anyone who has experienced the heartwarming feeling of bringing a dog who is down on there luck into their own homes and lives have no doubt also experienced the heart wrenching feeling that is associated with both the facility that holds the dog and the idea of what has seen them end up there in the first place. This is the truly difficult thing that a vast majority of people who rescue any animal will experience and it is the one thing that will truly hold back their new furry friend from letting go of any past mistreatment.

Over the years I have worked with too many rescue dogs to count. Some have been in a rescue facility, some have been with foster carers but most have been in a loving new environment with a family that wants nothing more than pure happiness for the dog. The thing is, love itself is never the issue. These dogs feel plenty of that from the people in their new surroundings and yet the very reason I am in their home is due to some type of behavioural issue. Many of these will have existed before the dog found it's new home, indeed it's the primary reason many are given up in the first place, however plenty will develop these negative traits with their adopted family.

If I could simplify with one sentence the best way to allow families of a rescue dog to fulfill the desire to have a wonderful, calm, happy life together it is this; Take control of now and forget about the past! Your dogs only interest is in what lays directly ahead. They are not thinking about the time someone was mean to them, someone struck them in a moment of misdirected anger, someone yelled at them in a moment of frustration. They will only associate to the negative things that may have happened in their history if they experience something that resembles that event again.

For example, if a dog was struck repeatedly with a rolled up newspaper by a person with negative intent, then they may experience that same feeling if they see someone nearby with a rolled up newspaper. However, they are not sitting around all day thinking about the potential for that specific experience to happen again.

So how do we change this dynamic? Obviously we are going to have certain feelings arise when we think about the experiences our dog has gone through, the key is to live more like the dog and less like the idea of the experience. In many ways, rescuing a dog is both a selfless and selfish act. If we really consider our motives, there is the aspect of taking in an animal that may otherwise lose it's life, a noble act indeed. But then there is the other side, the side where we fulfill our own desire to be the hero, the voice for the distraught, downtrodden and forgotten, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this until it interferes with the dogs ability to enjoy today and forget tomorrow.

The key then is to direct our focus into the construction of a mutually respectful, trusting relationship whereby we temporarily put our own feelings aside, the ones where we want to cry and scream and rage against the injustice of it all, and realise that ultimately, holding onto these is a disservice to our furry friend and that moving forward means truly letting go of what was and embracing what is.   


Dog whispering

Most people will have heard the term dog whisperer or dog whispering before, thanks largely to the success of Cesar Milan and his wildly popular television series, but what exactly does it mean? From the comical perspective, images of someone gently leaning towards a dog and literally whispering something into their ear springs to mind. But the truly funny thing is that in the world of natural horsemanship, where horse whispering is the standard not the exception, this hasn't been considered a comical or revolutionary idea in more than 50 years.

Tom Dorrance along with his brother Bill, were among the first to promote the idea of natural horsemanship, focusing on natural gentle methods with an emphasis of 'feeling' of the horse with adjustments made by the handler based on observations made during interactions. There methods had a profound effect on another natural horseman, Ray Hunt and later Buck Brannaman, both of whom have achieved great success with their approach which stands in stark contrast to the previously favoured methods summed up Hunts remark, " I was working in the minds of people who didn't want to believe the horse had a mind".

When it comes to dogs, it seems the general public have been quick to accept the idea that the dog is a sentient being, capable of feelings and emotions. The result of this change in perception has meant that dogs are now an intricate part of our lives, true family members, which has also resulted in far more access to our homes, personal space, etc. 

So what does this change of perspective mean for the types of interactions we have with our dogs and what role does it play in behavioural outcomes? After personally working with thousands of dogs with behaviour problems from every conceivable breed, mix breed, gender, age, background etc. two thing appear to be the clear result of these changes. Firstly, the number of dogs both in volume and percentage displaying behaviour problems has dramatically increased over the last 30 years. Secondly, the number of dogs being treated with behaviour altering medications has increased at such an incredible rate, that the rate of prescriptions filled by this now multi billion dollar industry rivals that of humans in terms of percentage.   

