Why we should not label dogs, why canine behaviour is never GOOD or BAD and how we can help dogs to learn new habits.
Humans like labels very much. We organise ourselves into little groups where we fit nicely or not at all. We like to refer to dog trainers as good and bad, just as we do with every experience that we have. I expect when you get to the end of this very article you will already be placing it into a specific labelled box in your mind. (I hope it’s a good one).
We also naturally add labels to how our dogs behave. He is a good dog because he learned this quickly, or he is a bad dog because he snapped at a child. We can’t do this though, not really, because when we really understand behaviour it is not something we can label. Behaviour is a choice or a series of choices.
Now, even human behaviour is nothing more than a series of choices based upon our present and past experiences. The same repeated choices can become habits and those habits can lead to us being labelled as a certain type of person, but we usually have the option to make a different choice.
Dog Behaviour – It Just Is!
Dog behaviour cannot possibly be labelled good or bad. Right or wrong is really not an option when we consider how our dogs act. Dog behaviour is neither you see, it simply exists. It just is.
Dog behaviour exists as a result of the dog’s internal environment (what his body is telling him to do via hormones and the like) and it exists as part of his external environment (what he is learning and how he learned to deal with similar situations in the past). The dog’s mind considers all of this and chooses how to act or react in the moment.
For us as fully aware humans our behaviour happens in much the same way. Each life scenario brings forth the need to make a choice. The same choice point happens as it does for dogs. Sometimes we make helpful choices and so do dogs. Sometimes we get confused and make the wrong choice, so do dogs.
It’s all obviously a bit more complicated than that, when you look deeper into behaviour. We have to consider emotional and psychological baggage, learned helplessness and fear focus but the principle is the same.
Setting The Dog Up To Succeed
Life is a series of choices and when we are working with dog behaviour on any level we need to look closely at the choices that our dogs are being asked to make, in order to really understand how to help them succeed at making positive change.
If a dog made a certain choice in the past in order to protect himself and ends up back in a similar stressful situation, particularly if that choice was well practiced, the dog is likely to revert to it if he believes that he’s in danger. Yet all too often that behaviour is labelled as bad and even the dog himself is given a marker of his own.
A repeated behaviour will happen time and again UNLESS the dog is set up to make a decision that both relieves his stress and simultaneously allows him to make a different choice.
Helpful Choices = Helpful Changes
Therefore, when we work with dogs we must take into account their internal and external environment and those factors which dictate. We must then realise that behaviour is nothing more than a series of decisions.
Finally, we must enable the dog to make the most helpful steps towards positive improvement for everyone involved, by ensuring that the helpful decisions are the easiest choices to make.