As a dog trainer, I find my job is both freshly challenging with each new case, and simultaneously, somewhat predictable. While each individual dog and dog guardian are unique and different, similar issues tend to arise in households across the board. Such as, Our dog goes crazy when anyone comes to the door; our dog jumps on my kids and knocks them down; our dog runs the other way when we call him to come inside at night. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
I believe what causes these kinds of issues – and the remedy for fixing them – are two sides of the same coin: individuals’ behavior is, in part, the result of how others around them behave; i.e. much of our behavior is reactionary. This is especially true of our dogs, who look to us for guidance and direction at every turn. While each person and dog are uniquely individual, some of our thoughts, feelings and actions change depending on the dynamics between us and those we’re interacting with at any given time. As members of relationships, families and communities, our behavior patterns reflect those of the whole ‘village’ that’s raising us.
Let’s look, for example, at the family whose dog barks wildly at anyone who comes to the door, be it a delivery driver, a friend, or a family member the dog sees every single day when she returns home from work. It’s 4:00p. The key turns in the door lock every weekday, predictably between 4:05 and 4:10p. Just before that, the car makes its way up the street. The dog’s anticipation escalates. He hears the car doors close, the jangling of keys, and the sound of his owner’s footsteps approaching the house – each a cue that means “Ready, Set, BARK!” The door opens and chaos ensues. Person 1 comes to grab the dog’s collar while Person 2 opens the door and begins chirping hellos at the dog in a high-pitched voice. There’s a lot of jumping, arms and paws are flailing, and each party adds emotional fuel to the others’ fire.
Now, imagine that the people in this scenario alter their behavior with the intention of calming things down. After all, any changes we wish to see in our dogs’ behavior must begin with us; as their guardians, it is our responsibility to set the stage for their desirable behavior by setting new, healthier patterns in motion. So, (perhaps with some guidance from a knowledgeable trainer?), the collective behavior pattern at the door changes. At 4:05p, on the cusp of what was once overexcitement hour, Person 1 designates a new routine: She puts the dog in a DOWN/STAY on a designated mat or dog bed near the door, and asks the dog to wait while she greets Person 2 at the door. Person 1 rewards the dog for staying put until released, and Person 2 avoids talking to the dog, touching him, or interacting with him in any way, until he is calm, and all four of his paws are on the ground. With daily practice and consistent expectations for the dog’s (and people’s) behavior to hit the designated mark, the sounds that once signaled overexcitement in the dog and anxiety in Persons 1 and 2, now cue the dog to go to his mat and wait patiently for attention, while cueing Persons 1 and 2 to practice their centeredness and leadership skills. All in the equation achieve the desired state, and earn the rewards they’re after by practicing focus and self-control.
This principle not only applies in dog training; in fact at its core, it reveals a profound law of higher understanding: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Be your very best, and others in your midst will rise to meet you there.