Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting A Clear Picture Of Behavior Problems

When dealing with behavior problems we typically think about using a specific piece of training equipment or medication to solve the problem.  Problems ranging from housebreaking, jumping on people, on-leash reactivity, resource guarding, separation anxiety and many more,  often leave pet parents frustrated. and desperate for answers.

When I'm working with a dog with a behavior problem, big or small, the first piece of  training equipment I reach for is a video camera.   There is no better way to understand a behavior problem than to watch it as it's happening.   Ok so you're probably thinking...........duh........"why would I need to video tape something when I'm standing right next to my dog".    It's simple, quite often we are so caught up in the moment of dealing with the problem that we're not really able to see WHAT our dog is doing, HOW they are responding, WHO is participating in the problem and WHY the problem might be occurring.   Before we jump to treating a behavior problem it's important to try to properly diagnosis it.

Trying to understand WHY a behavior is occurring is the first step in treating the problem.  By video taping your dog, you can learn to read their body language, a key to understanding what may be driving the problem.  Whether the problem is  fear, anxiety, over arousal, so much can be learned by watching them in action.   When I'm in the middle of an 'episode' it's easy to miss the small details which are often critical pieces in behavior modification.    When I watch a video clip I'm able to see so much more, I'm often surprised by the little details that would normally be overlooked.

I recently had a client who called me frustrated that she could not walk her dog in a busy downtown area.  She said he was constantly pulling on leash and dragging her around.  Out of frustration she purchased a Prong Collar but found that it was only making matters worse.  I suggested she have a friend tag along on her next walk (without the Prong Collar) and shoot a few minutes of video for me to watch.  What I observed from the video was that her dog was terrified of the traffic.  He was not being difficult he was down right scared of all the traffic, loud motors, etc.  As it turns out he had grown up on a farm and was never exposed to 'city life'.  When I was able to point out to her what his body language was telling us she was shocked and saddened that she had labeled him a 'difficult dog' when in fact he was scared.  We were then able to help him deal with his anxiety with the use of behavior modification and medication.

Whether the problem is occurring in front of you or while you're away, video is a great training tool.   Your next step is to have a trained professional help you analyze the video.  While well meaning friends and neighbors may have suggestions, behavior problems are complex and should be addressed by professionals who use humane training practices and understand canine behavior.