Monday, February 1, 2010

Which behavior issue is easiest to resolve?

There are five main behavior issues that I'm repeatedly called in to help resolve.

  • The most common is the Aggressive Dog who bites people and other dogs, growls at, lunges at and generally scares the pants off humans and other dogs. He is unpredictable and does things seemingly without warning. He is the dog that drags his owner down the street when he sees another dog - intent only on killing that dog. He is also the dog that will attack the other dogs in the household when he is frustrated and releases that frustrated energy on the nearest target.

  • Next is the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog, the dog who is so fearful that she urinates every time a new thing comes in contact with her, especially new humans, but also new sights and sounds.

  • Third is the Anxious Dog who can't seem to live without her owner being within reach at all times. This dog will destory your house when you are gone and jump all over you without stop, whining the whole time when you come home. This dog gets so excited about doing things with you - even something as simple as being allowed to be in your lap, that she shakes uncontrollably.

  • Next is the Unfocused/Uncontrolled Dog, the dog who lies down when called or put on a leash, forcing you to drag him when he does not wish to listen . . . or even worse, he simply walks the other way and ignores you. He jumps on every one and probably counter surfs even while you are in the kitchen cooking.

  • Last, but certainly not least, is the Hyperactive Dog who is so scatterbrained that she cannot focus at all. This dog is so hyper that she leaps from object to object trying to take it all in at once. This dog pulls so intensely on a walk that she has sores on her neck. Her owners are so embarrassed by her that she is no longer walked and is not able to be in the house when guests come over.

So which of these would be easiest to change?

Keep in mind, there are obstacles and a great deal of rehabilitation needed for each of them, but the easiest to resolve by far is the Aggressive Dog. You probably think I'm nuts! Most obedience professionals (and even some behavior consultants) believe aggressive dogs should be euthanized without a chance.

They believe that even one bite and the dog will never learn to co-exist with other dogs or humans. Most of my clients with aggressive dogs are totally flabergasted when in less then 3 hours they have a compliant, happy dog who does everything you tell him to.

If you hadn't guessed, most of the dogs people think are aggressive aren't even close. They bite a human by accident in play or manage to tear the ear of a playmate because they miscalculated, or they growled at the toddler because of a pulled tail. Just last night I visited three Great Pyranees who reportedly were at each others throats and one had actually gotten hurt. In less then an hour, they were all walking together and ignoring each other.

A truly aggressive dog is rare, despite what you see on TV, and even a truly aggressive dog resolves much faster then the other types of behavior issues. Most aggressive dogs have gotten aggressive because of fear. They learned that to chase the scary thing/person/dog away you can bite, growl really loud and show teeth.

The second easiest to change in my experience would be the Unfocused Uncontrolled Dog. The main problem with this type of behavior issue is total boredom, no physical or mental challenge and a store of pent up energy that one good exhausting workout would release. Rules, boundaries and limitations are missing in this dog's relationship with his owner. If the owner stepped up to the plate and actually said "NO!" this dog would stop dead in it's tracks and start thinking about what he's doing.

Third in this circus of behavior issues in the Anxious Dog. Like the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog, it takes a lot of repetitive work from the owners to create a calm, relaxed and focused dog who understands that you leaving the house or a new thing entering the house is nothing to get upset about. The only reason that the Anxious Dog is easier to resolve then the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog is because of the intensity of fear. Anxiety is fear but it's a mild fear and doesn't interfere with the dog being a dog most of the time. The anxiety this dog feels is generally not caused by abuse, neglect or having lived without humans.

Next in order of difficulty to change is the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog. You dare not approach her frontally, for as with all fearful dogs, eye contact represents a challenge. In some cases, especially with abuse cases, you can't help this dog even by taking it for a walk. The leash is one of the most terrifying things in the universe to some abused dogs. But if the owner works hard at building trust, desensitizing all the things that truly frighten the dog and build up her confidence, it only takes a few weeks to rehabilitate a fearful dog.

The most difficult to behavior issue to change is the Hyperactive Dog.

A dog like this is the most difficult to change because this dog is going to push your patience right to the limit. You must avoid like the plague getting frustrated when handling a hyperactive dog - particularly if you have been the causative force behind the dog becoming this way. Being frustrated will achieve the opposite result, increasing her hyperactivity.

Under most circumstances, the truly hyperactive dog was taught to be this way. A hyperactive dog is generally the result of coddling your dog every moment, touching it constantly, giving in to it's every wish and on the other hand never giving it any rules, boundaries, limitations or exercise. This way of handling the dog would have had to start when it was a puppy who's attention span was short. The dog never learns to focus and is constantly seeking your attention as that is the only way it has to release energy.

No matter what type of behavior issue you have with your dog, to truly help your dog, YOU have to change what you're doing and learn how to communicate with your dog. You need to understand that no amount of obedience training is ever going to fix the cause of any behavior issue. It might keep the dog from doing something nasty if intensively trained never to move without your approval - but that takes years of hard work. Behavior modification takes much less time and it actually treats the source of the problem, it doesn't just put a bandaid on it.