So what does any of this have to do with dog whispering you ask? Well, just as we humans were rather slow on the uptake when it came to realising that natural horsemanship, or horse whispering, was the most humane and effective method for communicating with horses, so too are people slowly beginning to realise that dog whispering, isn't about one individual and their perspective or television series. It represents an approach that delivers a way of communicating with dogs far superior and successful in creating the behaviours and understanding we want and those that the dogs desperately need. While humans have come a long way in terms of the treatment of dogs and enhancing the role they play in our lives from a companion perspective, the focus on traditional training methods that promote obedience through treat, toy and praise reward systems unfortunately still assumes the dog to be an unthinking auto responding robot of sorts. To put it another way, obedience training tends to promote the idea that a dog will respond in the desired way under any circumstance due to the conditioned response of action and reward. Some of the blame for this type of thinking lays with the type of scientific studies which seek to answer various questions such as 'do dogs have emotions' or 'which breed of dog is most intelligent'. The problem with these type of studies is the fact that they are generally conducted under laboratory conditions or at least those that don't truly represent normality. Further, the sample sizes along with breed selection prejudices do not allow the scope which would potentially produce significant enough findings. Lastly, follow up studies are rarely conducted and those that are again generally fail to reproduce the same results.   

Dog whispering, on the other hand, in its truest form, much like horse whispering has the unmatched ability of delivering communication through the most normal, natural way in which dogs, indeed, all animals have been designed by nature to receive communication and that is in the form of body language. One only needs to quietly observe dogs interacting or any animal for that matter, to learn that true understanding comes from the overt and subtle cues given by stance, movement, positioning eye contact and intent. Anyone who has ever seen a mother duck protect her young ducklings from other members who don't necessarily pose a threat, but have wandered within an inappropriate proximity to the young, will know that it is her positioning, her movement and her all important intent that clearly says, we need some space. Though there may be a quack or two to promote the effect, the body language really demonstrates the point being made. Apply this to just about any animal and it begins to become more clear the all important role body language plays in communication.  




Key to a happy dog

Key to a happy dog - ABC

Dogs bring a lot of love and joy into our lives. But if your dog's behaviour is causing problems, mastering these 4 keys can help you set the foundation for a successful relationship between your family and your dog. Remember your ABC's and get success!

Aim to Be Calm

Have you ever noticed that when you're sad or upset your dog is more likely to settle close to you? What about when you're angry or frustrated? You might find your dog will keep their distance from you. This is a result of the dog reading you through your eyes, body language, feelings and attitude, which is why it's important to be relaxed and calm. This way, your dog will see how you're feeling and they'll be more likely to relax too.

Aim to Be Confident

Dogs respect confidence. If your dog believes you know the way, both physically and mentally, they will often respect your confidence and follow you. Confidence is about making a decision and following through with a mind set that says I know what I'm doing and it will happen the way I decide.

Aim to Be Clear

The more clear your communication is the more likely your dog is to respond to you in the way you want. Dogs communicate predominantly through body language involving both overt and subtle cues. When you use the dog's own method for communication primarily, instead of your voice, you can immediately improve the understanding between yourself and your dog. A very simplistic example of this would be to make eye contact with your dog, take a step back and crouch down. This is an inviting gesture and it is likely that the dog will move towards you without any verbal command as a result of your clear body language.

Aim to Be Consistent

Just like with children, dogs need a consistent standard of behaviour and communication so they can understand the world around them. A lack of consistency can result in erratic behaviour and a lack of respect between human and dog. In the world of obedience training, repetition is generally used to gain a desired outcome. For example saying the word sit and connecting it with the physical reaction of the dog sitting over time will create a responsive behaviour when the word is spoken. The same goes with non verbal communication. The more often we see an opportunity to convey our message, the sooner we will see the results we want.

A great foundation

These 4 keys will help you lay the foundation for a great relationship with your dog. For more information about how you can master the 4 keys, contact us at Dog Behaviour Solutions.

Dog Behaviour Solutions: the pathway to harmony for you and your dog.