As someone who deals with behaviour problems, the whole aspect of behaviour among animals fascinates me. Thinking back to my early days as a dog trainer, I was faced with some behaviour issues that, at the time were really beyond my capability, I wonder how effective I was. Having studied further and read more I now do things differently to how I did then. We all grow with wisdom and experience. Trainers lead a lonely life in regards to peers and peer review. This is something I now strife to change, but I’m going off topic.
If you’re not seeing improvement…
Just recently I have had a few people I have met socially comment on being disappointed in the outcome of changing a behaviour of their dog. As I reflect on their comments, I wonder about the industry I am in and how maybe being unregulated could be impacting on the lack of rigorous performance outcomes. Most of you would be familiar with performance indicators and going through an annual review with the boss. While the majority of dog trainers are self-employed or very small businesses, performance indicators would not happen. And most would not keep such data to determine their success rate with changing behaivours. I am not advocating that trainers guarantee results, in fact avoid those because it is not possible. I encourage anyone to ask questions, this is fundamental to improving our education. Maybe find out how they rate their success.
So, in changing a dog behaviour we first assess what is driving (reinforcing) the behaviour, that’s the C part of the ABC’s, the consequence. The A is the stimulus that evoked, made the behaviour and B, is the behaviour. That is a simplistic version of the contingency but let’s start there. Once we have analysed the behaviour contingency, we write up a plan, taking many factors into consideration, including your time commitment and skill level. We then do some work with you to ensure you have the skills needed, work together for some sessions and then ask you to do much the same again and again. We require you to keep us informed as to your progress. And this is sometimes where it falls down. There should be progress, not immediately but some and this needs to be recorded. If progress is not made within reasonable time, then something needs ‘tweaking’. Maybe going over the ABC’s again at times it changes, or we have missed some vital information. The problem here is we are dealing with non-verbal clients (your dog) and the human who may have past biases that will influence the truth. If progress is not being made, then maybe it’s time your trainer referred you on to someone more experienced. And if you are not happy with how your trainer is dealing with your dog, then…change, the chances are your right.
There’s a plethora of dog trainers out there but only a handful of those that can deal with more complex behavioural contingencies. It’s very tempting to then use trainers that make claims they can fix your dog quickly. What in fact they do is generally use punitive methods, which have long term side effects that you don’t want. It’s more of a short-term fix, but a dangerous one. If changing behaviour were that simply our jails would be empty, our dog’s pounds empty. It takes time, knowledge and patients. And maybe a change in culture, but that gets deep.