Pawsability article from PerthLife Magazine June 2005
Does your dog jump up, pull on the lead, bark all the time, or do other things which you simply don’t want him to do? Have you tried to stop it and given up exasperated, thinking “why, why, why?” If this sounds familiar read on…
Our understanding of how dogs think has taken a huge leap forward in recent years and at last, we now have a real chance to figure out what’s going on inside that furry head!
Tradition tells us that many dog behaviour problems stem from them striving to be the leader of the pack. If they bark, they’re being dominant! If they pull on the lead, they’re being dominant! If they fight for a toy, they’re being dominant! You’re encouraged to show them “you’re the boss”. Eat before them! Ignore them when you come home! Never let them win a tuggy game!
Tried it? Does it really help improve his behaviour ? Does it really help you understand how he’s thinking?
When you come home, think about how you’re loving dog feels when you ignore him - maybe they are simply thinking - yippee, mum’s home, that’s brilliant, give me a hug, let’s go hunting, dinner time! If they pull on the lead - maybe they are just excited about getting to the next really good smell, or about getting home for dinner, or about getting to the park more quickly? Would you eat something tasty in front of your kids when you know they’re hungry? Food motivates your dog, so what is he feeling when you do this to him? And, how do you feel if you always lose at a game? Do you get angry? Do you give up?
Thinking of it another way - what would dogs seriously gain from being “head” of the family? Could they feed themselves? Could they buy the food? Could they unlock the door to go for a walk?
In evolutionary terms, dogs are the successful evolution of the wolf. There are 400,000 wolves in the world compared to 400,000,000 dogs! That’s successful! Dogs have adapted to the ecological niche that we call home, and they could no longer successfully live without us, in their present form. Could there therefore be, perhaps, a more effective approach to help us understand what motivates our canine friends?
Most psychologists now accept that our pets can experience a wide range of emotions from happy and sad to frustration and anger. We know ourselves how these emotions feel and grow, so let’s use that knowledge to understand how they think and to help them with their problems.
Essentially, dogs are motivated to do things because they find them rewarding. Eating treats is internally rewarding. Chasing and digging is instinctively rewarding. Barking provides an external reward when the postman goes away. Also, like us, dogs need to experience positive emotions in their daily lives to help them maintain a happy and content disposition. Their “bad” behaviours may simply be their way of helping them cope with our world.
Of course, we dog owners need to be responsible. We can’t just let our dogs chase after the cyclist because it’s fun! Instead, we need to find alternative socially acceptable behaviours and teach our pet that these new things are far more rewarding.
Emotional understanding is a fundamental principle behind Pawsability Pet Behaviour Therapy. For further information or help with your pet’s behaviour problems or training needs contact Anna Patfield on 01738 812319 or look at www.pawsability.co.uk.
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