Muscle Memory, In regard to Reactivity/Aggression….
OK while I guess you could say this blog is about generalizing an idea, which I really try not to do… I think this is one is really important to the idea of reactivity/aggression in dogs on leash… I need folks to really grasp how long it will take to make reliable changes in behavior! In fact, in many cases improvement might well happen but changing the behavior 100% of the time may never occur… and that could be after tons of practice and work… So, why is changing this type of behavior so hard?
*This is where I am going to give you my opinion… Lets face it, I/We don’t speak dog and Fido don’t speak human… So, an educated guess is what we are left with!
- In many cases this behavior on leash is rooted in fear and no matter how much practice we or the dog go through, we/they will probably never learn to not be fearful of something that we are already scared of… Rather we simply learn to better and more appropriately deal with it
- In other cases, there is a lack of socialization/ or an unpleasant event that happened during the critical developmental period (3weeks to about 15 weeks)
- It could even be on the genetic/biological side of development.
With any of these reasons, we have a dog that has been practicing the behavior of reactivity to make the scary things go away! And each time we practice we create “Muscle Memory”. People in sports talk about this all the time… Practice with great form and technique or you will allow yourself to create long lasting bad form or habits… Any one of you reading this will understand that the longer you practice any behavior the harder it is to change! Let’s look at some human comparables:
- Eating Healthy
- Wearing a Seat belt
- Learning to tell the truth, when you are used to lying
- Using a Calendar or to do list
- Not lashing out at those point out your mistakes
We all know that these things are important and that we should make that changes, right? Then why is it so hard to actually change our behavior? PRACTICE!!!! The longer you allow yourself or your dog to practice the bad behavior the more ingrained that behavior is going to be… Think about it, as I write this blog I am 48 years old… Am I less tolerant of change now than I was at 25? You bet I am… Because I have become more set in my ways… My muscles have had all that time to get used to how I do things, and yes each and every time some tech gadget changes for better or worse I do not enjoy changing my “muscle memory” to the new way of doing things….
I have clients who get frustrated with me when I tell them that getting your dog comfortable ignoring other dogs on leash is the goal (not liking other dogs) and this process can be so tedious that we want to push our pooch even closer to other dogs on leash, just to see if they can handle it!
Think about taking your worst fear (Let’s say spiders) Let’s say you are OK with them at 100 feet…. And some YAHOO who wants to help you decided the best way to achieve it is to force you past what you can handle (lets say walking right up next to one) Would you possible fight that person or the spider to get away and back to a safe distance?
I do think the idea of “Muscle Memory” is a great way for folks with reactive, fearful and or aggressive dogs to get started with getting their mind in the right space before working their dog! If I have learned anything it is those dogs will learn, improve and modify their behavior at their own pace and us pushing only puts them at risk of falling back on the behavior we do desperately want to help them with….
So please be patient, go slow and be consistent… The three rules I preach are:
- You must practice frequently (everyday)
- You must have short duration settings (10-15-minute session)
- You must work under threshold (at a distance the dog is OK with and is calm)
And it could still take months (I have seen years in some cases) to improve behavior or (Muscle Memory)
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