Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people
WhenBoard & Train is the Better
I chatted with a potential client for 90 minutes regarding her 18 month old, male Great Pyrenees. She had attended a “manners” class with him when he was younger. The instructors raved about the dog and said he could become a Therapy Dog, one day. Then, seemingly out of the blue from her perspective, the dog bit her friend who came to visit.She hired a behaviorist with whom she began working on a weekly basis, I believe. He could handle the dog through challenging scenarios out in public, but the dog acted out when she took the leash. She searched for more assistance via the internet and encountered conflicting views on which tools to use and how to approach her problem. She was referred to us and sent an email. To me, there were some inconsistencies in the email, so I thought it best to reply via telephone in order to be able to get a better handle on the reality of the situation. She wrote that the dog was “awesome” in the house. But, she also alluded to some behavioral issues which, to me, were clear signs of potential problems.During our conversation her voice cracked and she actually was moved to tears more than once. She was clearly still quite upset about the bite and she was frustrated that she couldn’t address the issue by herself. After all, she had never had an issue like this with any other dog she had in the past. I thought that her psychological condition would be a huge burden during Peter’s rehabilitation, so I suggested our Board / Train option. She said she would think about it. That evening she sent in an application. The following boxes were checked, regarding the dog’s behavior:Bites; scratches people; jumps on people; jumps on tables /furniture; jumps at fences/gates/doors; barks; chases animals; chases vehicles; chases people; chewing; does not come when called; growls at other dogs; growls at people; attacks people. Also, a specific note was made that stated Peter jumps against a window so hard when there are people outside, that the owner is afraid he may break the glass. She also mentioned that he has broken 8 metal screens and chewed through 6 seat belts when briefly left in the car. The next day, she sent a note that she felt that, since she was the one who needed work, not the dog. She was going to do some soul searching and try to deal with Peter’s problems on her own.I normally would have left it at that. But, there are “stories” that are helpful to others. If I document them, I can put them on this website, or use them in a book I have in the works. Additionally, after spending so much time speaking with her, I felt a bit like a medical doctor who had seen a patient who presented with a condition that required antibiotics. The patient left stating that he would try to deal with it by changing his diet or exercising more. Follow up, even if unsolicited, would be prudent, in such a case. Anything else can leave a person unable to sleep.So, this is what I wrote to her:I am going to say the following, not because I am trying to sway you to bringing Peter for intervention, here, but because I think I must not have communicated a very critical element when we spoke, yesterday. It may help you in your “soul searching”, and it may prevent further issues with Peter (perhaps even save his life).A dog’s behavior is directly related to the relationship that it has with the people in its life. Therefore, the dog’s owner is most always the one responsible for the behavior that it presents in any given circumstance. That is not exclusive to your situation with Peter. It is a fairly universal phenomenon. Some people experience an event which causes them to lose trust in the dog. A teacher that no longer trusts the student is typically not very effective at helping the student learn. I put you in that category. To be very blunt, I don’t think you are the right person to realign Peter to his natural center. Cases such as yours, in my experience, usually require an outside influence over the dog. Then, the owner can be brought back into the equation, and coached how to keep the dog centered. You can do yoga, meditation or hypnosis to rid yourself of your anxieties regarding Peter’s behavior. The question is; do you then have the skills to influence a dog to become socially compliant that has gone so far off his own center? When you push a dog to do something that he doesn’t want to do (whether that is to walk East rather than West or to lie down on command if there is a cat in the room), you discover the dog’s true temperament. Some dogs can be pushed very hard and would never choose to use their teeth to get out of the situation. Other dogs believe that they can fight back, including by biting to get their own way. When a dog decides to challenge expectations, the human must win. There can be no wavering of conviction. There must not be anger, disappointment or frustration on the part of the human, either. The individual must present calm confidence and win. When a person who has lost trust in a dog gets into that situation where the dog is challenging the human’s authority, how she responds will lay the tracks for the relationship. My experience is that usually, the human acquiesces, the dog wins, and the issues remain or are exacerbated. When, instead, the dog learns about compliance from someone with whom the dog has no history, no battles won, no experiences of mistrust – the dogs learns well. Most dogs have no innate desire to be “top dogs”. When they are helped to get back to their right place in the society, they are happy. All dogs are not the same. Not all dogs respond to what they perceive as a lack of leadership the same way, if that is the root cause for Peter’s issues, which it probably is. Clearly, if he doesn’t know that barking incessantly when someone comes to the house is unacceptable, there may be dozens of other experiences he is having that, to him, reinforce that you expect him to behave as the top