Saturday, September 11, 2010

How much behavior can really be changed?

The question ''how much behavior can really be changed?' is a hard one because animals are emotional beings with moods and maladies. I hear all the time "My dog is probably as far as they're going to go." In my experience the real question should be "How far will the commitment, time and money go to change the behavior?" Each dog is a unique individual and scientifically speaking behaviorists say a dog's behavior can be changed up to 80%. Realistically, I think behavior up to 80% is where the commitment, time or money ended.

The majority of the dogs I see have challenges from aggression to sound sensitivities and separation anxiety. I know the dog can be helped implementing a systematic process of desensitization and counter conditioning. Most can be helped a great deal over 80% cure and many well into the 90th percentile. Some can even see 100% cure evidenced by case studies.

Veterinarian Behaviorist, Dr. Margaret Duxbury, University of Veterinary Medical Center, Minnesota, states dog behavior is malleable and can be changed even in older dogs. She says behavior is fluid and dogs have memories too. As trainers we know this, we work with this everyday and the frustration of knowing tugs at our hearts.

This week two past clients stated, the first "my dog is about as far as they are going to go" and "I know my dog still has issues but I'm not working with her anymore." These are clear choices to deal with prevention and management for the lifetime of the animal, and since they are choices they are to be respected. The reality is these dogs could be changed and go much further than where they are now.

How much behavior can really be changed is dependent on the commitment to the animal, the correct implementation of the process and the time and money to keep the therapies going. How much behavior can really be changed is at the end of the day up to those involved in the training process. An animal who has a clear health history, one who is willing and able to learn and has a commitment to change, will transcend the percentile averages incrementally learning new skills to replace their challenges.

Is the process easy? No it is not. Changes are long lasting with positive reward-based methods. With tough cases decreasing the number of times a dog aggresses is what you strive to achieve so the periods between aggression lengthens and eventually disappear. Often there are subtle results to begin and then noticeable changes. The key, the magic, is in committing to do the work in between sessions, as outlined, ask lots of questions and report the good, bad and ugly to the trainer throughout the process.

When I hear "my dog is about as far as they are going to go", I hear "my resources (time, commitment, money) are as far as they are going to go." Sometimes that is the only answer and at other times I know the dog can go further, if only...............

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