Changing a dog’s behaviour can take place through two ways: Change the dog’s mindset and the body will follow, or change the dog’s physical behaviour and the mind will follow.
In this post I will discuss the first mentioned. No matter what training approach you take, this is the most desirable process as the dog will be doing most of the work itself, and will learn most effectively from the experience. However, this process also takes much longer time. For dogs with very deeply rooted problems, for example that are very anxious or fearful, it can be difficult to reach through to them at the early stages of training in order to provide a fundamental mindset shift. It is therefore necessary that the two processes take place simultaneously, completing each other to bring the most effective change to the dog’s behaviour.
Changing the body through the mind means that you are able to make such a significant change in the dog’s overall state of mind, or specific emotional association, that the physical behaviour of the dog changes.
For example, many behaviour problems on the walk such as pulling, jumping and barking can be due to overexcitement. If you teach the dog to be calmer in general on the walk, these problems rarely need to be addressed directly. This can be achieved through simply waiting the dog out until it is calm, or by only ever rewarding calmness. When the dog is calmer, it is more likely to stay focused on you, and less likely to be as impulsive.
Another example of changing the body through the mind is counter-conditioning. Let’s say you have a dog who is fearful of being groomed. By repeatedly feeding the dog treats in the presence of the brush and comb, and for having different body parts touched and handled, the dog can start to form a positive association with grooming time. Due to the new mindset, grooming predicts treats and good things, the dog’s physical behaviour changes from wanting to run away or snap, to calmly allowing, or even wanting, you to groom it.
Stay tuned for the second part on changing the mind through the body.