What to expect when you work with a behaviour consultant

You may have been to puppy or other obedience classes, but if you’re experiencing behaviour problems you may have to book an appointment with a trainer or behaviour consultant to help you work on it.

 

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While all behaviour consultants have their own techniques and methods, there are many common things that you should expect when you hire someone to help you with a behaviour problem.
 

Providing a Behaviour History

A thorough history, if at all possible, will help your behaviour consultant to understand how the behaviour problem has developed and how long it has been occurring.

While not all pet owners have a thorough history, you may have adopted your pet more recently, thinking hard about the development of the behaviour is important.  

Please try not to leave any information out (we completely understand and sympathize that you might be embarrassed, wish you hadn’t reacted in a certain manner, or do something that we might not necessarily suggest).  It’s also important to think about how often the behaviour is happening so that we can figure out how often it has been, or is being, practiced.

They will also likely want to know about daily routines for your pet, the people and other animals in your home, or even the basic floorplan of your home. You could be asked to get some video of the behaviour occurring, as it may be one that they wouldn’t be able to observe during your consultation.  These little details give information about the small things that might be contributing to the problem behaviour you’re seeing.

 

Medical Information

Some behavioural problems can have a medical basis, so you will likely be asked about your pet’s medical history.  

Depending on the problem, your consultant may also suggest that you talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may want to perform a physical exam or run medical tests such as bloodwork or analyze urine to make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for the behaviour.

Your behaviour consultant should also be able to give your veterinarian a report about the problems they’re working on with you and your pet and how they are helping you work on them.

It is important to note that unless you’re seeing a veterinary behaviourist (a veterinarian with specialized education following vet school), a behaviour consultant should not be providing medical advice, but instead suggesting you talk to your veterinarian if they believe there could be a medical component to the issue.

 

What is covered

A good behaviour consultant or trainer will be working on the underlying problem with your pet.  For example, it may be fear that is causing your pet to act the way they do.

They’ll work on addressing this underlying problem from several different angles. You should expect to discuss various options with your behaviour consultant to see what will work with your lifestyle and family.  

Your behaviour consultant should demonstrate or thoroughly describe some of the activities you’ll be doing and explain why you’re working on them.
 

What about those trainers that say they’ll have the problem fixed in one session?

Avoid trainers that say they’ll stop all problems immediately and use punishment to do so. While this method may make it seem like the problem has stopped, the underlying reason for the problem will not have been fixed.  You may see short-term results, however it is very likely that the problem will return or show up in another way.

For example - you call in a trainer because your dog is growling at other dogs. The trainer stops your dog from growling in one session, using punishment of some sort.  However, your dog was growling because he was scared of other dogs. You then relax because you no longer have a growling problem and start bringing your dog around others. One day, seemingly out of the blue, your dog bites another dog.  He didn’t warn that he was uncomfortable because he’d learned not to growl, but he was still afraid, so he resorted to the next method of telling another dog to go away, biting.

 

‘Homework’

While it may appear on TV that problem behaviours can be solved in a quick appointment with a trainer, in reality, fixing a behaviour problem takes time and work.  This problem has likely developed over a period of time, and your dog has been ‘practicing’ and getting good at this behaviour. It’s going to take some time and effort to change it.

A behaviour consultant should be coaching you on things you can do with your dog at home (or perhaps in other locations depending on the problem) to gradually help them.  These take a lot repetition for you and your dog to get good at them.

Depending on the behaviour problem you’re dealing with and the severity of the problem, there may be different stages of working on that problem. You may be starting with some basics initially and then gradually adding in more difficult steps.  Once you and your dog have mastered a stage, the difficulty may be increased to work towards fixing the problem.

 

Results and Guarantees

As mentioned above, it is very important that you work on homework to improve the behaviour problem with your pet. Your consultant is giving you the tools to work on it, but it requires practice to start to get results.

A good behaviour consultant will not make any guarantees when you hire them. Since a lot of progress depends on the work you’ll be putting in, we can’t guarantee you’ll see a change unless you put the time in with your dog.  

Certification bodies such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers won’t allow trainers to make guarantees for this very reason.  The Code of Ethics states specifically “To refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training”.

