Dog psychology and behaviour Modification - why they do what they do
This section provides a brief overview of some common problem dog behaviours as well as our behaviourists insight into how we can look at altering the negative relation with a particular behaviour.
Barking - At neighbours, other dogs, birds etc. These are triggers which create an undesirable outcome, however they are not the cause in themselves.
Whining - This is symptomatic of the dog attempting to achieve an outcome which might be as simple as obtaining food or as problematic and consistent when the owner is away from home.
Digging - Digging is less a sign a boredom, but more likely related to a dog feeling over stimulated and directing that energy into something with temporary focus. It shows an inability to shut off the mind and relax.
Chewing - Unless the dog is a teething puppy, chewing can be a sign of an anxious dog. Dogs that dig often chew and vice versa.
Jumping up - Respectful Dogs greet other dogs by forming an arc and sniffing each others rears. This is normal and less overwhelming as it doesn't require direct eye contact and allows the dog to learn a plethora of info about the other. Disrespectful dogs jump on other dogs and people. Dogs do not suddenly alter their communication for humans. This means that if a certain behaviour results in negative attitude or discipline from another dog it is likely a behaviour that will lead to problems when directed at humans.
Over stimulation - The over stimulated state of mind often leads to the undesirable outcome. The main reason for this is that people usually equate the stimulated dog with a happy one. There is a very fine line between happy and over the top stimulated.
Anxiety - This can result from a variety of causes and triggers, but really centres around the dog exhibiting controlling behaviours in the home which then triggers anxiety upon the owner leaving as the dog feels that something has become out of its control. Quite simply, a dog will likely reactive in negative and destructive ways as the humans have not got the dogs permission to leave.
Fear - A truly fearful dog will run away and make itself unknown. They typically shut down when confronted. This is often caused by a significant trauma event but can also develop over time if the dog feels insecure about something such as fireworks, and the owner unwittingly contributes to this by offering reenforcement.
Aggression - Aggressive behaviour can be triggered by a variety of factors but ultimately it centres around a negative association the dog has towards another person,dog etc. In order to change this behaviour, we need to gain the dogs respect and trust before guiding them to a new understanding about that which previously caused the aggressive outcome.
Most people will yell something at the dog while behind them which may give the impression of joining in. Get between the dog and the subject then move towards the dog to get them to "give space" to whatever the concern is, without tense words or actions. This demonstrates you are in control of the situation and there's nothing to worry about.
If the whining is short lived generally there is no need to worry, however, if it's persistent, disagreeing will help the dog relax by avoiding an escalation in a negative state of mind.
Provide alternatives to digging such as bones, pigs ears, Kongs stuffed with food/frozen items. Fill any existing holes with the dogs droppings and cover with soil. Then wet the area twice a day to keep the contents fresh. Your furry friend will be unlikely to try again.
Closely linked to digging and with similar ways of reducing instances such as using suitable alternatives. Of course, like any thing else if you catch the dog doing the wrong thing don't yell, disagree by using your body and gentle quick touch. Toys that squeak have an unfortunate side effect of creating a stimulated state of mind and can resemble the sound of an animal in distress. Fluffy chew toys may also create too much stimulation depending on your dogs general attitude.
One of the most misunderstood behaviours, the simple fact is, of the thousands of dogs I have worked with involving aggression, more than 90% would be classed as small dogs. Every single one of these dogs jumped on their owners. In the large dogs displaying aggression the story is the same. This doesn't mean your dog will be aggressive if they jump on you but the link between a forceful, controlling, disrespectful approach and problem behaviours cannot be denied. To disagree simply move forward and bump the dog down, don't push as pressure creates resistance. Turning away from the dog tells them you are lacking confidence and does not address the issue, similar to ignoring a child who is hitting and swearing at you. The more serious the behaviour and its potential for negative outcomes, the more important a proactive (but calm) approach is.
Instead of contributing to an over stimulated dogs state of mind use your own calmness and slow relaxed affection to settle the dog. Think about the methods used to get a human to relax when getting a massage and focus on using a similar technique.
One way to avoid triggers is recognise the cues such as putting a certain pair of shoes, picking up keys etc and change the order, or better yet, take these things out at times when your not leaving to help change the association. You can do the same thing with a lead. Don't make a big deal about leaving and when you return walk straight through the door, allowing them time to settle before calmly giving attention/affection. Your over stimulated energy will only serve to drive the dog crazy.
To help a dog overcome any fear we must gradually expose them to the concern in a confident and calm way without using tension. That means if using a leash, gentle pops/signals in the direction you desire will help the dog face their fears and learn there really isn't anything to worry about, while a tight leash will tell them the opposite. It is important that there is already a level of trust and respect with the dog to achieve success in overcoming the fear.
Aggression and fear are opposite ends of the same scale. The fearful dog wants space and will run to obtain it. The aggressive dog wants space and will go forward in order to have others move back. Both dogs need to be brought back to the middle where balance exists. Thus the fearful dog is brought forward and the aggressive dog is made to back off using body and leash. Both will learn that they can trust and respect the person they are with and that no harm will come to them if they simply relax.
Remember, the information provided above is a general guide only. Each dog is unique and may require a different approach and adjustments to techniques. Call Elliot for specialist advice on - 0475 427 070 to learn more about the psychology of dogs or click the link to find out more about our services.
When communication is clear, when we have mutual respect, we build trust and achieve balance