Listen, Humans.

 A rabbit, a possum and three mice were right on this spot. Seriously, how cool is that?!

A rabbit, a possum and three mice were right on this spot. Seriously, how cool is that?!

As head dog here at Wildflower Dog Training, I think a lot about agency.

As dogs, we live in a world defined by you apes. Someone else determines when we eat, where we can sleep, if we get to go outside and what is appropriate behaviour when that old lady that smells like pork chops comes over.

And don't get me wrong. This can be pretty sniffilicious. I lucked out and my human does a pretty good job at helping me live a fun life. But sometimes I need help. And sometimes a little more agency is really what I need.

Agency is an ape word for giving us dogs more choices and a voice in our day and life.

And agency can be really helpful for a dog suffering from anxiety that manifests as aggression. Which is why BAT (Behaviour Adjustment Therapy) is such an important tool for our coaches. And with some dogs, the results are nothing short of stunning.

And I'm not just saying that because I run this place. I'm also a client. 

I asked Sean to help me write this blog post because BAT has been super helpful for me in dealing with some of the things that really stress me.

Yeah. I know. It's hard to believe.

But hey, some things really get to me. And allowing me to decide when I've had enough is really, super important. Not only that, I'm told it is like a "safe word". I give the signal and my human turns and runs with me. And that is super cool. I love running! And we're also running away from that worrying bulldog that I know is up to something!

I also love that I choose whether we do another repetition. A big shout out to Chirag Patel for that idea! I would totally give Chirag a big, slobbery kiss if he ever comes back to Canada.

But here's my favourite part of BAT.

My human companion has to start listening to me. It's super awesome. I feel so much more confident when I know what we are working together to get out of stressful situations so I don't have to escalate.

Okay. Enough husky yowling. I've got some squirrel watching to do. Sean says he's going to post his video below.

Smellily yours,

- Sir Tyson

There are no guarantees. No easy fixes. But there is transcendence.

A client recently told me she had previously worked with another dog trainer who guaranteed to “fix” her dog’s issues for life. She felt disappointed when that promise didn’t come true. I felt her pain. I’ve experienced that heartbreak before in own my life. How many times have I searched for and chased “the guarantee”, the easy fix, the escape from reality? The promise of something better with minimal effort on my part. How many times have I walked up to another human and said “X is causing me problems, fix it. I don’t like how this is working. I want something better, shinier, brighter, less complicated, less work. And I want a guarantee it will be fixed pronto". The crazy thing is I’m not talking about getting my dishwasher fixed. I’m referring to internal stuff. Big messy stuff. Career struggles. Relationship struggles. Sentient being struggles. The turmoil that comes from deep within and manifests in my own behaviours that I haven’t always liked. 

I think we often approach our dogs’ behaviours with the same attitude: Fix it. Get rid of it. Make him stop lunging and barking at the dog across the street. And do it quickly at whatever emotional cost it takes.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned. Our dogs are emotional beings and there’s tons of evidence of this coming out of an exciting new field of research exploring canine cognition. We’re discovering our dogs are far more complicated than we ever imagined. Their brains are not dishwashers or furnaces that can be easily fixed overnight and certainly not for life. Our dogs require effort. Time. Understanding. Patience. Deep breaths. Love. And of course a behavioural modification plan ~ but I’ll save that for another post.

Instead of a “fix it” approach to our dogs (and quite possibly ourselves and those we love ~ human and non), I’m proposing something a little more empathetic. Something much more realistic. And something way more humane. A re-think on the fix it now / guarantee for life THING we all think we want but know deep down is impossible. 

This re-think business looks like this…

  • Decide you want to build a trusting relationship with your dog 
  • Commit yourself to a force-free, humane way of working with your dog
  • Recognize a huge part of your dog’s behaviour can be positively influenced by YOU 
  • When things are overwhelming or you’re just not sure, find help (ideally from a well-educated force-free / positive reinforcement trainer)
  • Most importantly, accept there are no easy fixes or guarantees when it comes to behaviour. Yours. Mine. Our dogs. No such thing. Some behaviours are easier to modify than others but there’s no such thing as a “fix”. 
  • It’s a journey, regardless of who it is ~ our dog, our child, our partner, ourselves. We learn, we grow, we evolve, sometimes we fall and take a few steps backwards, but we don’t fix. We fix robots. We don’t fix emotional beings. We transcend. 

And holy smokes can we learn a lot about ourselves from our dogs with this re-think approach. There’s liberation in knowing the goal isn’t to fix. Suzanne Clothier articulates this so well in her book “Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs”. 