 

Follow up

As behaviour consultants, we’re invested in helping improve your pet’s behaviour and your relationship with your pet.  You and your consultant should discuss what type of follow up will be offered if you need support implementing the instructions or you run into trouble.

 

Do you have any questions about what to expect from a behaviour consultant?  

 

 

 

Why does National Dog Bite Prevention Week Matter?

You may have heard that it’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week®.  If you have a dog in your home, if you’re ever in contact with dogs, and especially if you have children, this week is an important reminder of the importance of safety around dogs.

We share our homes with our dogs, and if you have one, you know that they’re a very important part of your family.  It’s often really hard to believe that your family pet could bite someone. If you have children and they have a great relationship with your dog, you may not consider that they don’t know how to interact with a strange dog that may not be used to children.  
 

How common are dog bites?

Unfortunately, statistics on dog bites are few and far between, and those that are published are likely underestimates.  This isn’t a fault of those doing the research or calculating the data, the fact is a majority of bites likely aren’t reported.  

I was bitten myself by a neighbour’s dog when I was a young child and I know it wasn’t ever reported. Typically, only serious bites resulting in the need for medical attention are.

In saying that, it has been estimated that 4.5 million people in the US are bit by dogs per year (Sacks et al., 1996; Gilchrist et al., 2008). According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were over 350,000 reported dog bites to children between 2010 and 2012 in the US.  Of children, toddlers are the most likely to be bitten, with the risk gradually decreasing as children get older (Schalamon et al).
 

Why do dogs bite?

Dogs can bite for many different reasons. Almost all dogs (unless they have been punished for it previously) will show some other form of behaviour before they resort to a bite.  

Dogs can bite when protecting territory, resources, or their young; or when they’re afraid, just to name a few. Dogs do not bite because they think they are the alpha over other members of the family (we’ll deal with this in another post).  

Young children may be more at risk for many reasons:

They’re often at the same level as dogs
They don’t know how to read signals a dog may be giving
They may approach dogs in situations where they would be more likely to bite

Their behaviour can be unpredictable to dogs
Any many more...
 

So how can we prevent dog bites?

It is incredibly important that adults and children learn how to:

  1. Recognize situations in which dogs shouldn’t be approached

  2. Learn how to read dog behaviour - especially less obvious signs that a dog is uncomfortable or fearful

  3. Adults manage and supervise carefully when dogs are around children
     

Many people are aware of overt signs of aggression in a dog and wouldn’t approach a dog showing obvious signs like growling, baring teeth, lunging and barking.  Children need to be taught about these signs, what they mean and what they should do if they come across a dog showing those signs. However, the subtle signs that a dog is fearful often go unnoticed.
 

Did you know that many of the pictures floating around the internet of kids and dogs often have dogs that are showing signs they are uncomfortable?

For example, in the picture below, what can you see about the dog that might let you know that they are uncomfortable in this situation?

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To name a few:

  • The dog is leaning away from the younger child
  • The dogs’ ears are pinned back
  • You can see the whites of the dogs’ eye, often a sign that they are fearful

Now these signs don’t mean that this dog is about to bite the young child, but depending on the personality of the dog, the situation they’re in, and the history the dog has had with children, this could lead to a situation where the child is at risk.
 

What can you do to start?

It’s VERY important to talk to children about dog safety and model appropriate behaviour that you would want them to mimic.
 

Want some ideas?  You can sign up HERE for 5 days of fun, safe games and activities you can do with your kids and dog.
 

ONLINE COURSE COMING SOON! In May 2018 my online course all about dogs and kids will be launched!  You can learn all about dog behaviour and how to read signs they’re giving, how to manage your children and your dog in your home safely so that you are supervising their interactions appropriately, and how to handle common behaviour problems we see with dogs around children.  By signing up for the 5 days of fun, safe games and activities, you’ll be notified when the course is coming out!

 

 

Does going to the vet scare you and your pet?

Going to the vet is unfortunately one of the trips that causes both dogs and cats to be afraid.  Whether or not they have had a bad experience in the past, you may have a dog that refuses to take a step towards the front door or a cat that yowls in their carrier while in the waiting room.  Then, when in the exam room, your pet might be terrified and will barely move, or could act aggressive, a behaviour you may never see normally.