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
Photo credit: bugeaters via photopin cc