When is a Good Boy not a Good Boy?

Here’s something that bugs me: Finding the right behaviour advice for your dog.

When you have a problem behaviour with your dog, perhaps you do things in the following order:

  • Google ‘how to stop your dog doing xyz’
  • Ask your dog-owning friends
  • Post on a Facebook group
  • Spend endless hours searching YouTube videos of professionals working miracles
  • Buy some books on Amazon you’ll never read

When you ‘should’ be doing the following:

  • Visit your vet to ensure the problem isn’t something internal manifesting itself as poor behaviour
  • Find a professional to help you with training

So here’s a confession. I’ve done all of the above.

My google history is 99% dog behaviour related at the moment, (and 1% red military blazers). I’m going to admit something I haven’t often admitted in public… Chuck, whilst being a wonderful companion and show dog, has behavioural problems. They’ve been there for years, but with a new dog in the house, it’s time to do something about it.

His issue: at certain times of the day, it seems like he will, for no reason, nip at your limbs in a fairly angry fashion, growling and tugging at whatever clothing you have on. Not visitors or strangers, just his family humans. Just us!

However… There’s no such thing as ‘no reason’. Every single time there is an identifiable trigger. Causality, like in the Matrix when the Merovingian states: ‘You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth: Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.

And this is sort of important. Triggers and trigger stacking are hugely important in relation to displayed behaviour. The more triggers/actions you layer up, the more of a reaction you’re going to get. But not all triggers are equal and reactions can vary on the scale of 1 to Idiot.

At the start, I’m desperate to know ‘why’, when actually I don’t need to dwell on why, I just need to know ‘what’.

When you focus on ‘why’, you can send yourself down a frustrating path. It’s much easier to logically analyse cause and effect and remove any emotion from it. Be more of a Merovingian.

So for Chuck, what is making him snap?

We kept a diary of his reactions and there are two trigger actions:

  1. Moving too closely around him after meal times
  2. Moving too quickly in his peripheral vision when he’s asleep and close to bedtime

We know that these things cause a certain reaction, we want to modify his behaviour to remove those reactions.

And this is where we loop back round to the start of this blog post. We:

  • Googled ‘how to stop your dog doing biting’
  • Asked our dog-owning friends
  • Posted on a Facebook group
  • Spent endless hours searching YouTube videos of professionals working miracles
  • Bought some books on Amazon which I actually read

And I learned a LOT. But nothing really sang out to me as ‘this is what you need to do!’ So…

We:

  • Visited the vet to ensure the problem isn’t something internal manifesting itself as poor behaviour. And it turns out Chuck needed some seasonal allergy relief.
  • Found a professional recommended by the Vet to help us with training. She visited our house for 3 hours at the start of August. Observed, took notes, asked questions… and we didn’t hear back for weeks. In fact, we still haven’t heard back.

The very expensive professional who visited us for 3 hours (and from whom we still haven’t seen any sort of report or procedural recommendation for behaviour modification) said nothing to me that I hadn’t already read or seen. What I did learn though, was that to many behaviourists, all dogs are just dogs. There’s no specific differentiation for types of dog and what they were bred for, what their genetic traits are and how this will affect things.

So what did I fundamentally learn from all of this?

That yes, all the information I need is already out there. The value of a behaviourist visit was third party affirmation that the processes and activities I am implementing are the right things to do. That’s a very expensive affirmation.

I’d like to think I am not your average pet dog owner. I’m a show breeder. I can tell you more about my breed and type than any behaviourist. I can tell you why a terrier will do something that a gundog wouldn’t and I can tell you what won’t work within these ‘groups’. I can tell you about physiology, psychology and all sorts of genetic concerns within breeding lines. I know why Chuck is predisposed to the behaviours he shows but more than this. I know his behaviour is my fault.

I didn’t put the effort into his training when he was young.

I didn’t listen to those who knew better when I was more green.

I didn’t look far enough ahead into the future of my fluffy little puppy to think about how his puppy interactions would impact his and our lives in the future.

I didn’t learn about the breed before I got him to really understand what Terrierism is. I wasn’t prepared.

Well I am prepared now. I have studied, I have considered, and I have my own behavioural plan to implement! Below is just one of the activities we are doing as part of my new training:

And we shall report back.

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One thought on “When is a Good Boy not a Good Boy?

  1. Fiona says:

    Mrs B, it is wonderful to witness the effect of proper education combined with a truly analytic mind. Looks to me as though you are well on the way to curing Chukka of his only(?) unendearing trait.

    I’ve had a similar experience. Soon after I’d been diagnosed with severe iron deficiency anaemia, and then received the all-clear, I woke up one morning with a painful foot. No obvious reason for it, but it didn’t resolve. Instead, the pain crept up my leg until I needed a walking-stick. After 6 weeks, the pain vanished. Two weeks later, same painful foot …

    … so I went straight to the GP, who prodded and poked me until I said “ouch”. He referred me to a podiatrist, who (Thursday) instantly diagnosed me – correctly – as weight-bearing on that foot heel-outside toe-big toe instead of the reverse. Solution? Orthotics. Come back on Tuesday for casts.

    From Thursday to Tuesday I was so mindful: EVERY step I took was heal-big toe-rest of foot. By Saturday, I was pain-free. By Tuesday, the podiatrist was astounded.

    Still had the orthotics made, and use them at least 4 days a week. But I remain mindful about how I walk.

    And that was a somewhat tedious way of telling you that the right behavioural training works.

    Like

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