“Of all the gifts that animals can offer, perhaps the greatest is this opportunity to delve deep inside ourselves. Without judgment or timetables, with patience and an amazing capacity for forgiveness, animals are the ideal guides through our inner landscapes. In moments of glorious agreement as well as moments of frustrated disconnection, our relationships with our dogs serve us well, gently nudging us to a greater understanding of the dynamics of two beings in willing partnership and to new insights into who we are. Once we begin the journey toward the authentic connections we long for, we cannot help but be profoundly changed, often in ways we did not expect but welcome wholeheartedly. A life lived in relationship with an animal has the power to make us both fully human and more fully humane. And this spills over, as a fullness of soul inevitably does, to other relationships, weaving its magic across our entire lives."

Canine coaching Tip #3: There are no guarantees in dog training. No easy fixes. But there is transcendence. Ask yourself, how can I positively impact my dog's behaviour tonight? Tomorrow? For the rest of our lives? And now go do it. 

Check out https://www.dognition.com if you want to learn more about what your dog’s thinking. It’s super cool.

Canine Ladder Of Aggression

The canine ladder of aggression is a simple visual aid explaining how aggression escalates in dogs. Although the behaviours would manifest differently, I suspect it's not that different in other species including those of us calling ourselves Homo sapiens. It's pretty simple. It starts relatively peaceful ~ for example a lip lick or turning away from the stressor. If the stressor persists, fear and anxiety increases and aggressive displays become more obvious and more serious such as a growl, air snap or bite.  All dogs are different and each dog has their own individual tolerance for stress. Also, some dogs have been punished for showing displays that are by all accounts non-violent (e.g. a growl). This can cause them to move up the ladder to a more obvious and serious display of aggression. If your dog could speak it's likely they would say something like this about a stressful situation ~  "Hey, this thing is making me feel uncomfortable. I really want it to go away."

Canine Behaviour Tip #2: NEVER punish a growl. It's information. That simple. Nothing personal. No need to feel embarrassed or upset. It's your dog's way of saying "I need your help before my fear / anxiety escalates up the ladder of aggression." 

Get your copy here

Connection

 Image courtesy of Unsplash

Image courtesy of Unsplash

I spend a lot of time thinking about connection. What does it mean?  What are the benefits of connection? Does it change over time? What gets in the way of connection? What are the components of deep and meaningful connection? Is it volitional? Does it require a plan? Can you measure success? Or is it entirely visceral? Is it perhaps something magical and out of this universe? And what about connection across species? That’s where it gets really complicated. 

Or does it…? 

I also spend a lot of time thinking about dogs. I’m a canine behaviour coach. Which is a fancy way of saying I’m a dog trainer. I became a canine behaviour coach because I’ve always felt a deep connection to dogs. But why? What is it about this interspecies relationship that draws me in and gets me waxing philosophical about the meaning of connection? Ironically, it wasn’t until I started studying the science of behaviour change that I could fully appreciate why this connection to dogs is so profound. Science has lead me straight back to my heart. 

These perspectives I have, echo the work of the brilliant behavioural scientist Dr. Susan Friedman, who in her course "Living and Learning with Animals", details how behaviour has three key components; A, B and C. 

A is what happens right before the behaviour occurs (antecedent). B is the actual behaviour. And C is what happens right after the behaviour occurs (consequence). Here’s the crazy math on this business of behaviour. Behaviour is 2/3’s environmental and only 1/3 the actual behaviour. Perhaps that shocks you! I can hear your response, "Really?  How does that make sense with my misbehaving dog?"  My response is:  "the question we need to ask is '...what does this mean in terms of connection?’ ”

I think it's quite simple but not always easy (believe me I understand) and definitely requires work. 

I believe it starts with committing to a philosophy of how you will care for the animals in your life. My philosophy is in line with the AVSAB recommended standard of care (bottom of pg. 2) and guides the way I train my own dogs as well as my clients. 

The philosophy manifests like this...If you’re kind. If you’re patient. If you’re willing to pause and observe. If you display respectful behaviour (antecedent), most dogs will respond with generosity and goodness of spirit such as move in your direction (behaviour) to solicit your physical affection (consequence). If the dog enjoys physical affection, they’re much more likely to offer this behaviour in the future. Notice the emphasis is on self. Connection requires an awareness of self as much as it does the other being.

This might shed some light on my earlier question about forging an interspecies connection. Is it complicated? I think the answer is no. It’s actually quite simple. However, it takes patience, commitment and little bit of soul searching. Which leads me to my very first Canine Behaviour tip….

Canine Behaviour Tip #1: “If you want to change animal behaviour you have to learn to see, read and change your own behaviour first.” ~ From The Secret History of Kindness: Learning From How Dogs Learn by Melissa Holbrook Pierson.