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5 important things I’ve learnt as a dog behaviourist & dog owner

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Which will hopefully help you on your journey with your canine companion!

Number one

Don't expect perfection

Many years ago, when my family owned a pack of five dogs in Switzerland, I used to strive for absolute perfection. Perfect heel, perfect recall, perfect sit, perfect dogs! What I didn't expect, was that I quickly became very frustrated.... the dogs didn't listen to me so much anymore and after a while I became to realise that my goal to have everything perfect, actually made me and my dogs deeply unhappy and I used to tense up as deep down, I knew things might go a little pear shape (try handling five dogs perfectly off lead in a busy park!) and it wouldn't pay out to how I imagined it in my head!

Dogs are living beings - just like us. We are far from perfect and so are they. It took me many years to realise that instead of focusing on the goal, I should focus on the process. I got dogs for a reason right? And it is to enjoy them! So instead, I started saying a new mantra:

"Everyday I am putting quality into the practise."

Shortly afterwards, followed another mantra:

"Everyday I am trying to become the best version of myself for my dogs."

Instead of focusing on perfection, my focus shifted onto the process and onto how our dogs actually perceived me. The results were highly rewarding; stronger bond, more focus and better training results.

Number 2

Stay calm no matter what

As a professional dog behaviourist, I have been in (luckily only a few!) situations where I have been attacked, bitten or injured by dogs. The number one thing I have learnt, is to always remain calm and to not show fear or tension. Often, I was the only hope for these dogs, so how could I let them down? Emotions are merely here to guide us, just because something feels good doesn't mean it is good and vice versa.

Dogs are emotional and instinctive. We humans have the ability to be intellectual and rational. In moments of danger, the best thing I could do is to calmly handle the situation and show the dog that even in a moment of crisis, he or she could still rely on me. I'm someone who is constant and trustworthy. And it always worked out. So whatever happens, taking a split second to channel calmness and to breathe, is the ultimate safety blanket we can provide dogs.

Number three

Fulfillment is happiness

Do you know Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Well, I believe that the same applies pretty much to our canine friends. Each dog has physical, psychological, social and individual needs which should be recognised and fulfilled in order to create balance and happiness. Some dogs may require more exercise than others and some dogs prefer people over dogs and that's fine! In my experience, many unwanted behaviours stem from unfulfillment either lack of physical or mental exercise or lack of leadership or potentially even a medical issue.

Number four

Today shapes tomorrow

Every moment I spend with my dogs is precious. Not just because I enjoy their company and love them.

I have the power to reinforce behaviours every single time I interact with them.

If I reinforce a behaviour today, the likelihood of the behaviour being shown tomorrow is higher.

And that's why consistency is key! Being consistent means being reliable and trustworthy. It also means cutting down my own needs (for example cuddling them aaalll the tiiimmmee).

If I see my dogs are aroused when I come home, it is my choice to either calm them down or to hype them up. Calming them down means, I will receive a more open state of mind from them. Reinforcing it means excitement and drive.

What do I want in the home? I want calmness.

My conclusion, I will not reinforce the arousal state as I understand the consequences of my own behaviour and how it impacts my dog's behaviour in either a positive or negative way.

Being mindful of my own behaviour and energy around my dogs gives me a better understanding as to why my dogs are the way they are.

Setting myself up for success is so much easier than trying to amend it afterwards.

Number 5

Believe in yourself

If I don't believe in myself, how can my dogs believe in me?

Be confident.

Whatever you do, do it with conviction.

That's what naturally impresses dogs!

Attaining an aura of natural authority, calmness, positivity and meaning.

A grounded anker. An orientation marker.

I know, this all may sound philosophical to you but what we have to remember is, that dogs generally have an IQ of a 2 -year-old or less. They need us to guide them.

Dogs have been so domesticatedI to work closely with humans. They rely on us and it's our responsibility to look after them appropriately and to give them what they need. Happy days.


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