Does a dog need training and socializing to address a behavior issue?
“If my dog has a behavior problem, do I just need more training or socialization?” This is a question I hear often! Socialization and training are not a means to treat behavioral challenges or aggression.
There is a very small window in the few weeks/months of a dog’s life that sets the template for the adult personality. We can’t go back in life anymore than we can you and I can go back and repeat preschool or kindergarten! This is a crucial molding time where the brain is like a sponge for learning what is safe and unsafe in their world. They can’t unlearn what they have learned especially during this crucial time. Negative experiences (yes even one) can have lifetime impact. That doesn’t mean we can’t help an older dog become more confident. However we won’t change the adult dog’s personality or treat aggression through merely “socialization” later in life.
What about training? Training is about focus, sit, recall/come and teaching our dogs cue to do certain behaviors. Although training can help build a dog’s confidence and help them learn to make better choices, it’s only a small part of the puzzle when working with behavior issues.
Behavioral issues are rooted in emotions and are all about how a dog feels about a particular trigger(s) or situation. How do we address those issues? We need to first make sure the dog feels a sense of safety and predictability in their world. We then can make sure their needs are met both as a dog but also for their particular breed. In addition, we work on lowering their anxiety and reducing the stress in their world. Through environmental management, we can also reduce or remove triggers that might impact anxiety, fear or stress. We can also teach a dog to make more appropriate decisions and responses through training.
What about correction, shock collars and more?
Correction and force are never a means to teach an animal and it’s no way to treat fear, anxiety or aggression. You can’t treat fear, aggression, anxiety with more fear and coercion in any species. Studies show these methods can actually increase anxiety and aggression. If you are aggressive with your dog, studies show he will be aggressive with you.* These methods also make the dog’s world and even us, their companion and advocate, seem unpredictable. One study showed that when using these methods after two years, over half (a whopping 60 percent) of dogs were rehomed, surrendered, or euthanized.** While these methods seem to initially “work” because the dog may stop the behavior out of fear or “learned helplessness”, the behavior returns! Not only does the behavior return because the underlying emotional state has not been addressed but it often is much worse when it does return days, weeks or even months later.
Success in training behavioral issues
Behaviors rooted in emotions cannot be “corrected” away, “socialized” away or “trained” away. Addressing behavior issues requires us to address the emotional state of the dog. We can help change his behavior and/or associations around his triggers through science based, force free methods designed to modify the behavior and address his emotional state. We must realize that treating anxiety, fear or aggression in our canine companions takes a scientific and humane approach and a multi faceted approach! It’s not easy for them to live in our world and we must help them with the tools and means that science show work to decrease the behavior and lower a dog’s overall anxiety!
I take a holistic approach looking at the whole dog, their lifestyle and their emotional state to help address the core of behavioral issues.