A short half century ago my dad, military and stern, took my sister and I to the pound to pick a dog of our very own. Blackie was Kelpie from head to toe and in-between. A jumping, digging, barking gem of a dog and I loved him dearly. He lived a good life, always with me and together we got up to so much mischief that usually included packing my school bag to run away from home in search of adventures. It seems such a gentler world then.
Blackie started a lifelong obsession with all dogs. It was however, the abandoned and surrendered canines with issues born of inadequately informed or morally bankrupt humans, that stole my heart.
People think I train dogs. Don’t get me wrong I can train your dog from basic manners to scenting truffles or drugs, or even ride a skateboard if that’s what you would like, but that’s not who I am or what I do. I’m a dog behaviourist, which means I rehabilitate dogs and that I train people. Not all trainers are behaviourists please bear that in mind. Not all behaviourists have qualifications, nor do they need to, but they must have experience and be self taught to read canine language effectively….. and believe me it is sometimes very subtle. I need every ounce of my 40 years of practical experience plus my academic achievements in both Human and Animal behaviour to deal with some cases.
It’s an important distinction, and one that can be hard for people to understand.
Let me explain. People believe that getting a dog to behave is the same as training. It’s not.
There are well-trained dogs that still have behavioural issues. These dogs could do a lot of tricks, like sit, shake hands, roll over, or retrieve an item — but still chewed up shoes and furniture, still barked non-stop, and still pulled on the walk.
Training is meant to teach a dog to perform a specific task when given a specific stimulus. It’s the process of associating, for example, a word with a behaviour. In this decade, the most utilised of these methods and least understood is positive reinforcement. If the dog does the trick, the dog gets a food treat.
A lot of dogs are willing to do anything for food. Enough repetition and you can even get the dog to do the trick without the reward. You say shake and they raise their paw. It becomes second nature.
What dog training does not do is solve behavioural issues. I’m sure many of you reading this have had the experience of calling your dog to come to you — something you’ve trained them to do — but they ignore you because they see a dog, or the postman is invading the dog’s territory, or something else has their attention. In these cases, the training goes right out the window. Even Lassie, (sometimes played by a female) one of the most famous trained dogs in the world still had behavioural issues because training a dog does not address the issues that actually cause misbehaviour.
In order to rehabilitate a dog, you need to figure out what it is in the dog’s environment that is causing the misbehaviour. Are they bored? Frustrated? Overexcited? Fearful? Is there a biological or physiological reason at play? If you don’t deal with those issues, you can have a well-trained dog that will sit on command and still be completely bored or frustrated and so on.
Now this one is a biggie!! I speak about it all the time ENERGY ENERGY ENERGY. I am an extrovert and I need external energy to keep sane and centred. When I am with my pack, and yes, I have a pack of 9 at present, I am always aware that anything I do or say fuels the environment. This in turn, in a dog’s environment, affects its’ behaviour. Let’s say that again. It is the energy of the people around it that affect a dog’s behaviour. Dogs are our mirrors. They reflect back the energy we give them, and if we are not calm, consistent and assertive they cannot be calm, consistent and submissive.
It then comes to reason that I rehabilitate dogs and train people. If we show humans how their energy is affecting their dog, and then how to change that energy to get the desired behaviour we start to see improvement in all manner of dog behaviours. In conjunction with this, if you as a person provide whatever the dog is lacking in order to fulfil the dog’s needs then you will bring it to a calm place.
Over the coming weeks I will share some real life stories of dogs’ past and present that were changed forever and changed me forever.