When someone first calls me for help, they usually hope their pet behavior problem will be resolved in a couple of weeks. They have tried everything they can think of for themselves, watched TV trainers and scoured the internet. Now they have decided there is nothing for it but to pay for professional help. That should fix the problem!
Each day, at consultations, by phone and email, I am encouraging and motivating clients with reactive dogs to keep going and to put in as much time as possible whilst empathizing with their problems.
This short sentence in an email received today finally prompted this blog: “It is tricky to put the time in as I’m sure you realistically know.”
Yes. I do know. What I don’t know is of any other way. Most people have limited time. Most people have limited funds.
I am reading Grisha Stewart’s book on Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT). She describes BAT as ‘practical techniques for fear, frustration and aggression in dogs.’ Each time I pick up the book to read a bit more I am thinking – ‘This is really wonderful’!’…BUT…
(My heart sinks when a client says ‘but’ and now I am doing it).
BUT… who is going to have the time and patience for the work involved, whether they use BAT or any other positive method, where it could take weeks to advance just a few paces?
BUT… who, realistically, has access to friends with calm and sociable dogs who will regularly work as stooges?
BUT… who is realistically going to travel further afield every day to search for areas free of those off-lead dogs that run up from nowhere and sabotage everything?
BUT… who is likely to find a suitably qualified trainer near to themselves with time to accompany them?
BUT … who, having found someone, has the funds to pay for all this expert trainer or behaviorist’s time, week after week?
To spend week after week gradually desensitizing and counterconditioning a reactive, fearful or protective dog is proven to be the only real method that really works from the dog’s perspective because it alters how the dog is feeling inside, ending up with him being happier and more confident.
TV trainers that use force make it look quick. Their ‘quick fix’ methods are indeed quick – and temporary. If sufficient force is used that the animal gives in, freezes or submits, then the quick result is very enticing to people watching.
Over time, as the dog gets used to the level of force, more pain will need to be exerted to maintain the control. The miserable dog may just give in instead – ‘learned helplessness’.
These types of trainer don’t mess about with desensitizing and counterconditioning.
We don’t torture our children if they are scared, angry or frustrated. We persist. We get help and most of us will put in the time and effort.
Too many dog owners give up after a good start, finding the whole thing too big a commitment and hassle. Some never seriously get started. This just isn’t what they signed up for when they got a dog.
I so wish there was a quick and magic, positive, force-free way to help dogs with reactivity problems, something people can do easily and that doesn’t take hours of time and patience each day. Something that, having been shown a couple of times people can then implement themselves without costly, ongoing help.
Any person who comes up with this magic method would save countless dogs’ lives and make themselves very famous!