The World Train Your Dog.
Generally, dogs’ behaviour is usually affected by environmental stimuli. The stimuli can be anything that has an effect and cause the behaviour change at those particular moments. Commonly we term them as ABC, Antecedent Behaviours Consequence.
Since animals are known to learn by consequence which can make them feel happy or upset, therefore I am extremely concerned about the experiences and associations that they acquire in everyday life.
Our dogs will and can learn at every second of their lives. They can experience and learn at that very second such as the sound of motorcycles, other dogs barking, the pizza man at your doorway, or the baby crying next door etc. All these can have an effect on our dogs.
When our dogs are sensitized to a certain stimulus, he can either behave by vocalising, pacing, or any form of displacement behaviours to deal with the unknown. It is crucial for owners to understand that our dogs are not being wilful, but instead, to understand what caused him to be anxious in those settings.
Firstly, as dog owners, we must understand that some dogs are not as resilient as we thought as they may be. These can be due to poor genetics, breeding or past experiential learning.
As learning can take place at any instant, we must strive to proactively look out for any desirable behaviours to positively reinforce them. By doing so, the same behaviours are more likely to happen in the future and not the opposite. Below is one such common example;
The doorbell rings, while we rush to the doorway, we can cause our dog to be aroused. When we open the door, the dog sees an unfamiliar figure and shows a displacement behaviour of either barking or jumping. Feeling embarrassed by the dog’s behaviour, we start shouting at our dog and putting pressure to stop the behaviour.
Therefore, the dog learns that doorbell = unfamiliar man = to owner intimidation.
If you are unlucky, with 2 such repetitions, our dog can be classically conditioned to the doorbell (stimulus) as something negative that cause a negative response. Any stimuli that can elicit a negative emotional state can easily cause fear and anxiety. This will lead to barking or worst, aggression especially when we have dogs that have weak nerves.
Behavioural issues, sadly, can be caused by the owners' reaction to that particular moment. Therefore, it is important to equip with knowledge and always subscribe to scientific learning theory while trying to nurture our dogs.
On a separate occasion, our dog’s behaviour can also be greatly affected by others, such as the fast zooming electric scooter, roller blades, skateboards, pushing carts, bicycles or boisterous kids running and teasing our dogs. These kinds of situations can easily happen while we walk our puppy that does not understand the outside world at all, coupled with the leash pressure that asserts on his neck, it can be stress stacks, and worst, it happens during within puppy socialisation period or later during the fear period.
Animals have evolved for thousands of years. Their ability to keep themselves safe is the top priority for survival. Hence, fight or flight is of paramount importance.
When the flight options are not available with the incoming scary monster (loud and fast speed bicycle etc), our dog can feel threatened and startled by it. It easily learns to use barking as a defence mechanism to ward away the incoming threat. In those settings, the bicycle does go away and it has reinforced our dog's belief that taking the fight option is the correct behaviour due to the inert survival instinct.
Behaviours are being "nurtured" at every moment of our dogs' lives and usually, they are the undesirable ones. Sadly, our dogs are predominantly failing in our fast and complex environment where the general public has little or totally no clue on how animals learn or how they perceive our world.
There is an abundance of information available everywhere on the dog’s behaviour training. Be it social media, word of mouth or even from a "famous dog trainer". It is important as dog owners, to dive deeper and exercise common sense when it comes to executing the correct decision. This will help to set the right behaviour in our furry friends as they need our help in every setting.
I choose to believe that we all care about our dogs, and want them to have a fruitful, eventful 10 to 15 years of their lives. In order to achieve that, we need to act proactively in acquiring the knowledge on "how dogs learn" and always reinforce the behaviours that we would like to see and manage those that we cannot control.
Knowledge is power, the more knowledge you have, the less force you need to exert on your dogs.
Always nurture your dog in the most humane ways, as the punitive methodology has proven to cause most of the anxieties and aggression in our dogs, also always expose your dogs in the environment where they can handle, so that they can navigate through easily and stress-free.
All behaviours are contextual, the entire world "train" your dog.
Always stay happy and positive as an owner. Our furry friends will definitely learn better and behave better in a conducive environment we deliberately created.
AVA Accredited Dog Trainer
Republic of Singapore
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