Everyone wants quick and easy solutions. It's like ordering from a fast food restaurant; you get quick and cheap food but nothing beats that slow cooked pot roast/veggies.
Unfortunately, the truth is, this is more convenient option especially when it comes to our pet problems. Complicated solutions and big words might sound fancy and what not but the real test is to keep the conversation to the point and effective.
My dog Joey waits for me to finish talking to a client before we play a game. I can yap on about all the scientifically proven advice for hours but, if no one takes that advice then poor Joey would be waiting for nothing.
It's really about creating more play time and less yap time. Notice how I said everyone wants "easy" solutions. I am willing to meet you half way by offering you "simple" solutions. The answers are right under your nose but you're too busy glaring at your dog or cat to see them.
A few days ago, I put out an Instagram poll to see what people would say to 3 simple questions.
The questions were very generic and the division criteria was equally simple. Either the person would answer yes or no or write a single line statement about what they would do.
It was just a simple poll but here is what I found: 74% of the people responded in a positive manner to the question "What do you do when you face a behaviour problem with your dog?". The criteria for a "positive answer" was either to look for a solution to positively change the dog's behaviour with treats or affection or change something about yourself.
I found this really reassuring (even though it was a social media survey) that people were more willing to accommodate and work on their relationship with their pets rather than just resort to quick and easy punishment which would only come back to bite them in the ass. This just isn't good for your dog's teeth or mental health.
Let me tell you about simple ways to think and act around your pets that would actually save you a lot of ripped jeans.
The Story of the Stairs-
Daisy had some spine and hip issues and would really struggle to get onto her owner's bed. Her owner is a kind and thoughtful lady who thought she would make some stairs out of foam and make this easier. However, the dog would just not use them. She tried for days to use treats to lure her onto it, tried commands and threats too but nothing seemed to work. When I went to take a look at the stairs they were made of foam and were slightly ugly so the person had covered them with a cloth cover that didn't fit too well. We took out the cover, thus exposing the stairs properly and the dog seemed to recognize the steps. Turns out the cover made the stairs look unstable and she just didn't trust it enough.
The Angry Tomato
'Muffin' the dog was struggling to drop the ball. She was a fantastic dog but for some reason when they would play fetch she was VERY excited but would also growl at them for even trying to take the ball from her. I went over to see them and realized that they would begin to say, "drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it!!!" the minute muffin had the ball in her mouth. It was the way they were saying these words that made muffin believe that they really wanted to chew on her ball.
It's not that she didn't know how to drop or play fetch to begin with. I asked them to say "tomato" once when she reached closer to them and then offer her a treat and leave her ball alone. No one can say "tomato" to a dog in a commanding way and not feel silly about it. I'm happy to report muffin quite likes the game and the word tomato.
The Talking Dog
Studies have shown that dogs and some primates have the ability change their facial expressions and their behaviour when they know someone is watching or paying attention to them [1,2,3]. 'Hutch' the 9 year old dog has clearly read these papers and decided to bark at her owners while they ate their meals for 4 to 5 minutes continuously. They tried glaring at her and saying no but because hutch was deaf, it didn't really work. All I asked the owners to do was to turn around 180 degrees when this was happening and she stopped the barking. With any younger dog, I would imagine they would be more persistent in their attempts to communicate and deal with the frustration of not being fed this very second. I always add in the advice that you need to help your dog deal with it by giving them a bone or something else to do rather than just ignore them and hope it all goes away.
The Story of the Spinning Kitty
One of my friend's cats was a participant in a trick learning activity. They were teaching her to use an agility course and to spin and look pretty. The person who was teaching her these tricks was struggling with the "spin" command, as the cat would do it a few times and then just stop listening. She had thought about many reasons for this 'disobedience' like maybe the treats weren't tasty enough or maybe she was not understanding the words and getting frustrated. When she spoke to me, the cat was clearly doing that behaviour a few times before stopping so she obviously understood what was going on. I put myself in the cat's place and wondered if the cat was just giddy from all the spinning. We introduced a breather exercise between each spin and the cat is doing very well.
The Snoring Dog
Rover would wake up every morning at 5:00 am and try to sleep on the owner's bed or wake the owner up. This became an issue for Rover as the owner got very cranky as they had a "no dogs on the bed" rule however, they were still open to advice. I asked for a video of Rover's current bed which to my dismay was a piece of cloth on the floor in a room with air conditioning. We ordered him a nice warm and comfortable bed and now Mr. Rover is still snoring at 8:00 am and doesn't want to go for his walks anymore.
The Barking Family
You just never know what your dog is thinking and vice versa. Mickey the French Bulldog loved his family and his house. He would bark at anyone or any sound in the night and the owners would either ignore it and he would continue for longer periods of time or they would shout at him and that would just make it worse. For some reason the barking just make it worse. I told them to try thanking him for his service as a guard for their beautiful home and believe it or not he would settle down after they thanked him.
Maybe he thought they were barking too when they sounded distressed or angry. Maybe the calming positive tone helped him calm down. Maybe they thought I was crazy when I suggested this. As an animal behaviourist I cannot stop your dog from barking but I can make it easier to live with. At the end of the day, a dog is a dog and dogs bark.
So, in the words of Dr. Penny Patterson-
"Animals were capable of telling us about themselves if one knew the proper way to ask them.”
Your pets are trying to communicate with you all the time. If you take the time to put yourself in their shoes or come up with simple ways to come to an understanding you might have more time to play and cuddle with your pet rather than force them to spin several times or climb a shift object or drop a ball.
If you still struggle feel free to reach out to me at theanimalbehaviouracademy @gmail.com and we could brain storm together.
1. Schwab C, Huber L. Obey or Not Obey? Dogs (Canis familiaris) Behave Differently in Response to Attentional States of Their Owners. Journal of Comparative Psychology. 2006;120(3):169-175.
2. Poss, Sarah R., et al. “Differential Use of Attentional and Visual Communicative Signaling by Orangutans (Pongo Pygmaeus) and Gorillas (Gorilla Gorilla) in Response to the Attentional Status of a Human.” American Journal of Primatology, vol. 68, no. 10, 2006, pp. 978–992., doi:10.1002/ajp.20304.
3. Kaminski, Juliane, et al. “Human Attention Affects Facial Expressions in Domestic Dogs.” Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12781-x.