dog. Perhaps, your previous dogs did not have the same need to take over the perceived gaps in leadership that Peter feels. It is very common for me to hear a client inform me that they never had an issue with a prior dog. But, to be frank, I don’t think that people recognize the effects that time has on them. A single person often has more time to commit to a dog than does a married person. A married couple without kids often has more time for a dog than does a couple with kids. A couple with kids is often in the stage of life where boundaries are being set and rules enforced and that can sometimes enhance their ability to control a dog, too, as they are able to put the dog into the position of “another kid”. An empty nester can forget how important having consistency and routine is for a dog. People in their 60’s may report how their previous dog was well behaved, but they fail to realize that when they were in their mid-40’s they had WAY more energy than they do, today. There are so many lifestyle effects that influence what the dog experiences in the home, and those change with each decade. Also, if a dog reaches “old age” a person’s perspective on the dog is one of a senior dog, not an overly exuberant teenager (which Peter happens to be). We often forget all the indiscretions that puppies do, but instead remember the dog like a comfortable old shoe.I think that it would be prudent for you to have what I sometimes call a “come to Jesus moment” about Peter’s true behavior. I read in your initial email that Peter was “awesome” at home. Yet, on the application you described a dog that barks when people come to the house, jumps on people and against a window, breaks screens etc… I have to weigh in, here: that’s not awesome, and that is happening in your home. Those are behaviors that are precursors to more extreme behaviors, if you don’t consider them hazardous on their own, like I might. It appears to me that Peter’s only issue is not that he bit your friend. At his core, he has serious problems, or he would not chew through seat belts when he is left in the car for a few minutes or take over a half an hour to “accept” someone new in your home. Sometimes, we encounter clients who focus too much on one incident without recognizing that it only happened because a dozen other issues were brewing and not addressed. If you cannot calmly and significantly “shut down” Peter’s behaviors like barking out the window, clearly it will be more challenging to shut down an act of aggression. If you let a kid steal money from your purse without ramifications, he may just steal your car keys and take the vehicle on a “joy ride” when he gets a bit older.I find it admirable that you would like to focus on yourself, first. But, that is a bit like asking me to focus on myself long enough that I will be able to resolve the pain I am feeling in my inner ear. I’m just not competent to do much more than diagnose that I have pain, to try a few ear products that I find at Wal-mart to see if they will work. But, if the pain gets worse, I’m not capable of getting to the root cause of the issue because I don’t have the experience or the tools. There’s just no way to fix an ear ache by reading a book or doing research on the internet, except for the few issues that could be causing the pain that might have an over-the-counter solution. Sometimes, the problem requires professional assistance. Whether you get that help from us or someone else, I think you need help. Resolving anti-social issues is always about the partnership. It means that, at some point, we have to identify a flaw in the relationship. Usually, that stems from a dog that doesn’t recognize his human (or any human) has rank over him. The reason that the pick-up appointment after our Board/Train is 4+ hours long, is because we know how important it is to teach the human. We don’t consider the session done until we see the difference in the human – the confidence and relaxed attitude that will be required to maintain the dog’s rehabilitation that it gets while it is here. For us, challenging dogs are easier to rehabilitate when the reason for their issue is out of the picture, rather than at the center of the process. Having the human (with whom the dog has the unbalanced relationship) in the room while we are rehabilitating a dog is like having bowls of M&M’s and Potato Chips on all the lunch tables at a weight loss facility. There comes a point when those temptations need to be reintroduced – when the person is going to have to behave in the “real world” the way she was taught to behave at the weight loss center. But, it’s way more challenging to create a true attitude / lifestyle change in the dog when his “possessions” are there as a constant reminder during the rehabilitation process.Those were the points I wanted to make;1. It’s almost always the human who needs intervention2. We recognize that and accommodate that in our pick-up appointments 3. Not all dogs are the same – it is not uncommon for someone who successfully raised dogs in the past could encounter a dog that requires additional intervention4. Peter’s issues appear to run quite deep; his bite came from behaviors that were unresolved prior to the bite and he should be rehabilitated to the core if you want to see a real difference in his overall attitude5. My experience with people who are afraid of their dog’s behavior are ill equipped to be the one to do the rehabilitation6. My experience with dogs that are unbalanced / anti-social is that it is harder to rehabilitate them in the presence of their “things” (the people they claim to own).If you seek other options for Peter, please take those key points into consideration when looking for assistance from a professional. Additionally, I would recommend that you seek professional assistance that makes sense to you. If you are not comfortable with the methods, you won’t be able to execute them with conviction once Peter is back with you and you are the one in charge of his actions.