As a professional dog trainer who specializes in dog behavior issues such as aggression, anxiety, fear and reactivity, I often encounter clients whose dogs have been having behavior issues for a long time, prior to their owners eventually seeking my assistance.
Sometimes, owners are unaware that their dog is experiencing behavioral issues. They may not have given much thought to the reasons their dog is barking at people or dogs excessively, for example, or believe they just need to find time to work on the dog’s obedience skills. These owners are unaware that their dog is experiencing significant emotional distress, or I am sure they would do everything they could to help their dog feel more comfortable. Owners may believe their dog’s behavior is normal, and often do not have the knowledge or expertise to identify problematic behavior. This is where owners who start off by enrolling in formal puppy classes taught by an instructor who is knowledgeable in dog behavior have an advantage. A good trainer can help you identify potential problems early and begin to work on them right away.
Sometimes, owners may be aware that the dog is displaying a behavioral issue, but just try to “manage” the dog’s behavior to the best of their ability, without addressing the issue. Unfortunately, for many busy families, the dog’s behavior falls low on the priority list, and until there is an “incident”, nothing is done to help with the dog’s behavior. The more a dog is able to practice or repeat a behavior, the more likely that behavior is to be strengthened, because the behavior continues to be reinforced with repetition. A dog with behavioral issues will not get better without intervention, and the behaviors will likely worsen as time goes on. Early intervention for behavioral issues is strongly recommended, although there will be a financial and time commitment involved. However, in the long run, you will save considerable time, money, and hardship if you properly address the behavioral issues now.
Many clients who have struggled with their dog’s behavior for a long time have tried multiple approaches, based on things they have read, advice from friends or TV shows, and even advice from other dog trainers. By the time I have contact with them, they are often very confused and frustrated. Much of the information out there is contradictory, difficult to apply without the expertise of a professional dog trainer, and some approaches can even make the behaviors worse.
I have heard many upsetting stories where “trainers” have advised or even applied abusive techniques to clients’ dogs in an attempt to “show the dog who is in charge”. Approaches which use punishment, physical force and aversive tools, can result in trauma to both owners and dogs, and can contribute to a public mistrust of the dog training profession. Such approaches should never be used on a dog displaying behavioral issues. Instead, these dogs and their owners need to be helped by using patience and proven, humane methods based in scientific learning theory. A dog with behavioral issues needs to be understood and have its needs respected, in order to help it feel more comfortable in its world.
Addressing your dog’s behavioral issues requires much more specialized knowledge than training a dog to do an obedience skill. Selecting an appropriate behavior expert to work with should be done with care and caution. When choosing a trainer or behavior consultant to help with your dogs’ behavioral issues, be sure to research the trainer’s qualifications, experience, and ensure that your dog will not be subjected to aversive methods or harmful treatment. There are qualified, specialized behavior experts that can effectively help you and your dog, so please get the help your dog needs sooner rather than later.