Dog training is much more than obedience and teaching cues and commands. To have a happy, resilient and well-behaved dog it’s imperative to look at the dog’s behaviour and think about what dogs need, as well as simply training them. We always need to think about training a replacement behaviour – something that the dog can do instead of the behaviour that we don’t like, that will still meet whatever need they have. Dr Susan Friedman at a seminar reminds us to ask “what’s the function” of a behaviour.. when we know that we can change the environment and the behaviour.
There will always be a function behind the way a dog – or any animal – behaves so in order to stop a behaviour we need to think about how we can meet this function in a way that gives the dog what they want and need, but that is also acceptable to us.
A dog who jumps up for example may do so because this is rewarded with attention of some kind – we may provide eye contact, verbal communication (even telling them off may be a reward), or we may touch them to get them off us. If our dog wants attention then we should teach them to do something else that elicits the same verbal attention and eye contact (but this time we’re praising them and watching them because their doing a clever trick!).
Rummaging through rubbish
If a dog is rummaging through the rubbish in search of food they may be bored, or they may need to fulfil a searching need. Firstly, we’ll need to put the bin out of sight as it can contain very dangerous items that can make them sick or even kill them. We can provide enrichment where the dog can search for their food instead – such as puzzle feeders and snuffle mats. This will help them fulfil that need and help them be happier and more mentally stimulated.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes basic needs such as water, and air as well as companionship, exercise and other needs – if we aren’t fulfilled in one need we may feel that it’s lacking and run into problems and potentially become stressed.
While animal welfare is guided by the 5 freedoms, we need to be actively making sure that our dogs and animals have opportunities to exhibit natural behaviours. One way we can do this is by thinking more animal! We can set up the environment in our homes by having toys and other enrichment activities so our animals natural instincts and desires are actively being met. This will result in happier pets and one’s that are often better behaved because they are still able to exhibit their natural behaviour but in a way that’s acceptable to us.