I recently adopted a new dog friend, who I have named Rock. He is an adorable, fun and very smart Chihuahua. He is also my first little dog. Although he really isn’t little at all. He is a big soul in a small body. And he is very glad I added that last part, as it is an important fact!
Rock has a long list of attributes that I dearly love. Along with these lovely characteristics, he has some behaviors that I am working with him to change. Not because they are “bad” behaviors. I want him to be as confident and low stress as possible in his life. I also want to be able to bring him with me on outings and have him be comfortable. Just as his behaviors aren’t “bad,” nor is he a “bad” dog because he expresses them. In fact, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “bad dog.” I really don’t. There are dogs that have not been well educated in the ways of the human world and they are left to struggle through life. They are often reprimanded with non-beneficial negativity and harmful harshness. All the while, they are just waiting for someone to give them a clear message. Patiently wondering what is expected of them.
As an animal communicator and pet psychic, I see so often that a dog, cat or other animal is simply in need of additional information. They are missing a piece of the puzzle that their humans may think they should know. These animals are confused, due to mixed messages or because they haven’t been shown an alternative behavior to their current ones. You can’t just tell a dog not to do something. You need to help them learn what you would like them to do instead. You need to give them something else to do with that energy. “No” means more to you than it does to them. Even if that word gets them to stop their behavior, it doesn’t teach them. This is why you have to keep saying it when the exhibit the undesired behavior. Again, it is imperative that you help them to learn what behavior you want them to do instead. It helps expedite their learning if you show them that the desired behavior is even more enjoyable than the old one! They may get an adrenaline rush from lunging and barking at the dog across the street. But if when they are calm they get a favorite treat, they can learn that calmness brings them something better than that excited, reactive behavior.
If a dog or cat or person for that matter, actually learns and chooses to change their behavior, they do it voluntarily. This is what we want. We want our companion animals to learn and then decide on their own, without being forced. The new behavior becomes a new habit and replaces the previous conditioned response. If your pet is not treat motivated, you may need to find some type of food that they really, really love and don’t get at any other time. You can also use a favorite toy, squeaker ball or anything else that is of high value, including praise and affection. Every soul is different. Adjust the reward to fit the one being educated for optimal results.
Back to my awesome new companion, Rock, who I also refer to as, Rocky. And just like the movie version a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone’s, Rocky Balboa, my Rock is complete with boxing gloves, doubled as cute white paws! I’ve been working with Sir Rock on helping him to replace excited, fear based, reactive behavior with calm, confident, behavior. My intent is to help him overcome his fears so he feels more secure and in charge. This will help him to be able to respond, vs. impulsively react. He’s making great progress, as he learns alternative behaviors. Instead of growling, barking and lunging, he can calmly watch and with confidence decide whether it is really something to fear or not. In general he has demonstrated that he is learning that the world is not as scary of a place as he thought!
One thing I have been increasing is the amount of activity in his day. Not only physical exertion, but also mental stimulation. This has come in the form of running off leash in a nearby fenced area in an neighborhood park and introducing new environments and people in his life. Mental stimulation, learning, experiencing new things and exercise are all beneficial outlets for his energy and help satisfy his intellect and curiosity. I usually drive to the park, but the last two days, we walked there for some extra stimulation and opportunities for learning. To get to the park, we need to walk on a busy street, which includes an overpass with a noisy freeway underneath. Very seldom does Rock shiver, as some Chihuahuas do when afraid or excited. However, when we walk on that street and the overpass, it is a scary experience for Rock and he does shiver. I decided to carry him over the overpass both days. As his confidence builds, my goal is to calmly walk across with him on the ground.
Once on the other side of the overpass, we are at the park. The park and all of its amazing smells and sights, as well as the fenced in area where he can roam free off leash, I compare to Disneyland for a human child. My thought is that by pushing through his fear of walking over that overpass, leads to a great reward; Disneyland! This park is, Doggie Disneyland. This is his two minute walk to Disneyland! The walk is scary, but the reward is amazing! Is it worth the two minute walk through fear to get to the fun on the other side?
I was sharing this with one of my dog training clients today and he asked, “So does he realize that the park is Disneyland?” I laughed because today was not a Disneyland day, but it was a great day of learning. I responded, “Not yet.” To me the three most important aspects of animal training are 1) Patience 2) Compassion and 3) Going with the Flow! If I was going to add a fourth, it would be that training is not going to be “perfect.” Nothing is perfect on this earth and the attempt to achieve perfection will leave you frustrated and invalidated. “Perfection” is rigid. Life is fluid. That’s where going with the flow comes in!
I am going to add a Part II to this blog post. I am facilitating a Pet Loss Support Group with a guided meditation in San Diego at my Mission Valley office location tonight. I need to go get ready for that. But I will write more soon. In the meantime, if you need help building your animal companion’s confidence and helping them confront their fear and reach the Disneyland reward, call me at 619-797-0705 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It makes me happy to know that you read this. Thank you!!! -Sindi 🙂