We are a nation of dog lovers. It is estimated that around 70 million households in the US have at least one pet dog (source). Owning a dog can be incredibly rewarding and satisfying, but it can also be a challenge, especially if you experience aggression or behavioral issues. If you have recently introduced a new furry friend to the family and they haven’t settled, you’re having trouble training a puppy, or an older dog is displaying changes in behavior, you may be thinking about obedience training or seeing a dog behaviorist. In this article, we’ll explore these services in detail and talk about what dog owners can expect.
What causes behavioral problems in dogs?
Aggression, changes in behavior and moderate to severe behavioral problems are among the most common reasons people seek help from dog behaviorists. Often, dog owners are unsure of why their pet is behaving differently or displaying aggression. It’s understandable to assume that there must be a single cause or trigger, but in reality, aggression is very complex and it can be difficult to pinpoint a reason or an underlying cause. There may be multiple reasons why a dog starts to behave aggressively or they develop changes in behavior, for example, uncontrollable barking.
Dogs are very sensitive and emotionally intelligent animals, and often, they exhibit changes in behavior due to modifications in their routine or lifestyle or the relationships they have with the people around them. In many cases, the owners themselves are responsible for behavioral issues. This is why it’s so important for dog owners to be aware of their influence and role and to learn how to rectify behavioral problems by working alongside their canine companion.
Aggression and behavior that is deemed ‘bad behavior’ by owners can stem from physical pain, feeling threatened or vulnerable, fear, and enablement. It’s essential for dog owners to avoid writing their dogs off as a lost cause if they start to bark more frequently or they display aggressive behavior. There are solutions, and there are often contributing factors, which can be addressed.
Animal behavior and obedience training
Animal behavior and obedience training are closely linked, and often, dog behaviorists and obedience trainers offer services that overlap. Most well-behaved dogs are obedient, but a dog may not always have a solid grasp of obedience and a spotless behavioral record just because it responds to commands, such as ‘sit’ or ‘lie down.’ Behaviorists and obedience trainers can work together and deliver elements of tailored, customized programs to improve outcomes.
One of the most crucial considerations when implementing training programs and working with dogs with behavioral issues is understanding the importance of bespoke solutions. Dog owners approach trainers and behaviorists with a diverse range of issues, and every dog is different. There is no universal solution or one-size-fits-all program that can magically make problems disappear or cause aggressive dogs to mellow and soften suddenly.
Expectations versus reality
If you are a dog owner, and you’re struggling with a naughty puppy or a dog that has become aggressive, you may think that taking your pet to a trainer or a behaviorist is a surefire way to fix problems rapidly. The reality is that it’s not always easy to combat aggression in dogs or fix behavioral issues. Training can take time, and learning is a continuous process. It’s also critical that owners are aware of their responsibilities and the need for them to be actively involved in training. There is little point in training or working with a dog to address obedience or behavioral problems if they stem from the owner and the owner is not a part of the training program. Most behavioral issues are linked to pet owners so work must be done both on the owner and the dog.
Owners should be aware of the nature of their dog’s issues and they should be willing to learn how to change their behavior or the relationship they have with their dog to rectify issues and establish positive relationships.
Another important consideration for dog owners is the complexity of animal behavior. It is impossible to treat problems in isolation. If a dog won’t stop barking, for example, their owner might assume that taking them to obedience training or arranging a session with a behaviorist will fix the problem. In truth, addressing issues requires a much more rounded approach. Trainers and behaviorists work with dogs and their owners to tackle specific issues by developing solid obedience, teaching owners how to reinforce what to do and outlining alternative behaviors. Trying to tackle behavioral problems in isolation is comparable to doing crunches to try and get abs if you are living an already unhealthy lifestyle.
It’s natural for dog owners to want the best when they seek advice from an obedience trainer or a dog behaviorist. To improve outcomes, here are some steps to follow:
- Understand that there is no quick fix
One of the most important lessons to learn is that behavioral issues and aggression in dogs cannot be magically cured or fixed in one session. It’s crucial that dog owners understand that a behaviorist cannot simply wave a magic wand and turn an aggressive dog into a calm, docile, placid pup that will never growl, bark without reason or show their teeth ever again. There is no universal solution or quick fix. Training takes time and patience.
- Be willing to commit to the program
Overcoming aggressive and behavioral problems in dogs is not solely about training the dog. It’s also about teaching dog owners how to interact with their pet and showing them what to do when their dog displays certain types of behavior. Commitment is required on the part of the owner and the dog.
