Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How Long Wil It Take To Fix This?

I get asked this question all the time.  Sometimes I am asked during the first phone call. When people ask this question before we've even met in person where I can evaluate their pet and make my recommendations, I get the feeling they are shopping around for the answer they want to hear.  I'm pretty sure I won't have that answer for them, nor are there guarantees when it comes to treating, resolving, or managing behavior problems. And if you've given yourself some sort of arbitrary timeline for resolution, that's a recipe for disappointment.  While I understand your frustration that your dog is still jumping on guests, barking at people walking past your house, growling when you try to step around her, and lunging at people and dogs walking past her, there aren't any quick fixes for any of those problems.  I do empathize with your predicament; finding someone to care for your dog when you go on vacation in two weeks will be difficult, but rushing treatment, putting a shock collar on your dog, or just neglecting to tell your housesitter/daycare provider/boarding staff that your dog has these issues is a potential liability for you. So, while I won't give you a specific amount of time it will take to work through your pet's behavior problem, I can give you a general idea of what it will take to relieve some of the pressure your pet is obviously experiencing.

If it's a relatively new issue and you're trying to get a handle on it right away, there's a chance that we may be able to at least devise a few "work arounds" to get you both back on track.  And if you've got a couple of months to devote to implementing those work arounds so that you can get behavior change, then you should be on your way. If, on the other hand, the behavior you want fixed has been going on for a long time (or is actually getting worse), then it will certainly take longer to resolve. 

You will also want to look at the issue from your pet's point of view. How does the behavior serve them?  Contrary to popular opinion, our pets don't just do things to drive us nuts; they do those behaviors because those behaviors work to get them what they want.  They beg at the table because someone feeds them there.  They counter-surf because they find snacks there that they can reach.  They bark and paw for attention because people pet them when they do. Often the first step in helping your pet overcome a behavior problem lies in you adjusting your behavior and your expectations. 

We know how hard it is to change our own behavior.  Ask anyone who's quit smoking or started a new exercise routine.  Changing behavior takes patience and perseverance. You won't lose 10 lbs. in a week and your dog won't quit pulling on the leash after one hour of instruction. In an hour session, you can certainly learn the strategies that will help your dog to stop pulling on the leash, but it will take frequent short training sessions done by you and your dog to resolve the problem completely.  You see, you can't just yank your dog back, stop walking, and tell them not to pull. You have to tell them what it is you want them to be doing instead and reward them for making that choice when on leash, versus dragging you down the street!

Finally, you need to take into consideration the fact that we all learn at our own pace.  While your neighbor may have been able to get his dog to immediately stop barking by putting that shock collar on him, you have to know that if that collar wasn't on the dog, the dog would resume barking.  Shock collars don't "cure" barking problems; they just punish the dog for doing something that comes naturally to dogs (barking!).  If you don't teach your dog when it's okay to bark, and when they need to be quiet, and what the consequences are for making the right choices (as well as the wrong ones), they won't learn the difference and the barking will persist.  

With some behaviors you are trying to curb, you may notice your pet getting frustrated or overwhelmed as evidenced by their yawning, scratching, lip licking, or trying to move away.  If your pet is anxious or overwhelmed, take a break.  Figure out why they are frustrated.  Are you moving too quickly through the treatment plan?  Or are you moving so slowly that your pet is bored and frustrated?  Frequent, short sessions work the best, regardless of the problem you are trying to resolve.

I am always excited to work with new clients trying to resolve issues they are facing with their pets.  And I love working with my returning clients who seek me out for refreshers, help with new issues that occur right as they crop up, and seek my help preventatively with their new puppies and kittens.  If we work together as a team, we have the best chance for success regardless of the time frame you are working within. 

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

You might recognize these two sweethearts as they regularly appear on my Facebook page.  Bella, the Rottie, is 5 years old and Loki, the Labradoodle, is 2 years old.  Both have been working with me since they were puppies.  I see Bella once a month now and Loki once every week to two weeks.  For their owners, this is a chance to reinforce good behavior, work on new behaviors to keep their dogs challenged and engaged, and address any questions that may have arisen.  I love both of these dogs as much as my own!

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