IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
(Author Unknown - but given to us by Dot Galvin, Hennings Mill Labradors)

Many dog owners are astonished when they realize that they're actually causing or encouraging the exact behaviors they don't like in their dogs.

Training is all about teaching your dog what you want from her in a given situation. If you either fail to do that, or give the dog mixed messages, she won't know what to do. When dogs make up the rules themselves, people are usually unhappy.

There are lots of myths about inappropriate dog behavior. You'll find excuses, veiled in long-standing myth: placing the blame on dogs for all or part of their inappropriate behaviors.

Think of your dog. She does whatever she wants, whenever she wants. All her actions are quite natural to her. She is not capable of thinking in abstract terns like 'the future', or 'to spite you'. When she does something her owner doesn't like, a good owner will redirect her into a desired behavior, to replace the offending one. In the same situation, a bad or novice owner will allow the behavior to continue, or actively do something to make that situation worse. That is not to blame someone for not knowing what to do, necessarily. It merely places the responsibility on the owner to figure out how to train the dog properly. A dog's good behavior is entirely in the hands of its owner.

Think of the owner's responsibility for knowing how to train his/her dog this way: If you don't know how to drive standard and you keep stalling your car, you don't tell the mechanic that there's something wrong with your clutch. Instead, you learn how to drive that car. If you are inexperienced with dogs, or just your dog's individual personality type, it is your responsibility to learn the techniques that will motivate your dog to behave appropriately.

IN TERMS OF TEMPERAMENT

People often misunderstand or misuse the term "temperament". All it means is, simply, the dog's personality. As yet, there is no scientific evidence to show that we can actually breed for temperament, per se. Its noble that breeders hope to breed only for "good temperaments", but there is no scientific evidence to prove they're successful.

Yes, from two parents, one or two offspring may have the same personality as one of the parents. This would strongly suggest a genetic link. However, what we do know about dogs and humans is that many of the offspring from the same two parents will have personalities nothing like either parent; suggesting multiple factors determining personality, only part of which (if any) may be directly linked to genetics. What part of temperament is inheritable and what portion is a mix of genetic factors and even developmental environment, remains to be seen.

Regardless, once a dog is born, his/her temperament is pretty much set. Dogs come in all temperaments: from very dominant, to very submissive, and all the shades of gray in between...even within the same litter! Most importantly, all are trainable! But the training methods that work for one, absolutely may not work for another. Dominant dogs need to be kept more ‘in check', and very submissive dogs need to build their confidence.

"But I've had 10 dogs before. None of them ever turned out to have a problem. So why must I be the cause when only this one turned out that way?"

In this kind of situation, training methods may have been perfectly appropriate for the various temperaments of the previous 10 dogs. But one particular dog is clearly not responding to those training techniques. The owner must take a new approach in order to be successful with this dog. All dogs are different, and they require slightly different motivation from their owners.

IN TERMS OF AGGRESSION

"Isn't aggression partially genetic?"

No. It isn't. Ask any geneticist to demonstrate the location of the so-called “aggression gene" and s/he will have to admit that no such thing exists. It's a myth or, at best, just a theory.

Psychology defines aggression as "learned behavior". What that means is a dog/person/horse/cat learns, little by little, that increasing forms of assertive or violent behavior has a desirable outcome. (If "aggressive” behavior never pays off, the individual won't continue to do it. But if it has a desirable outcome, the individual will not only continue, but probably escalate the aggression in the future.) If you're having trouble with this, remember: Wolves raised in captivity never learn to hunt and kill on their own. They can't simply be released into the wild. Another wolf must first show them how to kill.

For example: A puppy has an instinct to protect its meal. That's perfectly natural. However, one day, the puppy tries out a little growl at his food dish, at which point his owners back away. The puppy just learned that growling works to control his humans. With that new discovery, the puppy continues to use growling as a means of controlling his environment. If his owners ignore the growling the next time, he'll growl more vehemently or even snap. The owners back away again. The puppy just learned that increased growling and biting displays are even more effective. Experienced owners will actively step in to curb such behaviors the first time they witness them. By doing nothing (or the wrong thing) inexperienced owners will inadvertently encourage the inappropriate behaviors, thus (in this case) creating a food-aggressive dog. If left unchecked, those kinds of behaviors will most assuredly escalate, and may even expand to other areas. While it may be a wise move not to disturb an unknown dog while she's sleeping or eating, it is paramount that dog owners teach their own dogs to accept interruption during these activities.

When owners fail to enforce the rules of the home, dogs will usually make up their own. Humans are rarely happy with the rules dogs create for themselves.

IN TERMS OF MEDICAL CONDITIONS AS THE CAUSE FOR AGGRESSION

Aggression is generally caused by lack of socialization, and is exacerbated by a lack of obedience training.

“But my dog was very friendly, and one day he just started becoming aggressive.”

In the overwhelming majority of cases, a dog's aggression has either been allowed or encouraged by the owner. However, there is substantial anecdotal evidence (although, as yet, unproven) to suggest that a small number of medical conditions may cause sudden aggressive behaviors. These medical conditions are diagnosable, though. If you're a responsible dog owner and doing your work to maintain a well-socialized dog, then your first task is to rule out a medical cause for the sudden aggression by taking the dog to a veterinarian.

If your dog is behaving in a manner you don't like, don't wallow in guilt or blame. Just know there is a solution to each and every problem you may face with your dog, and it is entirely in your hands to solve. Every dog can be trained to be a good canine citizen.


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