“Well, he does bite a lot, but we’re hoping he’ll grow out of it.”
“He is very fearful, but we’re confident that will go away with time.”
“He does chase and bite at the cat, but so far he’s never hurt her.”
“He does counter surf, but has never hurt himself.”
“He doesn’t really like kids, but we’re hoping that once the baby arrives, he’ll come around.”
I cringe a little bit when I hear this from friends, family, and acquaintances in conversation. Often, these statements are followed with the assertion, “If he ever gets really bad, I know who to call!”
The problem with these statements is, something is going on in the environment to cause these behavioral issues to pop up in the first place and other environmental factors are likely reinforcing and thus maintaining the unwanted behavioral display. Unless these issues are addressed, chances are good that the problem will not “go away on its own” or magically get better. Some of them may get substantially worse. Some of them are extremely dangerous – to the dog or to other animals or people.
In a sense, many behavior problems are like cancer. Many types of cancer are largely preventable, provided that a person lives healthfully and avoids indulging in dangerous habits. Cancers are generally easiest to treat when they are caught very early. Cancer generally does not “get better” or “go away” on its own.
When left to progress to an advanced state, cancer treatment offers less hope for recovery to full health. Cancer treatment affects and stresses not only the cancer sufferer but the entire family, and the support of all family members is likely an influential factor in giving the cancer sufferer motivation to keep going, despite the painful nature of the treatment (cancer treatment and dog training are different in that dog training behavior protocols do not have to cause any pain or stress to the animal).
Many behavior problems are largely preventable. When a behavioral “tumor” appears in your dog’s life, early and appropriate intervention can prevent the problem from metastasizing. Successful intervention will be an effort in which all family members must be supportive, consistent, and participative if good results are to be seen.
It is very, very hard to break bad habits (you can trust me on this as a smoker who has struggled to quit) once the behavior is backed by a solid reinforcement history. I’ve been smoking for years. It would have been much easier to quit if I’d tried after my first cigarette than it is to try quitting now almost 14 years later. Even easier would have been not starting this awful habit in the first place.
If your loved one was diagnosed with cancer, hopefully you would seek help immediately rather than saying to the oncologist, “well, if it gets really bad, we know who to call!” You would want to prevent your family member from going through the physical and mental pain of chronic illness by seeking immediate and skilled treatment.
Similarly, if your best pooch pal begins displaying behavior problems, hopefully you will seek help immediately rather than saying, “well, if it gets really bad, we know who to call!” Find a great dog trainer (this blog entry will give you the tips you need) and prevent your dog’s behavior problems from worsening by seeking immediate and skilled treatment.
Dealing with doggy behavior problems can be significantly stressful for dog owners, and the resulting frustration can damage your relationship with your dog. Get the help you need to have the dog that you want today, don’t wait!