©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
"Think of behavior modification in dogs in the same way that you think of engaging the service of a fitness instructor."
As a full-time dog behavior specialist, I meet with dog owners, rescue organizations and veterinary practice employees almost every day. There are at least seven questions I am repeatedly asked by them. I’m surprised by some of them. Their questions with answers appear below.
1) Do you ever get bitten as a dog behavior consultant?
Short Answer: Yes, multiple times over the years.
Longer Answer: I do my best to avoid getting bitten (it hurts and is really annoying), but dogs are fast and sometimes it can be hard to read their intentions. When you consider that I work almost exclusively with dogs that have behavior issues, including all seven major forms of aggression, it should be no surprise that I have been bitten.
2) What breed has the least behavioral problems?
Short Answer: It’s more an issue of the individual dog than it is the breed.
Longer Answer: All breeds, including All Americans (i.e., mutts), can make great pets. Conversely, all breeds can have behavioral issues (e.g., labs, collies, poodles, etc.). It’s hard for me to select one breed in particular because each individual dog can be so different – just like people.
3) Have you ever seen another dog with my dog's issue?
Short Answer: Yes, frequently, and much much much more severe than your dog.
Longer Answer: When a behavior issue raises its ugly head, many dog owners tend to think their dog is the only dog on the planet with the problem. The reason for this is that most people aren’t aware of the range and ubiquity of unusual dog behaviors. In addition to aggression and separation anxiety cases, I routinely see dogs with canine compulsive disorders (i.e., OCD in dogs) and severe phobias (i.e., irrational fear of something such as potted plants in the home - seriously).
4) Can my dog’s behavior challenges be fixed and how long will it take?
Short Answer: It depends on many variables.
Longer Answer: For severe cases of aggression, separation anxiety, phobias, compulsions, resource guarding and fear, I tell clients we can expect the dog’s issues to improve, but usually they will not be completely eliminated. As a benchmark, I look for notable improvement in the dog’s behavior two months after behavior modification has begun. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest variables in the “Can my dog be fixed?” question is whether the owners will do the behavior modification that has been prescribed. You gotta do the homework.
5) Are you training the dog or me?
Short Answer: You.
Longer Answer: Think of behavior modification in dogs in the same way that you think of engaging the service of a fitness instructor. You meet with the fitness instructor who assesses your fitness level and goals. Next, the instructor creates a custom fitness program and explains and demonstrates the exercises to you. Finally, you execute the program on a regular basis and watch your muscles and fitness levels grow. Behavior modification in dogs is no different, but substitute a certified dog behaviorist for the fitness instructor.
6) If the weather is bad, can we still have our scheduled dog training session?
Short Answer: Yes.
Longer Answer: The majority of a behaviorist’s time is spent educating the owner about concepts. While there are some skills that need to be learned outside, most of the physical skills can be demonstrated and taught inside.
7) Did I do something to cause my dog to act this way?
Short Answer: You probably didn’t create the problem.
Longer Answer: Owners frequently want to blame themselves for their dog’s ills, but in my experience I’ve found that few people planted the seeds of their dog’s problems. It’s virtually impossible to definitively pinpoint what causes a dog to behave the way it does. The possibilities include, but are not limited to, any combination of the following: genetics, neonatal treatment, abandonment by the mother (intentionally or unintentionally), single event learning (i.e., a one-time very bad experience), neurologic, health related, environmental.