Problem Behaviors In Dogs Are Like a Hydraulic System
Every hydraulic system has a set pressure it can withstand. Go over that allowed pressure (or exceed “critical mass,” and…well BOOM)! You can look at Fido’s behavior the same way…each behavior has its own tank; barking, digging, jumping, play biting and yes even pulling on a leash! If we are smart owners, and keep the pressure under “critical mass,” the behaviors remain normal, problems never surface and life is good! But if we allow the pressure to build…you probably already know and may be experiencing that answer or you would not be reading this blog! If your dog pulls like a demon, you have allowed that tank to overflow and consequently, you probably hate walking Fido! What you have not considered is that once the walking tank overfills, that pressure has to go somewhere. Now you not only have a leash issue, but Fido has started barking at everything. As the barking tank overflows, Fido might now start digging to China in your back yard…and so the story goes until I, the dog trainer, receive a phone call from a prospective client telling me their dog is completely out of control! But the simple translation is a dog whose pressure capacity has been taxed to the point of complete hydraulic failure! At this point, take a deep breath and realize this now out of control conduct actually started with just one behavior and the only way to fix this, is to fix the behaviors the same way they occurred, ONE AT A TIME!
The key to a happy, healthy and well behaved dog is simple…exercise! This is the action we very rarely consider for our out of control, over pressured and now bleeding hydraulic systems! The only way to fix the leak is to first lower the pressure in the system (exercise) and re-train (increase the pressure capacity) of the system! So, what is energy in regards to a dog, and just how do we exercise or vent the system? While it might seem a simple question, all dogs are different. That means energy types and requirements are as different as the dogs in question! Take, for example, a Golden Retriever – they have been bred for retrieving, thus their energy type is generally running and fetching things. In comparison, a schnauzer, bred as a varmint hunter, has energy geared to tracking small moving critters, and they really like to bark! Beagles are similar in that they love to bark, but they use their nose vs. tracking the moving objects. What about a Husky or a Malamute? They were bred to pull sleds (and everything else attached to them), or an Australian Shepherd, whose goal in life is to herd things. Now, consider the classic (and my favorite) the Mutt! They could have parts of some if not all of these dog energy types! Needless to say, you had better be willing to do some “homework” on your dog and really find out what “trips their trigger”!
I bring this up because, to many dog owners, the backyard, a 15 minute walk (really only an excuse to pee!) or a day or two a week in “doggy day care” are foolishly considered to be enough of a mental and physical work out for their furry, four legged best friend! This is the point, as a dog trainer and volunteer in animal shelters, I stress – people must think before they get a dog as a pet! If you know your lifestyle is one where hour long walks, trips to the dog park, ability to afford or schedule classes in agility, rally or scent work (let alone basic obedience) are not achievable…DON’T do it! Dogs actually require work! There is no law saying every family is required or even ought to own a dog. OK off my soapbox and back to exercise.
Exercise needs to be both mental as well as physical! Dogs cannot live off bread (exercise) alone, they need some variety! Simply walking your dog daily won’t cut it! You might need to add agility, and/or rally obedience work, to exercise the mind as well. It might even require finding a herding class to allow your dog’s more primal needs to come to the surface! If, as an owner, you are going be unable to exercise your dog on any given week, maybe you could add 3 days a week of doggy day care, which will also help with socialization! The point here is, there is no one “magic bullet”, but we do know that what you are doing now is not enough! Unless of course you are a dog junky or trainer, and are reading this blog, nodding your head in agreement because you have a dog whose pressure regulator is in tip-top condition! 🙂
So what do you do now? I cannot believe I am saying this, but calling a dog trainer is not the 1st step! You need to take a serious look in the mirror and ask yourself, am I giving my dog all the exercise and mental stimulation needed to make him happy and balanced? I would guess if you are honest, the answer is no, and your first step to fixing the problem is staring back at you in the mirror…it’s you! Before calling a trainer to prescribe a “magic” dog training pill – get out and start living life with your dog and help them! Spend time with them and just be with them! If you are lucky, you just might solve your “problem behaviors” without having to call a dog trainer!
So you’ve determined Fido’s energy type and needs…what’s next? Well, you might need to call that trainer with step 2, for help with the retraining to find better outlets for the behavior to allow for a higher pressure limit in your dog’s hydraulic system! But calling a trainer before you actually take the time to exercise your dog is futile and expensive, since all we (the dog trainers) are going to do is charge you hard earned money to tell you to walk your dog more, take them to a dog park, enroll in a fun competition style class or challenge their mind with interactive toys or games. Doesn’t that sound just like what I shared with you in the above paragraphs, and for free??? Why, you ask, is this exercise piece so important? Because, without cutting the edge (decreasing their pressure) from the dog first, formal training or obedience will be essentially impossible!
I guess the take away here is…there is no magic pill or silver bullet when working with dogs or kids for that matter :)! There is only time and effort! You and your dog will bond better, love more and be better friends the sooner we get everyone on board with this idea! I leave you with two thoughts to chew on…
1. A Tired Dog Is A Good Dog!
2. Nothing good ever comes from less, only from effort!
As always…Keep it Simple Stupid, and please don’t forget to have some fun while you are at it! Wasn’t that why you got your dog in the first place??
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