An aspect of my work that I am fascinated by is the impact of the human unconsciousness on dog behaviour. Without awareness of our own needs, our own behaviour is just as likely to be running us as our dogs, and in turn change our dogs too!
One of my frustrations in my work is when I fail to help someone resolve a behaviour issue, I love to do my job and do it as well as I can, always. I guess it is inevitable that sometimes I will fail. The owner has to play their part, follow through on the training and be consistent and focused on the goal. And of course the dog, I cannot change (nor would want to) who the dog is, we have to work with the dogs personality not against it. The worst cases are when I see the dog change quite quickly, but very soon regresses, regression can happen of course, but mostly that is because the owner believes the problem fixed and eases off, once I point this out, they are able to re-instigate the plan and the dog soon responds, at least generally. However some do not, one of my theories is explained below.
My friend Jill, lives with a Briard, Angel, the Briard is a guarding breed, like many of the herding breeds, bred not only for herding but also defending and protecting the herd,
Angel has a strong guarding instinct, is quick to let Jill know if anyone is at the door or gate, or even passing, all of that was for the most part helpful and manageable. The problem Jill asked me about was how to introduce new people to Angel, especially workmen when working inside her home. I helped Jill understand the triggers that would make Angel behave aggressively to visitors to her home, Jill followed through quickly and efficiently (she is really good at dog training, having taught Angel and her previous dogs to a high standard), over a few months Angel improved consistently, eventually, when Jill had a guy in her home mending her cooker, Angel lay contentedly and was very much not in any way threatening to the workman. Jill rang me to tell me immediately, she was deservedly proud of their achievement, but, almost in the next breath, Jill quickly added how she was in fact a little disappointed in Angel, that it now meant that Angel would not protect her, even if someone in her home were to behave inappropriately!
(Wow was my reaction to this new information, new information for me and for Jill. Wow because, something I had long suspected was true, but no one had been able to voice this to me before, maybe neither of us had had enough awareness to realise)
Firstly, I have to say that Jill was quite mistaken, Angel had only been trained to behave well in a non threatening situation, at no point had her training been to accept anything but well behaved people in her home (or normal behaviour). Secondly if the situation had changed, Angel would have also changed, the switch would soon have flipped. That is why the guarding breeds are so good at guarding, why police and security dogs are perfectly safe in public and often live in homes as family pets. They have learnt to relax and accept everyday normal behaviour.
But all that aside, what I also heard if Jill hadn’t become aware of feeling like this and hadn’t told me, what impact would that have, firstly on how she trains Angel but also on Angel, who would be bound to pick up on Jills angst.
I know there are occasions when people come into a home under false pretences, with bad intentions, but I haven’t even experienced that, nor apparently has Jill, my next question to Jill was why do you need Angel to protect you in your home from this unlikely event, what would you do if you didn’t have Angel, if this happened? Would you defend yourself? And of course Jill knew immediately that she is more than capable of defending herself physically, Yet she hadn’t actually asked and answered that question to herself before that moment. She then knew it was okay for Angel to relax when new people were in the house, whether or not Angel would leap to her defence, (no question mark in that from what I know of Angel).
If Jill hadn’t voiced to me how she was feeling, I suspect over time Jill would have unconsciously encouraged Angel to be more guarded again.
Jill and Angel have now confirmed to me that this is exactly what has sometimes happened with clients in the past, sometimes the training fails because the owner wants the old behaviour more than the new! And that's okay by me as long as they make the choice!