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Foundations For Behavior Change

A lot of the dogs I see have broken relationships with their families. Maybe they bark and carry on at people, dogs, or just mystery noises. Maybe they're too wild and crazed to control. Maybe their owners are frightened of them. Maybe they bite.

While all of these issues require different approaches, and flexibility during the training plan; there are places where we should start with every dog.

The first, and often overlooked aspect that has to be addressed is: are the dog's needs being met?

This matters because, just as we have friends who cannot function without their morning jolt of caffeine, or who get cranky if they don't get enough sleep; or handle stress poorly if they haven't had their morning run, dogs have physiological needs. If those needs aren't met, all the training in the world isn't going to help them live their best life - or you live yours with them.

Sure, I can yell at the cranky under caffeinated family member - I can tell the tired kid to study harder - or else. I can tell my under-exercised friend to get a grip and just freaking relax. We know how these will go: resentment, anger, and likely - failure.

If we look at behavior through the emotion that drives the behavior, then we can begin to see why the pent up herding dog that watches TV all day is crazy; or why repetitive, boring ball throwing isn't touching our bored dog's mind. We can see why the cattle dog, or terrier that wants to tussle and fight is frustrated that no one will play tug with them.

An unfulfilled life leads to stress, boredom, anger, resentment, and frustration. So, we must start here if we have any chance of helping our dog with their other issues.

This can be complex. Just as some people love to run and others would rather binge watch TV, some dogs love to chase, while others like to shred; some need complex problems to solve, while others get frustrated if the answer seems out of reach.

Breed plays a part here: A pitbull is more likely to want to shred and destroy their toys while a livestock guardian wants to watch over them and guard them from intrusion. A border collie might fixate on a ball, staring all day, while your golden carries a favored toy or their leash from place to place. Just as we cannot tell our children what part of this huge world most excites them, the most important part of finding what your dog loves is to take the time to ask them.

People want solutions now. I get that. And of course, while we are helping our dogs feel fulfilled, we must get in front of our dog's unwanted behavior to ensure that bad things are not repeated, but skipping ahead and stopping a behavior borne of frustration and unmet desires is an exercise in futility and cruelty. Our dogs deserve bette.

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