Dealing with behavioral problems such as chewing, digging, barking, and biting are, and have always been, a part of dog training classes. Over the past few years, Fox, Scott and Fuller have established principles of canine behavior and Campbell has applied a systematic approach to solving these problems as opposed to simply eliminating the symptoms. These researchers have shown that the problems we see are actually symptoms of much more basic problems. All too often the approach that eliminates only the symptom works at destroying the dog-owner bond and leads to another symptom appearing later.
The system we use and which has proven to be reasonably successful is to gain as much information as possible at registration or over the phone regarding the problem (symptoms). We want to know when it appeared, the circumstances surrounding its appearance, and circumstances which trigger the unwanted behavior. A basic understanding of canine behavior is a must in order to correctly define the problem and arrive at a solution. Many times the problem revolves around the ignorance of the owner of the basic needs of the dog and how his social order fits in with ours. We have found in most cases that the dog fails to consistently view his owners as leaders. The result is that the dog is generally uncontrollable or controllable only when he wants to be. Correcting this situation involves establishing the owner as leader. This is accomplished by with- holding praise until a command is obeyed; that is, the dog must begin to earn his praise. Approaches to specific problems are beyond the scope and intent of this article, but variations on particular problems can be studied in Problem Behavior in Dogs by William E. Campbell and articles appearing in Canine Practice and in Veterinary Medicine / Small Animal Practice by Ben Hart and Peter J. Volmer.
Many of the problems we encounter are through our classes, and any consultation is handled as a part of the class fee. Those people who contact us by phone are usually encouraged to join the next session, but no fee for consultation is charged, only the standard class fee.
This approach can have an effect on the dedication of the owner to correct the problem. If the owner is getting “free advice”, he may be less likely to follow through with suggestions. If a fee is charged for each consultation, the owner may feel that he does not want to lose his investment.
With all problem behavior the results are dependent upon the owner working consistently with his dog. If he fails to do this, no solution will be reached. The owner must be motivated whether it is not wanting to lose his money or because he genuinely cares what happens to his dog. Some form of motivation is needed to produce a suc- cessful end, but because the instructor has no control over what the owner does on his own, no guarantee should be given that any suggested solution will work. Regardless of how you cut it, correcting problem behavior involves working with people and not dogs.
©1982 W. Herbert Morrison, III