Are you feeling frustrated because you feel like you are stuck on working on the same behavior over and over again with your dog and not getting anywhere?
Do you feel like you have put in time and effort and still can't figure out exactly what to do to change what your dog does?
I am hoping to offer some perspective here for anyone in a training rut with their dog.
Sometimes it's a matter of just actually getting professional help, because most issues do take a process to heal-
but let's say you have sought out some help, you have consulted the internet, and still can't reach the results you are looking for.
I invite you to try this exercise HONESTLY and by yourself, no one ever has to read it but you!
(I am going to pretend to be a client and do it along with you. My answers will be in parentheses after each question so you have an example.)
Step 1 - The issue
1.)Write down the behavior you would like to change and the results you would like.
(My dog runs to the door and wont stop barking when people come over. I wish he would stop barking)
2.)Write down the scenarios this behavior happens in. Any other scenarios or places this behavior happens?
(Happens when people come over, or I come home, happens if we have a party and someone goes to the bathroom and comes back)
3.)Write down how you react to this behavior, and how you behave in each scenario. Does your behavior change if other people are around, or if you are in a different area?
(I usually tell my dog to sit and try to give him a cookie, but sometimes he doesn't take it. I tell him to be quiet but he almost never listens when there are people at the door. Sometimes I forget my treats, and just use petting but he doesn't listen. When other people are around I yell less, and I am less consistent in asking him to sit because it's hard to focus)
Now you have some perspective on this behavior, yourself, and the scenarios you are seeing it.
From there I invite you to zoom out from narrowly focusing on just this behavior, and to look at the big picture of life with your dog.
Step 2- Big picture
1.)Your dog's breed, and age
(I have a 2 year old german shepard)
2.)How much exercise your dog gets (and how much you think they actually need)
(He gets 30 minutes of walking, and 15 minutes of fetch daily, but I think he needs longer walks and longer play)
3.)Write down dog's diet, medications, and any changes here
(He gets purina dog chow) no meds, no changes
4.)Any of your dog's health problems or lack there of
(Sometimes has GI upset)
Step 3 - Emotional state
1.)Your best guess on how your dog feels about the scenario causing behavior, or feelings that cause this behavior.
(I think he just really wants to say hi and is really excited, but he scares people when he runs at the door and barks. He is more wound up when it's different people than when it's just me, but he still barks a lot and gets zoomies when I come home)
2.)Your emotional state when the scenario happens, or when your dog does the behavior.
(When it's just me and him I think it's funny and laugh and sometimes play with him, eventually I yell at him to be quiet. When there are other people I tell him to sit, and I am more stern. I tell him to be quiet. I feel really embarassed when people come over, and guilty because I know the playing encourages this when it's just me and him! I feel nervous when he jumps on people because he is so big, I don't want anyone to get hurt. I also feel frustrated and embarassed when he doesn't listen to me when I say sit or quiet because we have practiced those so much)
Step 4- Your behavior
1.)How do you react to your dog's behavior
(When he barks I react differently depending on the bark. Most of the time I think he is playing so I grab his toy for him. When he barks at guests coming in I tell him to be quiet or to sit )
2.)How do you react to the scenario that causes your dog's behavior
(I think now that playing with him is rewarding his bark. I don't know why he wont listen to sit or quiet though because we have practiced those a lot. )
3.)How consistently do you react in this way? How often do you change your approach to it?
(I consistenly do these things when people are there or not there. I don't really change what I do, other than sometimes I have treats and I try to bribe him)
Notice I haven't actually focused on your dog's behavior in any of the steps, because your dog's behavior is completely dependant on everything else listed in the steps!
The client example I used is an EXTREMELY common thing I hear, so if you feel like I am mind reading know that you are not alone, and that this issue is super common and can be resolved! If your dog has a totally different issue hopefully this exercise has helped you get a different perspective.
I also want to add that in my example is purposely used a german shepard as an example, because these dogs tend to be more barky (technical term).
They are barkier dogs than your average pup, so some barking for these dogs should be accepted as part of your dog's package.
However, that doesn't mean you can't significantly decrease the amount of barking your dog does and help them learn to quiet down faster.
So now that you have done the exercise I am hoping you can see a pattern emerging.
Maybe you are accidentally encouraging your dog's unwanted behavior. Now that you can see the pattern you have the power to change it by doing something different!
Or maybe you are noticing that your dog's stress, or your own stress is a big factor in your dog's success. So how can you make the situation less stressful, or even more safe, for yourself and your dog (or other dogs involved)?
Maybe you just realized that your dog's sore hip is acting up and that could be causing some of their unwanted behavior and they need a trip to the vet.
Maybe you are seeing that the reason your dog has that behavior is because his prediction in a specific scenario matches the emotion that prediction predicts! (Dog predicts chaos during greetings so feels chaotic/stressed and barks!) So how can you change your dog's emotional prediction in the scenario? How can you then change what they do (their behavior)?
My point in writing this is that I think it's really common when we feel stuck to hyper-focus on one thing and forget the rest of the dog. It is so important to look at the whole picture. I think it's also a great exercise to take a look at the patterns with your dog and it will give you so much insight into where these problems are coming from.
A big takeaway message from this is that when you feel stuck always start by looking at:
Big Picture (diet, exercise, structure) ---> Emotional state ---> Behavior
From their you can bring this concept back to yourself and you might be amazed at how much you and your dog mirror one another.
I hope this helps you find some new motivation and less frustration when working with your dog.
If you are feeling frustrated remember that emotions are just messages telling us something. We can actually use them to point us in the right direction!
Frustration is a message that the action you are taking is not effective.
In an intense state frustration turns into feelings of rage or powerlessness.
So rather than being sucked into it's vortex ask the frustration
"What can I do differently?"
"Who can I ask for ideas or assistance"
Even just doing that you are well on your way to solving your issue!
For more information on Val and her background with dogs or to see what she's up to with her dog and two horses take a look at her About page or follow her on social media