When we are approached for help with behaviour problems, the first one-to-one session is very much focused on a “fact-finding” mission - a basic assessment of what is going on and why.
We have to look at the whole picture: the breed of dog, its gender, age and general nature.
Also does the client have any other pets at home?
All these aspects are important.
The session also examines the general home life of the dog, ie what is happening "within the pack"?
Dogs are pack animals. In the wild, both wolf and dog packs require law and order.
If a pack were leaderless and allowed to run amok, going wherever they wanted, doing whatever they wanted, making loads of noise and stirring up trouble, the pack would not last very long! There would be constant fights and injuries (very detrimental to the pack – prevents effective hunting of prey and prevents the protectors of the group from fighting off intruders), plus prey would know exactly where the pack was and make itself very scarce which would result in starvation for the group. No good at all!
The most successful packs are those with clear rules, boundaries and constraints; every animal knows its job and what it can and cannot do.
This presents the dog with a strong sense of security and in turn, results in a calmer and happier dog who knows exactly what is expected of it.
As we know, dogs live very well within our families because to them this equates to pack mentality.
To help dogs live with us and us to live with them, we too need to clearly outline and instigate rules, boundaries and constraints and show consistency.
Without rules, our dog often begins to display unwanted behaviours such as play-biting, jumping up uninvited, stealing and behaving like a real 'wild child'!
Mistakenly, we try to fix the actual problem but the underlying causes remain and the behaviour never really disappears.
Hence why, when people come for a one-to-one session with a behaviour problem, we look at all of these areas and will often put some "house rules" in place before beginning to tackle the presenting issue.
This can be confusing to us humans – we don't always see the connection between the dog sleeping on the furniture or on the bed and the dog being aggressive with other dogs or humans; the reality is that without consistent rules at home, the dog is unclear about its responsibilities and what is expected of it within the "pack" and often behaves inappropriately.
For example, with some instances of what is thought to be "dog-to-dog aggression", the behaviour is actually the dog just trying to keep other strange dogs away from his pack members rather than out-and-out aggressive behaviour.
This of course doesn't fit with our requirements – we don't want our dogs assuming this job but by putting some sensible rules in place at home, this helps the dog to know who calls the shots in the "pack" and then we can make a start in retraining the behaviour to the client's satisfaction.
The best course of action is to sit down, as a family and agree the rules between you – write these rules down and put them somewhere visible to all (on the fridge is a good place).
The whole household must then unite and stick by the rules in order to be fair to the dog – he or she needs to have consistency from everyone in order to learn what is expected of him or her.
Here is a list of suggested rules, which should remain in place until the dog is at least 2 years old:
Without rules and boundaries, not only are you likely to see behaviour problems begin to creep in, your success in generally training your dog to do as you ask will be limited and you will not experience the true joy of a well-adjusted, well-mannered dog of which you can be justifiably proud.
The biggest mistake people often make is to treat animals like humans. We give them what we think they should have, not what they actually need. Sadly for dogs, this means we often respond and act inappropriately around them.
For example, puppies due to their cuteness, are often given huge levels of status and attention and older dogs much less so. This is the wrong way round.
A puppy that is loved, trained and shown the rules from day one stands a very good chance of growing into a happy and balanced adult.
A puppy that is spoilt and made a fool of and given no direction is more likely to fall at the first hurdle.
At best this may result in things such as the dog having to stay on lead because it has no recall or has become aggressive or, at worst, due to its behavioural issues, it joins the swelling ranks of those in rescue centres facing a very uncertain future.
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