look beyond the behavior

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, especially when we are living or working with another species, like our dogs.

The moment can be crazy good, and who wouldn’t want to be caught up in that? Sign me up right now! But transversely, the moment can be negative on some level, and I think this is where we show some of our true colors. What are we made of and how are we going to handle it?

Here is what my scale would look like for ‘how we (humans) deal with ‘the moment’. On one end there would be those of us that don’t react at all, blank, emotional range of a spoon. On the other end there would be those of us that react, explode, and then think about what just happened after the damage has occurred. Knee jerk both emotionally and physically.  And in the middle of the scale, there would be those of us that are patient and thoughtful, the section of the scale that hopefully adds balance. Not necessarily Mother Teresa tolerant, just average Joe patience.

scan0001 If you have ever raised a child/children, have raised a puppy, or lived with a dog outside of neutral, my guess is that you have experienced bits and pieces of yourself all over this scale. I think there are lots of factors that contribute to how we ‘deal’ with a situation; your baseline level of tolerance, your understanding of the situation, how well rested you are, your mood for that day, your health or lack there of, the environment, time of day, auditory tolerance, olfactory tolerance, and social pressure, etc.

So how can we try to stay some place in the middle of the scale? How do we teeter a bit, which would be living life, without tipping the scales to the extremes? I believe, and through my experiences, it is about looking beyond the behavior you are experiencing int he moment. It takes practice, but it does add more balance, more understanding, and less conflict over time.

For example – With our dogs it’s easy, really easy, to yell at them for barking, but the reality is, you are simply ‘barking’ along with them. And then the scale goes from balanced to heavily tipped in one direction that isn’t necessarily functional. And generally, the barking behavior becomes worse over time, and the human behavior becomes more tipped to knee jerk reaction over time, both emotionally and physically. When a dog barks, ask yourself, ‘why?’. Is something causing them concern, are they hungry, under exercised, over stimulated, scared, guarding, etc? Once you find the ’cause’ of the bark, you can adjust the environment, change what you are doing, add something your dog is needing, find your starting point! The bark is just a symptom, reacting to that does nothing, looking beyond the bark to the cause is the balance. Do you follow that?

The same goes for chasing, nipping, digging, chewing, etc. Choose a behavior. Look beyond these behaviors to what is causing them, driving them, that is your starting point, that is the place of understanding.

It takes patience, and good observational skills. On an ever tipping wobbly scale, it does take intention to try and maintain balance. Instability training at it’s best, you can only maintain balance with a clear and calm mind! When working with another species, or for that matter our own children, I believe it’s worth it.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. mtwaggin says:

    I indeed have also found myself on all parts of that scale. If you can’t see beyond the behavior, ask someone that understands and knows dogs and ask them for their viewpoint. That often makes me see things I don’t because I’m too close to it. Kind of like putting on those different glasses.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Sherry, for sure. I think Franny has been my glasses in so many ways. Because she could see and hear and experience life on such a different level than me, and she was so aware of her environment, she taught me, to be the same, aware, and to look past what I was seeing. Some of her behaviors that were extreme, were really not the problem, it was me taking her into environments where she couldn’t function on a functional level. Her barking at dogs thru the car window wasn’t the problem, it was me not being aware of her frustration level at the time at the sight of other dogs because she had been bitten repeatedly by neighborhood dogs. Once I saw what was driving the behaviors I had something real, some tangible to work on. And funny how the other ‘overt symptoms’ slowly go away… Here is to balance, I look for it each day!

  2. Maureen says:

    I so try to live by this theory. Loved the article and shared it with my daughter who is the mother of 2 young children. Like a lot of parents who sometimes fail to look beyond the behaviour. I was probably no different when she was a child! Thanks

  3. Maureen says:

    Nancy, once again may I have your permission to include this article in our dog agility club’s newsletter. It will be accompianed with full credit given, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content in this BLOG. Thanking you Maureen

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Maureen of course. Hope you are staying dry, I keep hearing about flooding in Australia… stay safe.

