Before I can start any kind of behaviour or training plan with your dog, it makes sense to spend a bit of time figuring out what’s actually gone wrong! No two dogs are the same, so I always take my time over the initial behaviour assessment.
The initial assessment will usually take between 45-60 minutes. Mostly it will involve us chatting, whilst watching him and the problem behaviours, so I can quickly get to know him. The more information I can gather at this stage the better the training plan will be, so I don’t like to rush it.
What’s normal behaviour for your dog?
The first thing I’m interested in is what is normal for your dog! Every dog is so different, and what’s normal for him might be an indication of a problem for another. So, I’ll be watching carefully while I listen to your stories about him and what he likes to get up to! I’ll be noting things that make him happy or grumpy, and things scare him. I’ll also be interested in how he responds to visitors to his home, what he’s like on a walk, and any habits he might have.
While I’m learning about what makes him tick, I’ll also be watching to see how he communicates and solves problems. If there are other animals in the family then it’ll be easy to spot. If not, there are other ways to figure this out. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel. Once we learn his “dialect”, we can easily use it as a part of his training, confident he is understanding us perfectly. For example, an anxious dog that has been brought up with a cat might take comfort from being in contact with your leg.
As I get to know him better, I’ll be talking to you about his routine and his usual mood and attitude. By the end of that first hour, I’ll have a reasonable sense of him and his general outlook! This gives me a vital baseline to compare unwanted behaviours with, and aim for, as we start working together.
Assessing specific behaviours?
As I get to know your dog’s normal behaviour, I’ll also be looking at the specific problem behaviours that you would like help with. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see it during the assessment, but if we don’t get to see it in full force, don’t worry, there is lots we can discover that will help me put together a training plan.
Obviously, seeing the behaviour problem in full flow is really helpful, so we’ll aim to do that, if it can be done safely. We’ll be talking about what makes the behaviour worse, and we’ll establish all the variations of potential triggers. For example, a dog might be very reactive to other dogs, but calm dogs plodding about on the other side of the park will likely provoke a much lesser reaction when compared to hyper dogs that run at full speed into your space.
I’ll be paying close attention to the emotion that is triggered too. This will dictate the supporting training that I recommend. If the dog is in an anxious state during the problem behaviour, then confidence building exercises may help. Likewise, if the dog is over excitable, we’ll look at other opportunities to work on that.
Sometimes, the dog is on their top form when I come to visit and doesn’t want to show us the behaviour their family is struggling with at all. This is a big fear for many, but don’t worry, this happens more often than you might imagine! An absence of a behaviour can be just as revealing to me, so there is plenty to learn from that too! Hopefully, they’ll perform for us on the day though.
What makes the behaviour better?
We already know what it looks like at it’s worst. So, we’ll take a look at what it looks like at its mildest and add that to our list of triggers. If we can establish how to lessen the intensity it’ll make it much easier to keep your dog in the learning zone, which in turn will make your training count for much more.
During the assessment we’ll be talking about any circumstances that have helped to lessen the intensity, or even prevented it in the past. Maybe you’ve previously tried other training plans or techniques. If that’s the case, we’ll look at what effect that had on your dog. Even temporary wins can give us vital clues as to how to proceed!
There might also be a person that your dog behaves really well for such as a family member, or the dog walker maybe? Or, perhaps they specifically don’t do it when they are in a cafe, a friends house, or at their training class. If that’s the case, we’ll spend some time looking into that to see if we can establish why the dog behaves differently in those circumstances.
What else can we learn about the dogs behaviour?
Finally, we’ll be talking about how and when the behaviour might have started. Knowing what age the dog was when it started, and if it came on gradually or suddenly, can be very revealing.
Of course, it’s not always possible to know how things start. When dogs come with a hidden past, you won’t know what they’ve been through, or what triggered the behaviour. Dogs in rescue often have no history to speak of. And even if they do, it’s not always reliable, so you just work with what you are presented with. These dogs will occasionally reveal their secrets in time. Only the other day, a clients dog surprised everyone when he was triggered by a spray water bottle. She had only used it to clean the floor, but the poor dog had obviously had a unpleasant experience in the past.
On to the training plan…
Once the initial assessment is complete, I can start putting together a plan for behavioural training or rehabilitation. I’ll use all the clues the dog has given me to put together something the dog will understand and respond positively to. That’s not the end of the assessment though. Once the training has started, there will be plenty of opportunities to gain better insight as you gather more information.
Never stop learning!
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area, and sometimes beyond, depending on the problem. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!
I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.
I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.
In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.