Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Behavior modification in real life

Last Thursday I began discussing the topic of behavior modification. I won't lie: behavior modification is a lot of work for you and your dog. But it's well worth it -- for your dog's mental health (as well as your own!)

For the past few months, my dog Poppy has been enjoying a rebellious-teenage phase. She is somewhat of a handful--some might say a maniac. After listening to Dr. Overall I immediately attempted to start practicing behavior modification techniques with Poppy.

Let me be the first to tell you it has not been easy at all. The most difficult aspect is the consistency: I have to be mindful of teaching Poppy one hundred percent of the time.

Here is an example: every time we come to a door Poppy must sit and wait for me to tell her it is OK to walk through the door. I’m sure you can imagine that when I am running late for work and trying to get out of the house in a hurry, pausing to train Poppy is the last thing on my mind.

Another challenge is that Poppy loves barking like a fiend every time someone comes over. This is not enjoyable for any of the humans involved -- including my neighbors, who are just thrilled to hear Poppy’s loud, distinctive bark.

In an ideal world, when someone knocks on the door, Poppy will sit and look to me, waiting until I tell her it is OK to greet them. Our visitor will not enter the house until Poppy is sitting and waiting quietly. Note that I said “in an ideal world”! This bit of behavioral modification has been especially challenging, and is currently a work in progress. Though patience is not typically one of my strong suits, it is crucial to teach these techniques. When I have a guest standing outside my door waiting for ten or more minutes until Poppy stops barking, it is very difficult to maintain a calm demeanor…

Along with improving quality of life for yourself and your dog, learning how to behave can also have a significant impact on your dog’s physical health. Here is an example of why this is so important. Last week I saw a one-year-old dog on appointment for skin issues. He was a very sweet and VERY excited dog and would not pause in his leaping around the exam room long enough for me to do a complete exam. His owners were not concerned with his behavior as they felt this was normal for a dog of his age. It is not.

What will happen with this dog if he continues to act like a crazy creature during his visits to the hospital? For starters, when we need to perform common procedures such as trimming his nails or collecting blood, he will need to be tightly restrained. If he does not care for this (and most don’t) then he will protest more and become fearful of going to the vet. Through no fault of anyone’s he will develop a negative association and learn that people hold him down when he comes to see us. Each time he comes in his behavior will become progressively more fearful until he eventually tries to bite someone and is now aggressive at the vet.

This unpleasant scenario can be avoided if his owners start behavior modification so their dog learns to walk into the hospital and sit calmly with minimal restraint for his exam or blood draw. For my part, I always try to show my patients that being at Friendship is a happy event, by giving them lots of treats and pats when I see them.

While behavior modification is difficult to execute it is also extremely important. I know there are a lot of other “training” techniques out there and on Thursday I will discuss these with a focus on famed dog “whisperer” Cesar Millan.

1 comment:

  1. I am just catching up. Good for you! I agree 100% and it is worth the effort. Also adorable pics of the pups. :-)