  4. Regina says:

    Nancy, all of the articles I read regarding barking, address “what’s causing it?”
    I don’t know what causes it!
    You know me and know I would never “bark” back at my dogs. But this one is just driving me and any neighbors crazy!!!
    Glacier (2 1/2 years old) barks randomly, only when I send him outside in the back yard, only when he’s off leash, and only when there’s 10,000 feet of snow on the ground and I’m barefooted.
    Maybe someone has a similar issue that could help?!
    I love your blogs and miss you very much

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Regina, I miss you too. I have been looking for a trainer in your area, still looking, I will let you know when I find one. I would look at exercise, is your dog getting what he needs to be successful? Mentally and physically. Is the food right for your dog, no simple carbohydrates and good meat source protein, is your dog startled by ‘newness’, is your dog noise sensitive? Look along thsoe lines and then watch, see what you see, and then you can formulate a plan. If being out in the yard makes him bark, I would be going in the yard to play and exercise him, potty him , and then have him come inside with me. No alone time in the yard, if the yard is in fact a trigger.

  5. Cheryl Farmer says:

    Hi. You always write something that is so relevant to me! (Except for your NY blog, which maybe was not relevant but was delightful anyway.) You always give me something to think about. Ron and I have just been discussing having a private session with you regarding Wren’s barking. We’ve been very patient and trying treats, distractions, training but it doesn’t seem to be helping and is annoying. Barking at noises outside, noises on TV, someone at the door. She has some Border Collie traits I think that stimulate the barking, movement especially. Not only the vacuum, floor mop…but the washer and dryer? She’ll come running if she hears me open the washing machine! She barks and nips at the clothes as I transfer them to the dryer. Don’t know how to manage that environment. She barks and nips at me if I go into the bunny pen. And she barks at night if we’re trying to relax, read, watch TV and she wants attention. She gets plenty of exercise, training and attention during the day. Try to get her some naps in the house and even a long nap doesn’t stop her barking for attention. Ball playing, tugs, etc. in the house; give her a bully stick and she chews on it for 5 minutes then goes and hides it; give her a 4 inch marrow bone and she loves that and chews on it for about half an hour. Then she comes and stands in front of us and barks! Think it’s time to work on this.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Cheryl, if I were to see these behaviors I would see that she is ‘working’, creating jobs for herself. Not that these are jobs you have asked her to do, but jobs she is creating. When a border collie is actually in the field working they have hours of work, mental and physical, and usually fairly intense. The work is spelled out, and the job becomes clear and it is definitely team with the handler included. When there is no work the space is managed so the dog cannot ‘create’ jobs, but rather turn off until work is required. In a family pet home this becomes a bit muddled, we are working with house chores yet we don’t define the work for our dogs while we do these tasks so they tend to jump in where they feel they are needed. We go about our daily ‘house life’ but don’t quite define what house life is for a working dog. I have not met a family pet home, mine included, that has enough work for a working line dog. Look how busy you are with chores, and look to what you have taught Wren as to what her job is for her work. If all of your chores bring her into high arousal, I would define jobs for her. You can teach her to help you load and unload, even if it is the same towel or the same toy. You can teach her to place objects in one box or basket, and take them out and place someplace else. But she is letting you know she wants to ‘learn’ what her job is in household chores. Laying down while you work doesn’t seem to be it for her.

      For example, $eeker has a strong desire for certain household chores, I might have to film them this week sometime to show you. At 6am he lays by my daughters bed and waits for her to set a foot on the ground, when she does he is off like the wind to the budgie cage (it was the same when we had bunnies too). He opens the cabinet where th food is for them, walks to the bathroom while she fills water, and jumps straight up and down while she opens the cage door, then it’s off to the fridge for broccoli or some greens, and then to the sink to rinse them, and down tot he cage once again. He is like clock work with this chore. THEN he waits for my son to grab the compost bucket on the counter, and goes with him to the garden and the compost pile to empty it there. He is bouncy, excited, and eager, and THIS is part of the work he has defined for himself. When he has completed his work he is actually quite settled.

      1. Cheryl Farmer says:

        Huh, so interesting. To put Wren the BC to work in the house! Makes sense. I can see where that would be challenging and so fun once we all got the hang of it. I love your $eeker takes his jobs seriously. Jumping straight up and down waiting for the cage door to open is too funny though!

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        Hi Cheryl, if she is getting her needs met working outside, sometimes work inside isn’t necessary, but it sounds like she is still very much in work mode. Teaching her skills, which is like trick training, will give her a purpose int he home so there isn’t so much conflict while you’re working. She may not think it fair that you get to do all the ‘border collie’ work while she just watches…!

  6. Cheryl Farmer says:

    Yes, she just doesn’t shut off her skills inside. Our previous herding dogs never cared about housework. Or maybe it was me that didn’t care! I’ve been trying to manage Wren’s herding skills and I think we need to redirect for a different approach. Not making it such a “big deal” to control and like you said teach her some skills/tricks and make her part of it. Thanks!

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