If you are one of the folks who makes New Years resolutions - and given your interest in dogs - one thought is to make a resolution to learn more about how to solve a behavior problem(s) that you or your clients are struggling with. We are going to devote this newsletter and the next two on this subject given that almost everyone - even experienced dog trainers - encounter behaviors that they may need help in trying to change.
Behavior problems almost always are the result of a dog responding to something that occurs in the environment in a way that the owner finds problematic, but works for the dog. If a stranger approaches a leashed dog while out on a walk, and the dog responds by barking or lunging at the stranger, he likely will continue to do this if it caused the stranger to back away. The typical owner response is often to then pull on the leash, yell "no," and back away. Since the dog got the result he wanted, this behavior will likely continue to occur despite the after the fact scolding by the owner.
Learning how to analyze what actually is going on like in the case cited above is what behavioral scientists call "functional behavior analysis or assessment." Many of the best behavior and training books now mention the importance of this concept because without understanding what is going on, it is hard to come up with the right solution. The works that many experts refer back to are by Bob Bailey and Ted Turner. Bob Bailey's Fundamentals of Animal Training DVD and Ted Turner's The ABC's of Behavior Shaping Seminar DVD do a great job of explaining the "Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence" concept that is so important to understand what is going on. Recent written works by James O'Heare such as Functional Behavioral Assessment and Solving Dog Behaviors Problems Like a Professional are also great resources.
Over the next couple weeks we will highlight books that focus on specific behavioral problems.