Help I Think My Dog Has a Behaviour Problem!
It is worrying and often stressful for the owner of a dog who is exhibiting problem behaviour.
What is a Behaviour Problem and How Does It Differ From Training?
Behaviour refers to things which are affected or exhibited as a result of how a dog is thinking. Behavioural problems include a wide variety of issues ranging from things like chewing right through to serious aggression.
Common behaviour problems I help clients with include:
- Unwanted barking
- Aggression towards other dogs
- Aggression towards people
- Noise phobias
- Separation anxiety
Training refers to something a dog is taught, this is often an obedience exercise such as learning a task for example, to sit on command, walk on a slack lead etc.
Sue with her beloved Kali
Dog Behaviour and Recall
Although there is a distinct difference between behaviour and training the two are in fact intrinsically linked. A dog’s behaviour and how he thinks will directly affect how he responds to training. A good example of this can be seen with the recall. The recall itself is a training exercise which we need to teach a dog but even with a dog who understands the exercise fully it does not guarantee success as the dog can choose whether he obeys or not and this decision is determined by how he thinks which is behavioural.
Training plays an important role in rehabilitating dogs with behavioural issues. It often forms the base or foundation required to help manage and improve unwanted behaviour. For example, an owner whose dog pulls and lunges when on the lead at other dogs must first be able to teach their dog to understand how to walk on a slack lead with no dogs around before they can realistically expect their dog to do so when there are other dogs present. This is an important foundation and one of the first steps to achieving their goal of calmly walking past another dog.
The Secrets to Successful Behaviour Modification
Success relies on correctly assessing the dog to determine why the dog is exhibiting the behaviour. Behavioural problems are complex and every case is unique. To maximize success, it is of paramount importance for me to observe the dog with the owner in a natural but safe environment. This enables me to assess not only the dog but additionally the owner.
I then work with the dog myself, this enables me to gain an insight into how the dog is feeling and being hands on allows me to implement techniques and evaluate the dog’s response. This enables me to devise a behavioural programme which the owner will then need to follow which will result in improvement.
An important aspect is being able to explain and demonstrate to the owners the methods thoroughly, as it is crucial for a successful outcome that they are able to implement and follow the programme.
Behaviour modification is all about changing how the dog thinks and this will have a direct effect on how he acts. If you fail to address the cause then the problem will always remain. For example, a dog who is fearful of people so barks at them could be managed by diverting his attention, however if this strategy is adopted then the dog never overcomes his fear. My objective would be to change the dog’s perception from viewing people as a threat to viewing them as a friend. As a direct consequence, the dog will no longer bark at people as he won’t feel it necessary as he would no longer be fearful. This is achieved by changing how he thinks and changing associations.
When treating a dog, it is critical that a holistic view is taken as there are many components which will affect a dogs behaviour. Each of these components is important no matter how small a baring they may have. An analogy I often use is that if you imagine overcoming an issue as a jigsaw made up of many pieces each piece is significant and when put together create a big picture.
Something I find extremely useful is food rewards, I use these to reinforce desired responses from the dog. It is essential that the treats I use are highly palatable, additive free and can be given in small pieces. I find Natural Instinct’s Beef Jerky perfect and it has been instrumental to successfully modifying hundreds of problem dogs behaviour at my centre.
Behaviour and Diet
Factors such as what the dog eats are important. Diet affects a dog’s state of mind which is why I recommend Natural Instinct. It is a natural diet and importantly free from artificial additives, colours, preservatives, fillers or grains. This is critical as these can cause arousal and hyperactivity which will increase anxiety and manifest itself as nervous energy. Imagine if you were feeling anxious, hyped or irritated and you then drank Red Bull!
Natural Instinct Country Banquet recipe
Enrichment activities can play an important role in helping overcome some problem behaviours. For issues such as separation anxiety I use techniques which occupy a dog mentally. Natural Instinct Play Bones and Beef Pipes stuffed with Natural Instinct food and treats are particularly helpful in keeping dogs engaged and relaxed with the direct consequence of keeping anxiety levels low.
Don’t worry if your dog starts to exhibit a behaviour problem the prognosis is good if you firstly, get the correct help from an experienced Dog Behaviour Consultant and secondly, are dedicated in implementing the behavioural programme. Patience is key as things won’t magically change overnight but with the correct information and help you will succeed.
If you are worried about your dog the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association has experienced professional Canine Behavioural Consultants throughout the UK, details can be found at www.cfba.co.uk