In a concise new article, local colleague Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB discusses the front lines of understanding the roots of behavior problems in dogs, and just how common they are. She outlines practical steps to approaching management and promoting stability and safety until professional help can be sought to treat your dog’s behavior concerns.
The Clicker Expo was in town this past weekend, and I had the great fortune to sit in the audience and listen to several lectures by the brilliant Kathy Sdao (http://www.kathysdao.com/), an associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist from the Tacoma, WA area. As a side note, if you ever get the chance to attend a lecture or workshop she is giving, take it! She is an engaging presenter, and has a gift for creating “a ha!” moments for attendees within every single talk that she gives.
Kathy recounted a moment that happened while listening to a radio show about gardening; I’ll do my best to recount that story here. A caller to the show asked the question “how do I get rid of a particularly stubborn weed in my yard?” The first and second hosts asked questions about the yard and about strategies taken so far, and recommended interventions including the use of targeted herbicide products to kill the weed. The third host paused before answering , said “plant densely”, and left it at that. Kathy was blown away by the simplicity in the answer and noted the similarity between those recommendations and the methods that people use to address behavior problems in their dog.
We can talk about the “weed” or behavior problem extensively, but that approach is unlikely to change the situation until we take some sort of action. We can also target our attention on “getting rid of the weed” through the use of corrections, punishments, or aversive methods. For those of you who have ever waged a battle on stubborn weeds in your garden or lawn, you know what can happen the moment you turn your back or stop paying attention; the weed returns and may have even spread into other parts of the lawn. The same thing happens with behavior issues! Not only is it exhausting to wage that battle on a daily basis, taking that approach with a dog often leads to fear, anxiety, aggression, or a confrontational relationship that goes against the very reason why we share our lives with dogs in the first place.
On the other hand, if we “plant densely” by rewarding and strengthening appropriate, adaptive behaviors, we can crowd out many of the “weeds” or behavior problems that may otherwise take root in even the most barren of landscapes. The end result for the gardener is a lush, beautiful lawn or garden, and the occasional tiny weed has little to no impact. For the dog owner? That “garden” is a dog with a wide and varied repertoire of acceptable behaviors, a relationship that provides benefits for the dog as well as the owner, and the freedom to ignore the weeds of unwanted behaviors that may creep in from time to time.
~ Dr. Pachel
The number one reason (ahem,” excuse”) that I hear for not training is “I just don’t have the time.” While a very valid reason, I’m going to bet that you have more time than you think. Remember, training doesn’t have to occur in a 45 minute block once daily in order to be beneficial. As a matter of fact, shorter training times can work just as well and incorporating training into your day to day interactions with your pet are even better!
Here are my top tips to help you make time for training:
- Be organized- Have your treat bag, treats, clicker, or any other needed items ready ahead of time. It’s a big bummer when you’re ready to work and you’ve forgotten a needed item. I keep all of my training items in one area, making it easy to grab and go.
- Set a goal- Start with something easy, “I will train once a day for three days this week”. Once you’ve succeeded with that goal, increase, “I will train once a day four times this week”. The key is to set easily attained goals for yourself and then set higher goals once you’ve succeeded.
- Pick a time- For those of us who love to adhere to a schedule, picking a specific time to train is certainly helpful. You can pick an actual time, like 5pm, or an event time, such as after dinner or before lunch. Whatever you choose to do, pick a time that is easily attainable. I like to train as soon as I get home, before I’ve had a chance to put my pajamas on!
- Get everyone involved- Just because I train animals for a living doesn’t mean I want to do all the training on the 3 dogs that I share my home with. Involving everyone in the house with training is a great way to accomplish training goals and fit training into a busy schedule.
- Incorporate training into your daily activities- Although this sounds like it might be a lot, it’s actually a very time efficient way of training. It’s also very simple, as you’ll be asking for a behavior to reward periodically throughout the day whether you are home, out for a walk, at the park, etc. For instance, I might be sitting on the couch and call my dog over and ask for a “sit”. Once he’s sat, I then reward him with praise, a treat, or a toy. BAM! Training session done.
- Count success- One last easy way to make more time for training is to set out a specific number of treats to use throughout the day for training. You can use these treats at any point throughout the day, in any combination. When they’re gone, you’ve accomplished your goal. One treat equals one success, so if I set out 10 treats, that’s ten successes. This is my favorite way to set aside training time as I just count out my treats and then train for a few successes at a time throughout the day.
Setting aside time to train may seem like a daunting task, but with these simple steps, you can make time for training!Jenn Fiendish, CVT, VTS (Behavior) Animal Behavior Clinic, Portland, OR