Dog’s Eye View: Describe it, don’t label it
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Some of you have heard me ask this question. I’m so grateful that a very learned behaviorist taught me to ask it. She taught me to avoid using labels when describing canine behavior. Here are some very commonly used ones: lazy, stubborn, hyper, stupid, dominant, mean, defiant and sweet.
A typical statement might be, “My dog is so stubborn.” I might at that point ask the question, “What does that look like?” This is one of those, “This is the first day of the rest of your life” questions.
When I encourage pet owners to describe in detail exactly what happened at the very moment in which it happened and describe in detail what the dog’s body language looked like, a whole new picture emerges.
Now we have some very useful information that can be used to understand the behavior and prepare a plan for helping the owner and their loved dog make some progress.
If the dog is labeled as being stubborn, I want to know what the circumstances are under which he was refusing to comply with the owner’s wishes. Perhaps the owner directed her dog to lie down. She tells me that her dog has done that in the past when she directed him to do so. Now he does not want to lie down. So he’s being stubborn.
I want to know what her dog’s body language was.
Was his body still and inclined backwards or forwards? Was he sitting or standing? Were his ears forward or backwards? Were his eyes soft and blinking or giving a hard stare? Had he turned his head away from her? Was he licking his lips, yawning, or was he panting?
What was the attitude of his tail? Was it tucked under his body or wagging low and slowly or was it upright and stiff perhaps still or wagging side to side?
I want to know what the owner was doing at that moment. Was she standing over her dog in an overbearing manner? Was she standing across the room? Was she staring at her dog’s eyes when she gave him the cue to lie down? Was she using the same verbal cue and hand signal or gesture that she used when she taught him to lie down?
If she was using treats to teach her dog, was she wearing a treat pouch or perhaps kept treats in her pocket? Where was her treat delivery hand when she gave the ”lie down” cue?
A big factor in sorting out the “stubborn dog” question is being aware of what was happening in the room or space when this occurred? Were there other people or dogs there? Was the dog in an unfamiliar environment? Were they inside or outside?
The above questions are very helpful in understanding why her dog did not respond to the cue. Putting a label on a dog does not allow behavioral growth. Labels can interfere with learning and communication.
“Canine Behavior, A Photo Illustrated Handbook” by Barbara Handelman is a book that describes in pictures and words how to understand what your dog is saying.
Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 30 years of experience.
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