This month we welcome a guest piece but the wonderful Sally Gutteridge. Sally has written many books on the subject of dog behaviour and we recommend searching Amazon to find her many titles. Next month we will be looking at the subject of dogs who struggle to be home alone.
Our dogs are all uniquely different. Each is a wonderfully complex and deliciously simple individual with likes, dislikes, fears and foibles. Not only are they unique in personality but also in needs. How did your dog become who they are and how resilient is your dog?
Canine personality has entered the eye of science over the last twenty years or so. We are learning all about their co-operative natures, how they love, why they play and who our dogs are. We know that they are unique, and their personalities are learned and inherited. Your dog for example, was born to parents and grandparents who carried certain traits in their DNA. At conception your dog’s DNA was set and certain aspects of their personality were decided.
Then after they grew inside their mother’s body, were born and lived their first few months on earth, your dog started to make choices. The choices they made, with the emotions behind them and the environment your dog was in at the time determined their learning. If your dog was exposed to scary things and danger, fear will have dictated their choices. If they were protected, they may have been confident to make choices without being worried. All of these early experiences have created your dog’s personality over a surprisingly short amount of time.
When a choice is made for the first time – it’s just a choice. When the consequence of that choice provides something the dog likes, that choice becomes a learning opportunity. A consequence of a choice will always determine whether the dog makes the same choice again. For example, If your dog is on the lead and is scared of another dog on lead approaching but isn’t given the chance to leave the situation he might try to scare the scary thing away. Your dog might lunge and bark. If the other person and their dog hurry on by your dog’s choice to lunge and bark has worked for them. Now they have experienced a coping strategy that worked. Next time they are in that situation they are likely to give that strategy another go. The choice becomes a habit.
The above example is how we end up with reactive behaviour. This behaviour practiced over and over again becomes so strong it can be hard to manage. It’s not the dog’s fault, he’s just coping in the only way he can. Without positive change we can do this over and over again, just trying to get past people and dogs on our walks whilst our dogs react – but it’s terrible for their wellbeing. Dogs who react to scary things are suffering with physiological stress. That stress affects their physical health.
We could avoid all scary things for the rest of the dog’s life. But in the long term that won’t help them either. They are not growing or becoming stronger when we opt for avoidance. Our dogs grow when we teach them not to be scared. Our dogs grow when we create choices for them that lead to success, when we raise their coping threshold and help them to be more confident. Our dogs deserve our full attention; to help them to be more resilient and when you get going, it’s not hard to do that at all.
Sally Gutteridge has been a full-time educational writer since 2015, holding a variety of canine certifications up to level 5/6. She is a former professional Dog Trainer with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, a former instructor with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and has much rescue experience. With a number of books available including the bestseller Inspiring Resilience in Fearful and Reactive Dogs Sally is co-owner and director of Canine Principles; a highly successful online learning experience delivering science and kindness based canine courses for dog enthusiasts and professionals. Sally is also a member of the Pet Professional Guild and an award-winning graduate of The Writers Bureau. Sally lives in Rural Cumbria with her ever-patient husband and four rescued, cheeky terriers.