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The Nature of Problems

Michael Chill
Animal Services Dog Training

Most problems experienced by dog owners can be separated into three distinct categories. There are training problems, behavior problems and temperament problems.

Training problems, such as leash pulling, jumping on people, bolting out the front door, or not coming when called, are easily addressed by basic obedience training.

Behavior problems deal with how a dog acts, and includes chewing, barking, digging and house soiling. There are specific methods to address these issues, depending on the dog's age, breed, etc.

Temperament issues are more about how your dog reacts emotionally to situations. Aggression, fear, and anxiety are all temperament issues some owners face with their pets.

Not all problems fit into neat and tidy categories, however, and it takes a competent trainer to assess each dog individually. Although jumping is, indeed, a training problem most of the time, an underlying temperament issue could be motivating it. A boisterous 9 month old Labrador who jumps IS a training problem, and a good squirt with a water bottle or a firm shake of a penny can, followed by a sit command, would certainly do the trick. However, if the jumping is being done by a shy sheltie pup, that would be a symptom of an underlying lack of confidence, and to correct him with a water bottle or rattle can would be adding insult to injury.

Chewing is typically a behavior problem, often due to the age of the dog, boredom, etc. However, if the dog takes the chew item under the bed, then growls when his owner tries to take the item away, that type of behavior (resource guarding) is a much more serious dominance (temperament) issue than teething or chewing.

The source of the problem must also be considered when attempting to handle them. Problems can be learned (environmental) or innate (genetic). Take leash aggression, for example, and three different dogs, all acting similarly aggressive while on leash. One dog may have been isolated and is acting out of a lack of socialization. The second dog may be over-stimulated or frustrated on leash, due to excessive off-leash play at a dog park. And the third may be of a breed that is simply not dog social, despite the best efforts to socialize him early.

The first two examples would be learned behavior or environment, one being lack of socializing, the other being the wrong type of socializing. Each of these should be addressed quite differently to see any improvement. The third situation would be more of managing the problem, rather than trying to change the basic nature of the breed.

When choosing a trainer, make sure he or she has the experience to help you with your particular dog and the specific problems you are having. Almost any competent trainer can help with most simple problems, but it takes knowledge and experience to assess whether the problems you are having are, indeed, simple problems or if they have a much deeper underlying cause.


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Copyright ©2012 Michael Chill, Animal Services Dog Training.

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