Are there really quick fixes in dog training?

 There have been many dog training and behaviour programmes on television over the years; some good and some bad… very bad.

 

TV companies want drama and quick results, great for the ratings but often bad for the dogs involved.   If you want to train your dog using positive methods which are proven to give longer lasting results and ensure a happier, well balanced dog at the end of it, the reality is it takes time, consistency and patience and the truth is that’s not overly glamorous. 

 

The issue I have with these shows is that they give owners an unrealistic expectation of how long training out unwanted behaviours and teaching more appropriate ones can take.  This can lead to frustration and unnecessary pressure for dog and owner.  It can also lead us back to the dark days of punishment-based training to get that quick fix.  I often get clients who want a magic wand waved and their dog fixed after just a few sessions and very little practise and who can blame them when they see it on the television looking so easy.

 

Yes, intimidating your dog, physically punishing them or over exposing them to what they are scared of so that they go into learned helplessness will deliver quick ‘results’ but it also causes high levels of stress and anxiety which can ultimately lead to aggression.   It will also make your dog scared and wary of you… certainly not a relationship I would want with my dog.  Remember the old saying…..

 

“there are two reasons why any living being does anything; because they want to or because they are scared of what will happen if they don’t”

 

However, the main reason punishing your dog doesn’t work is simply because it doesn’t address WHY the dog is exhibiting such behaviour therefore it doesn’t change the dog’semotional response to the original trigger.  It will merely suppress it 

 

So how do you really start tackling that nuisance behaviour in a positive way?

 

A good trainer or behaviourist with use the ABC method.

 

A: Antecedent stimuli i.e. they will observe what happens BEFORE the dog starts to display the behaviour i.e. what triggers it?  

 

B:  Behaviour i.e. what behaviour is triggered and how is it exhibited

 

C: Consequence i.e. the relationship between a result and it’s cause

 

Without getting too technical, in order to change a behaviour,it is vital to understand what is causing it in the first place and then work on changing the emotional response to that trigger.

 

 

 

 

Let’s take a recent example shown on TV  

 

Dog is aggressing towards people that come into the house and on walks.   The reason is diagnosed as fear aggression i.e. the dog is so scared of strangers it goes into fight mode when exposed to them (it can’t go into flight mode as getting away when enclosed in a house or kept on a lead isn’t an option for this poor dog)

 

The positive way to train this dog would be to work slowly to change its emotional response to seeing a stranger, so that over time they start to associate the stranger with positive emotions rather than negative.

 

You take it at the dog’s pace, slowly exposing them to a stranger with enough distance to ensure they remain calm and under threshold.  At the same time, you ensure nice things are happening to them while the stranger is in view (feed treats, play a game, give them a cuddle) whatever your dog enjoys. You keep repeating this with the stranger getting slightly closer if the dog can cope with it.  If not, you go back a step until it can.

 

Instead what happened was the dog was asked to face its fear repeatedly being told ‘no’ as it approached until it was ‘calm’.  This was made to look like it happened after a couple of tries.  Not reality.

 

Please remember that dogs create habits over time, good ones and bad ones.  Changing habits for dogs takes time and patience just like it does with us humans.    Surely, we owe it to our beloved companions to help them face their fears and challenges in a kind way rather than a dangerous quick fix.