Your Dog is not it’s Behaviour

One of the many things I learnt back when I studied and worked in early childhood education and behaviour, was the theory that behaviour is not personality. More commonly summed up as “it is not the child you don’t like, it is the child’s behaviour”.  This philosophy serves me well as a Canine Educator.

When I am told that a well meaning friend, family member or dog professional has labelled a dog as ‘bad’ or being ‘naughty’. I try to remind people that those labels are not their dog’s personality. It means that their dog just needs some help and support to fit into our society.

I see many new clients who are concerned about fully detailing the problem they are experiencing with their dog’s behaviour due to emotive labels.  Despite undesired behaviours, my clients still love their dog and value their contribution as part of the family.  They want help to help their dog overcome its problem behaviours.  Or getting back to the original statement –  “it is not your dog you don’t like, it is your dog’s behaviour”.

Most people love their dogs regardless of behaviour.

Dog behaviour can be good or bad, desired or undesired, typical or atypical, funny or frustrating.  I work with people to help modify, manage or extinguish behaviours that we don’t want in our homes and societies. All the while encouraging behaviours that we do like.

So here it is:

Your dog’s personality is not the sum of its behaviours.

A dog’s personality is something that develops over time and is separate to behaviour.

A dog’s personality is something to work with in order to enhance behavioural modification and rehabilitation techniques.

Good Canine Educators want to enhance and harness your dog’s personality traits to help with behavioural modification, not turn your dog into a robot.

We have a responsibility to teach our dogs how to live in our society, while also showing respect for your dog’s ‘dog-ness’. He or she still needs to be allowed to behave like a dog.

Remember: we are the ones who domesticated dogs – and they allowed us to do so; we are in this together.  Teamwork is important.

The goal of a good canine educator is to help you understand your dog. Increase desired behaviours, decrease undesired behaviours and create a bond of trust, understanding and mutual respect for each other’s different needs and wants in life.  When assessing a dog I always start from a position of unconditional positive regard.

Labelling a dog as a behaviour simply labels the dog. It is little practical use when you are wanting to modify or rehabilitate behavioural concerns.

If your dog has behaviours that concern you and you are not sure what to do here’s my advice:

  1. Stop for a moment.
  2. Give your dog a scratch under the chin or a tummy rub.
  3. Tell your dog what a good dog she or he is, then;
  4. Seek help from an experienced and non judgmental canine educator who you feel understands you, your dog, and your lifestyle.

Formal Dogs offers in home consultations to help you and your dog work together on having a happy and harmonious life together. To enquire about how we can help you to help your dog contact us here.  Or on 0438 423 230


Do not call me BALANCED!

Sometime ago, I read an article by a Dr Haug entitled The truth about positive reinforcement” and to start with what she said made a lot of sense, positive reinforcement is an integral part of using operant conditioning to train and teach dogs, I was happily reading away, and then I got to the bit about balanced trainers –  “trainers who still use techniques that involve corrections, or, to give them their accurate scientific label – positive punishments “.

Personally, I don’t like labels, I’ve blogged about that before here.

So, here is what she wrote: (and I quote directly from the article)

“What Positive Reinforcement trainers do avoid is using positive punishment”  –

– I agree, mentally I went “yup, that’s what positive reinformement trainers do, cool”

and then she continued:

hitting, yelling, correcting the dog with a collar, holding the dog down on its back or side, or grabbing the dog by the scruff, etc.  Research over the past several years has shown that dogs trained with such punishment are more likely to misbehave and more likely to show aggression toward their owners.2-4 These interventions are unnecessary, detrimental, and dangerous”. Yup. – who wants to be physically aggressive towards their dog?

And then she goes on to say that balanced trainers should be avoided because of these training methods.  I just wanted to yell STOP (actually, the word I yelled started with F, and rhymes with “duck off”)

In 15 years of training dogs (12 professionally) these are not techniques that I use or condone.  Even as a ‘balanced’ trainer.  Which apparently is the current term for any professional using positive punishments (or corrections) these days.

Anyone who has worked with me will hear me say repeatedly, “don’t get mad at your dog, it is ineffective, and will probably only raise your blood pressure.”

Using all the areas of operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement and punishment) is not about being aggressive or violent or physically intimidating with your dog.  It is about using operant conditioning to help your dog learn right from wrong.

So here is what I do do, I apply a training system that has been used and developed for over 20 years here in Victoria, Australia, (The Alpha Canine Group) it has trainers all around the world using it as well as here in Australia, and is currently being used for animal assisted therapy programs. The founders of the system had decades of experience before they developed this system, so they know their stuff.

Personally, I use the system’s principles to work with people and their dogs in their home environment rather than through group or weekly classes.

The system teaches us to use praise and rewards to train our dogs using positive reinforcement (typically praise and pats and love), and condition them to a positive (good dog, followed by a pat, cuddle, play) and a negative (‘no’ and apply a known consequence) A consequence should never be given in anger and it should certainly not ever be violent.

If you are mad at your dog, please go and take a breather.

If you are frustrated or concerned by your dog’s behaviour, please call your dog behaviour specialist to discuss the issues and arrange a consultation.  You can contact me here.

Your dog is trying to live its life in our human world and we need to understand how difficult that must be as well as provide clear and consistent feedback.

Good dog trainers and behaviourists understand that without contrast you have nothing useful to work with.

The positive reinforcement is what does the hard work.  Without it, why would your dog want to work with you?

If you are going to use a training method that uses both positive and negative punishment and reinforcement, make sure there is not just a balance, but that the positives outweigh the negatives at about 5:1. Ensure you have clear and consistent rules and guidelines in your home and out and about, and if your dog is frustrating you with his or her behaviour, find a trainer/behaviourist who you feel understands you and your dog and their needs, and is willing to work with you both and provide support for during and after the initial learning process.

There are no quick fixes in dog training, but an effective learning environment should see change in a short period of time.

Now, back to this article where Dr  Haug goes on to say ˜More importantly, for a dog that is accustomed to being told when it does something right, the absence of feedback actually tells the dog when it has done something wrong!

This also got me a bit frustrated. I am pretty sure that dogs don’t like being ignored, ignoring a dog is often used as a negative punishment. (if you have turned your back and walked away from a dog that has jumped on you, you have used a negative punishment).

I’m sure no one, dogs included, like being ignored. Let’s take inappropriate digging behaviours for example, you are out in your garden and you see your dog digging a hole.

Instead of ignoring the behaviour and allowing it to continue, why not step in and show your dog what is right and wrong using your marker and known consequence and contrast it with  praise and rewards for appropriate behaviour. You and your dog can get back on with hanging out together in the back yard.

If you are teaching your dog effectively, the digging behaviours should decrease and eliminate.

If you are confused about the difference between reinforcement and punishment, you can youtube “operant conditioning”  and find many many explanations, but here is a basic:

A reinforcement is anything that is done with the intent of increasing a behaviour and a punishment is anything that is done with the intent of decreasing a behaviour.Positive means something that is applied to the dog and Negative means something that is taken away.

So, after all that, I think I will stick with calling myself an Independent Dog Trainer/Behaviourist.

Always train with kindness and unconditional positive regard, and if you need help, or have questions, please click here to send an email contact,  or call us on 0438 423 230