Monday, February 22, 2016

Be wary of products and methods that promise a 'quick-fix' in addressing unwanted dog behaviors

I find my myself repeating a handful of mantras. One of which, 'nothing worthwhile is ever fast nor easy...' bubbles up frequently. It applies to many things in life, right? We might be working toward a goal, like getting better at playing a musical instrument, working on a knitting stitch that we find troubling or learning a new language (something I'm doing right now). Things take time and practice to get the results we're aiming for. 

It's not surprising that we at times want to arrive at that end goal a little faster or get that desired result "right now". We don't want to wait nor do we feel like we have the time to do so. It's natural.

Let's keep in mind this isn't limited to our ourselves; empowering others to get better at something is important too. That includes our pets. 

When addressing unwanted behaviors in our pets, we can't rush it. These things take time, though the pet products industry (and pet store staff) indicate otherwise. This is unfortunate for lots of reasons. The human doesn't get the results they're looking for, and in fact they often get more than they bargained: pets often end up with far more problems than they might have had before. 

Equally distressing is that the companies that produce the products – and the retailers that so enthusiastically sell them – make a profit. 

I have to admit I find it appalling to walk through a pet store's aisles and hear staff make product (and yes, sometimes behavioral modification) recommendations to a frustrated pet owner who recognizes that ther pet needs help. Their responses aren't prefaced with the following questions:

1.) Have you consulted your veterinarian to rule out any undiagnosed pain or illness issues? (A must, especially if the behavior in question is new.)

2.) Are you working with a qualified trainer or behaviorist? 

Don't get me wrong. There are some pet products that help address unwanted behaviors and are thoughtfully designed and marketed. I can't say that for many of them, but one example can be found by clicking here.

I'll often have a friend, client or reader reach out to ask me why the citronella collar – the example I will use throughout this piece – that came so highly recommended from the pet shop to address their dog's unwanted barking isn't working.

"I followed the directions on the package," they say. 

(Ditto for alarm mats, portable transmitters and especially shock/vibration collars, but I digress.)

Because the citronella collars seem benign to their electrified counterparts, they are an attractive choice, plus, like other products, they're cheaper than hiring the services of a reputable trainer or behaviorist. The problem is that by their very nature, they can have the opposite effect of what a pet owner wants: anxiety or outright fearfulness can result, often manifesting into a bigger behavioral issue that can get quite complicated. 

You see, the problem lies in the association that the animal makes when these products are activated – the dog often looks at the big picture when an aversive correction (I'm using the term "correction" loosely here) like this is delivered. 

Let's say a dog has a habit of barking at any activity that they see from in their fenced backyard. Their human decides to try using a citronella collar to curb the behavior.  

The dog barks, and the collar effectively emits the correction. The poor dog is confused because they don't necessarily connect the dots with their barking triggering the citronella and instead may associate the unwanted outcome with something more broad, like the activity that they see – or even the backyard area itself. This is just one scenario, but it can get more convoluted. 

In households with multiple pets, it can get more challenging, even if only one dog is wearing the collar. Even if they get along well, the anxiety that the aversive correction can produce creates conflict between them and in some cases, two-fold: with an increased anxiety level present in one pet, the others can sense that and become hyper-aware but equally confused and anxious. Worse, the dog wearing the collar may become snappy towards the others, which of course can result in fighting. 

The confusion and resulting anxiety from the use of the collar has now complicated an unwanted behavior that could have been addressed much more easily by taking a little time, and getting the right information and support. And, the dog isn't empowered to have self-discipline that naturally comes with the experience of proper communication and training. 

My advice? Skip the fast, easy products and the bad information that I often find being doled out in massive doses by pet product companies and retailers. Instead, make a wiser investment by contacting a reputable canine training consultant that can really make a lasting difference in resolving any your pet's unwanted behaviors. 

Click here for thoughtful information on the topic of aversive methods.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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