- Stick to the plan
It can take a long time for obedience trainers and animal behaviorists to work with dogs and their owners to rectify problems and achieve positive outcomes. Owners must be able to dedicate time and effort to the plan and be prepared to stick with the program in the long term.
- Form a team
It’s easy to assume that your dog is to blame if they suddenly start lunging all the time, they won’t stop barking, or they become aggressive. In most cases, behavioral issues are directly linked to the owner. Owners must be able to take responsibility and be prepared to form a team with their dog to try to work together to fix problems and identify effective solutions. If you work together, rather than battling each other, the result will be much better.
- Be prepared to play an active role
Dog training and behavioral services can be likened to marriage counseling. If you are having difficulties in your relationship, you wouldn’t expect to send your partner away to a retreat and for them to return and for you to live in perfect harmony forever. There has to be a commitment from both parties and work on both sides. Sending a dog away to a training camp can have benefits, but these are limited because the owner is not actively involved. By playing an active role, owners improve their capacity to help and support the dog, they understand the changes they can make to encourage positive behavior and they build stronger bonds. Simultaneously, the dog knows that their owner is there at every stage.
- Move away from blaming your dog
It is very common for dog owners to brand their pets naughty, disobedient or aggressive, but puppies are not born with these traits. As a dog owner, it’s beneficial to move away from blaming your dog if they display behavioral issues or their behavior changes unexpectedly. There is usually a reason, and in the majority of cases, owners or people closely linked to the dog contribute to problematic behavior. It’s beneficial to try to understand why a dog is behaving badly and to take steps to address the problem with the help of experts.
What does training involve?
Many dog owners may have a perception of training based on TV shows or movies. Expectations and ideas can be very different from reality. Firstly, there are lots of different types of dog training programs available and sessions can be adjusted and customized to suit the dog and their owner and the objective of the program. Puppy obedience training, for example, is likely to be very different from sessions that are designed for an aggressive dog that has exhibited threatening or unpredictable behavior.
Secondly, one-to-one sessions for dogs and owners can be incredibly beneficial for trying to understand and correct behavioral issues, but it is important to recognize that a single session won’t turn an aggressive dog into a calm, composed dog. It can take multiple sessions and ongoing support to bring about a transformation and achieve long-lasting results.
How can I find the best program for my dog?
If you have a dog that is causing problems due to their behavior, it’s understandable to feel upset, worried or anxious. Every owner wants to have a positive relationship with their pet and it can be distressing when things go wrong. If you are looking into obedience training, or you are considering seeing a dog behaviorist, it’s wise to take this advice on board:
- Choose an experienced trainer
Experience is incredibly important when choosing a program for your dog. Look for trainers who have expertise in the relevant area. If you are training a protection dog or your old friend has become aggressive, for example, search for trainers who have experience in the relevant field.
- Reach out and get more information
For most of us, our dogs are family members and best friends. It’s natural to want to make sure that you are trusting your dog to somebody who will care for them and do their best to achieve the desired outcomes. The best thing to do when looking for a dog trainer is to reach out and get more information. Learn more about training companies and individual trainers, gather information about the programs and what happens when a dog starts a course and get to know the people who will be interacting with you and your dog.
- Focus on finding customized programs
Every dog and every owner are unique. A good trainer recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for behavioral issues. Focus your search on customized programs and sessions that are tailored to the needs of the individual dog and their owner.
- Avoid programs that promise rapid results or miracle cures
It’s understandable to want results fast when you have concerns about your dog’s behavior, but try to avoid programs that promise rapid results or miracle cures. It takes time, dedication, hard work and commitment to achieve results. You may notice incredible changes after one or two sessions with a trainer, but to succeed in the long-term, you will need to keep going with sessions and see the program out.
- Ask for recommendations
Most of us feel more confident when we buy products or access services based on recommendations from people we trust. It’s common to ask for advice about finding a new doctor or dentist, for example, or to ask around for recommendations if you need your roof fixing, or you’re looking for a plumber. Asking for advice when choosing a dog trainer is a brilliant idea, as you can gather information and suggestions based on the experiences of people who have already been through training with their pets.
Many people have a perception of dog training, but seeing a dog behaviorist and undertaking obedience training may be very different in real life. Training takes time, it requires long-term commitment from owners and it’s not a quick or simple fix. Owners are often the cause of behavioral issues, and they need to be actively involved in training programs to achieve lasting results and build positive, healthy relationships.