I haven’t done a Jazi’s Adventures In Dog Training ™ post in a while and wanted to specifically spark a conversation about this.
A lot of the training I do both at my store and with private clients, outside of actual training, is teaching the owners how to reduce conflict in their everyday interactions with their animals. In fact, for my fearful or behavior mod clients, that’s nearly all of what I do with them.
For instance, one of my recent clients is a newly rescued pom/peke mix. He was found as a stray, so there is no known history to him. When he came in for evaluation- which I make every client that says “my dog bites/growls/shows aggressive behavior” go through- it became very clear that he was fearful, in a new situation with a lot of conflict, and the second he began to butt heads with his owner he would lash out. I reviewed his owner’s behavior with him and we solved the problem of lashing out nearly immediately. He reacts aggressively when they physically put him in his crate- remove conflict by tossing a yummy treat in there instead, and he goes in his crate quite willingly now that he knows that he can exit when he desires and always gets good things when he goes in. He reacts aggressively to being held still for grooming- remove conflict by heavily rewarding the correct behavior, and not pressuring him to need to finish an entire grooming routine. If we can get two nails done and come back 10 minutes later for another two nails, fine, they’re still getting done and he’s stopped fighting to be free. He reacts aggressively to being scooped up- remove the conflict by allowing him to choose if he wants to be picked up or not and giving him a signal behavior to alert them that he’s ready to be held, and now he offers it all the time.
I get so many clients that preface their troubles with- “I just want him to be like x”, not realizing that their dogs may never be like that. And the second I can convince them to relax their frequently ridiculous expectations, the dog relaxes and the poor behavior vanishes.
I have to tell so many clients to stop fighting with their dogs over something and to think of a solution that produces the same or similar behavior without this conflict that I don’t think many people realize just how much there is when they train their dogs. The more you fight, the more your dog will fight back. Now you’re both frustrated and irritated, and we’ve solved nothing. The problem is still there.
Don’t think this doesn’t apply to other animals, either. While I’m a far cry from being any type of bird expert, this is the same method I use on the conures that come in and aren’t tame. Today we had someone with an “evil, pure evil” GCC come in to be evaluated by our resident bird expert. I had heard them complain about just how aggressive their GCC was multiple times in the past, and reached into the cage to see if I could pinpoint what all the fuss was about. Much like the cage defensive reptiles I personally own, the bird snapped at me twice for intruding and then hopped onto my hand without a fuss when it saw that I wasn’t going to retreat. This bird stayed on my hand and sat nicely for cheek rubs, even danced a bit for me, while the owner received tips on why I was able to get their GCC out without blood while they could not. I just removed the conflict. If it was going to bite me, oh well, I’ve been bitten by GCCs before and it’s not that bad. I allowed the animal to tell me when and where to touch, and just like that the aggressive behavior vanished.
I currently have a young snake that, when he arrived, decided that I am the devil incarnate. Within 2 handling sessions I can remove him from his tub without a fight, handle him for a short period without so much as a hiss, and touch his head. These are big steps considering I’ve had him a grand total of 3 weeks. This was also my method for taming my tree boa- snakes notorious for being highly defensive and bitey- and the method I shared with a friend who produced a litter I may be partaking in later. I could get him out, pose him on something, untangle him from that, and put him back in, without him once warning me that he’d bite me. I have had many people look at the photos I took of him and respond with something like “HOW” or “so did you bleed”- the answer is that I allowed him to make rules on how I could handle him, and followed those rules to a T, and he began to trust me to the point where I could do things like squish his head fat or tickle his belly without him latching onto a stray finger.
I think, as a whole, regardless of what species you own, personal autonomy is an important concept to most animals. A lot of conflict appears when the owner tries to force their pet to be something they’re not, or tries to cross a hard boundary that their pet is desperate to enforce. And, just like with people, when their pet gets tired of their shit and lashes out, it’s the animal that gets blamed instead of the person who put them in that position where they felt like they needed to. The sooner you stop trying to force your pet into the neat little box you’ve made for it in your life, the faster the both of you will be happy.