Over the years, I have had as much interest in studying human psychology as dog psychology and I have seen a lot of crossover between the two. While I am usually called in to help train a dog, I often find myself spending at least part of the time helping the dog’s owner work through some of their own issues, which are being manifested in their dog’s behavior. This is not always the case of course, and often the owner does not even realize it is happening.
I see more and more dogs that are suffering from “human” issues such as anxiety, depression and aggression, many of which can be linked back to trauma or simply due to the “human” world in which they have to exist. Can you imagine what it feels like to be kept on a leash and collar and not allowed to say hi to your own species at your own discretion while walking down the street? Adopted dogs coming out of the shelter system are sometimes never socialized with other dogs that are in a similar predicament. Day after day, they watch dogs pass their run with no interaction whatsoever. Can you imagine how frustrating that must feel?
Dogs are also now being prescribed variations of human medications such as Prozac and Trazodone. Some dog owners are resistant to having their beloved dog start taking medication, but in some severe cases it is really the only option if they want to keep their dog in their home. However, just as with humans, medication is only one part of the treatment plan. Once a dog’s anxiety, fear or aggression starts to be aided on a chemical level with medication, you then have to work through these issues from a behavior modification standpoint. As I tell my clients – it’s not about stopping a behavior such as lunging or biting – it is about understanding why the dog is demonstrating that behavior and solving it at the core level. Often dogs that may be labeled aggressive are actually dealing with a lot of fear, insecurity, frustration and/or anxiety. Just as is the case with some humans that are aggressive, it really is just a mask for something deeper going on.
When I work with clients who have a dog with a severe issue such as aggression towards other people, the family suffers just as much as the dog because they are always on edge and worried about what may happen. This is especially true if their dog has actually attacked another person already. The owners often feel guilt, shame, fear, frustration and even sadness. Sometimes the family is divided and some members may want to get rid of the dog while others want to keep the dog in their home. That is where I usually come in. My #1 mission has always been to help dogs stay in their homes. I know from first hand experience that if a dog is sent to or returned to a shelter, their chances of being euthanized are much higher than normal, especially if they have had any type of behavior issue in the past. That is why, after I work with a dangerous dog and all other options have been exhausted, I advise clients to consider medication along with behavior modification. I don’t want them to have to wait until the dog attacks another animal or person for them to see how serious the issue may be. In some cases – if a dog attacks a person or another animal, it may not be the owner’s decision as to what happens to their dog.
If I can help a dog owner to make the connection between their own issues such as anxiety and their dog’s anxiety for example – then there is a good chance both of them can move forward in a positive direction. The two sides become dependent upon one another- without the dog recovering, the owner will stay stuck and vice versa. Out of all of this hard work to recovery actually comes something most people don’t expect, which is a better and stronger bond with their dog than they ever had before. It is healing both sides that brings everything full circle. Dogs, like wolves and horses, will show you your weaknesses and strengths. They are a mirror to your soul. If you don’t like what you see in that mirror, you have to be open and have the courage to change it.
I am never more fulfilled as a dog trainer than when a client tells me after our work together that they can now happily and safely walk their dog again, or that their dog can now be around other dogs and people, when in the past they had almost given up on any hope of a “normal” relationship with their dog.
When I look at animal problems today, I no longer look at just the animal for that is only half of the picture. I now talk to people about their personal struggles as well and how they can begin to live a more happy and enjoyable life along with their best friend. Throughout that journey of recovery together, there seems to be something remarkable that happens on the other side- a better quality of life for all who travel down it’s path…
I hope you’ll continue to read my newly re-established blog…. See you here next time!
Over & out,