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Changing problem behavior: Foundation work!

Foundation work is the basis of all behavior modification training.   When I get a call for help from a potential client they often state they have 1 or 2 behavior issues that need addressing. In reality, it’s much more than 1 or 2 issues. That’s because behind all behavior is motivation and motivation is based on a feeling a dog is experiencing.

A good dog trainer knows that to solve the behavior problem we SEE, he or she has to look at 3 things:

What is motivating the behavior?
What is reinforcing the behavior and keeps the dog performing it?
What is the final result (for the dog) of the behaivor after it is performed?

Just like us, a dog will perform a behavior to cope with the way it’s feeling. Performing specific behaviors have the intention to do 1 of 2 things for a dog: something ‘bad’ to stop or something ‘good’ to happen…to them.

Let me use jumping as an example. When I see a dog jumping up on people there could be a few reasons for this:
The dog is feeling: Excited (happy). Nervous. Anxious. Frustrated. Fearful.

Ultimately, the dog is choosing to jump to cope with 1 or more of these emotions and on some level, in some way, jumping is helping them; it’s working so the dog continues to jump.  To change jumping, we need to eliminate or lower the emotion that is motivating the behavior and help the dog find another behavior to perform.

This is where foundation training comes into play.

Obedience for dogs

In 99% of the cases that I work with, basic foundation work is missing or not practiced enough. Guardians are not asking their dog for any basic obedience behavior in the home including basic Sit and Stay behaviors, therefore, the dog never learns to take direction from them, give them eye contact or to develop patience. Not practicing foundation work is akin to not teaching children how to cook, do laundry, pay bills or take responsibility. You are doing a child no favors and they will struggle when they go out on their own.

Foundation work and trust is at the core of changing problem behavior. Therefore, every dog needs to know basic life skills such as Sit and Stay and how to cope emotionally in a way that is acceptable to us. Many dogs lack patience and impulse control and can’t take direction outside of the home and if guardians are going to make changes in their dog’s behavior they need control. What that means is: your dog listens to and takes direction from you.

Foundation work is easy to implement each day, as part of your lifestyle.

It includes asking the dog to ‘stay’ before releasing to eat or ‘stay’ before releasing to go out the door (Yes, your dog can go out the door first, just give him/her permission).
Adding games and puzzles to slow down eating and mentally stimulate can also help develop perseverance and patience. Patience can keep them safe, it can get you more compliance when you ask for a behavior, and it can result in a calmer more content dog. Using puzzles and slow feeders have the added benefit of creating dopamine (important to learning) to help fearful dogs in addition to building confidence through problem solving. Even if your dog is ‘perfect’, you can make life a little more interesting by implementing games to challenge their mind and release some of that mental energy. Consider a dog ‘game’ like doing a crossword puzzle or if you’re a reader, it’s like reading the author, Eckhart Tolle. Yikes!

If you’re experiencing serious behavior problems, call in an expert who teaches with kindness and a do no harm approach then start adding some easy boundary training around the house and outside. Give your dog a reason to listen to you. Change will come but it starts when you change your behavior.   Start easy and start with the basics.


Dog needs a farm! Really?

In how many rehoming ads have you read …’Great dog for sale.  Needs a farm or large property to run.’? Its so common to see this statement in rehoming advertisements.  Unless the dog is in fact a working/guarding breed of livestock such as an Anatolian Shepard or Great Pyrenees and instinctually would probably be happier outside in a large space doing its job, most dogs don’t need a farm or large property. dog-in-field

Its more probable that the dog in the advertisement needs their guardian to spend more quality time with them.

They need more off leash ‘free to run’ time and more mental stimulation.  Or someone to take the time and teach them how to ‘be’ in a human world (training). But either the advertiser doesn’t know this or is just using ‘needs a farm’ to justify rehoming a dog they don’t want. Maybe.

Chances are that dog will go out to do his or her business and then come back to where their guardian is so no amount of land will change this.

From my experience in dogs through owning a dog day care and as a professional dog trainer, I’ve learned that most people are not prepared for a dog and what a dog needs to stay mentally and physically fulfilled.  A fulfilled dog won’t be bored.  They won’t perform behavior that is destructive or obsessive or annoying to their guardian.

People purchase dogs of a specific type for a myriad of reasons but many do not choose a dog breed based on what really matters: life style and experience.

The ‘for sale’ advertisements are full of dogs in the wrong home with guardians who, for one reason or another, have decided the best, the easiest and cheapest option is to get rid of the dog.  Some people care enough to get training/behavior help and see the value but others don’t.  Problem solved by selling or surrendering at the pound or to a rescue.

Dogs’ never do wrong.  They are innocent.  It is the human element that makes their environment and dogs just respond to it. Ultimately thousands of them, pay the price.   Thousands pay with their life.


‘You’re soft’. Thank you!!

I’ve been told a time or two that I’m soft with dogs.  It was meant in kindness but the intention was to suggest that I needed to be harder on the dogs.  I used to be offended and hurt by this comment.  I thought I must be doing something wrong!  But my instincts told me I was doing just fine and doing right by the dog and following what was right for me. When someone recently commented ‘you’re soft’ I said “Thank you!”

Since when does being soft on a dog a bad thing?

Lets be clear: soft doesn’t mean permissive. Being soft doesn’t mean I don’t get what I want.  It means I DO but I don’t have to use punishment, punitive tools, physical or psychological pressure or negative reinforcement to get it.  Soft is the way I move, speak,(if I speak) guide, prompt, reinforce and ultimately, build behavior.   I still get what I want and the dog gets trained.  The misunderstanding by those that accuse me of being soft is that they think I can’t train all dogs using this style, approach or attitude.  There’s where they’re wrong and I have many clients to prove it including my own dogs when they were alive.

My personal belief is that it’s upon me, the higher intelligent being in this training equation, to rise above such old and archaic methods. To employ empathy and at the very least, a sheer feeling of responsibility to do right by another and teach with compassion, patience and to reinforce what is wanted and not make life miserable for the dog.

Its a sign of a good teacher and human being; one that doesn’t need punishment to teach.

Oh, a punitive trainer can be a great trainer but Im talking about their attitude towards dogs. What motivates them emotionally to use punishment to train?

There is also the belief that certain breeds or personalities need punishment and thats all bs too. The ‘some dog’s don’t respond to positive reinforcement’ is a fallacy spoken by someone who doesn’t know what to do next so they stop searching and trying, give up and choose the quick and dirty way to change behavior. If its a trainer telling you this, I’d run away fast. All of us, all animals, fall into the realm of learning theory. The grey area is how it applies to all of us. And keep in mind that changing behavior can be complex and sometimes, takes time… lots of time. When was the last time you changed, for the long term, over night?

I get what I need to help the dog but sometimes its not in a way that others will understand or believe. Therein lies the difference between them and Me; I know I can get it. I don’t have to prove to anyone but the client that I can and I’ll never go to the other side because change isn’t happening fast enough for someone else including the client.

So go ahead and call me soft!  THANK YOU!