xkcd comic

Where Do I Start?

*cartoon courtesy xkcd.com*

Bad news first:

I have no idea how to build a bridge.

Civil engineers were born and bred (in a laboratory pronounced la-BOR-a-tory under exacting circumstances and florescent lights, I think) to serve this purpose.

I would have no idea where to even begin. Put… things? Over other things? And poke them into the river bank? And then put pokey things down in the river. Then kinda throw some concrete and steel over that.  Ta da!

Thank goodness for civil engineers.

But dog owners are supposed to get their dog, go to a doggy class (6-8 total hours), get a 10 minute lecture on stopping problem behavior, and suddenly be able to put together a successful behavior modification plan for each and every one of those? No wonder dogs end up at shelters with frustrated owners scribbling “behavior problems” on an index card. Sometimes a professional problem needs a professional solution. That’s why civil engineers were invented. And behavior professionals. Dog ones.

It’s up to you to decide when you are at the point that you need to ask for help. I see a lot of frustrated and even guilty owners shamed by themselves or others for their dog’s “bad” behavior, but being able to skillfully evaluate and modify animal behavior is not an inborn ability like breathing or smiling or smashing up crackers into little tiny bits and drooling on them and gluing them to the rug. I’m not a failure if I hire an engineer to build a bridge for me, or a doctor to perform surgery for me, or a lawn guy to mow my lawn because I simply don’t have time. Not everything is DIY, and that’s ok.

So this post is not meant to imply that you can or should be able to Do It All. It’s all right to seek help. And it might go a lot faster!

But here’s the Good news that this post is meant to imply:

There is a LOT that owners can do on their own, with just a little guidance.

Guidance like… where to start.

I listed a bunch of unwanted Ranger behaviors the other day and the other other day.

If you did what I told you to and made your own list, it’s quite likely you are staring at it going “Now what?”

There is a what AND a now.

What:

Step One

Do a quick check of which of these are safety issues for dogs or people.  Write them down. These are your top priorities.

Ranger has these, ranked in subjective order of actual threat:

SAFETY ISSUES

8) Leash manners

5) Overly excited behavior around other dogs

4) Mouthiness

1) The Grasshopper

Step Two

Next, write down your biggest financial and time drains:

TIME AND MONEY

6) Basement pottying

7) Waking baby up with head shaking

Step Three

Congratulations! Safety, time, and money aside, the rest of your dog’s behaviors are just annoying:

NUISANCE

2) Food stealing

3) Slobber/whacking

9) Walking on children

10) Barking

*Now, please note that these are MY subjective rankings. If your dog steals entire bags of groceries and eats them, bag included… maybe that’s a safety and financial issue for you. If your dog barks so much you get fined by your apartment complex and threatened eviction… maybe that’s a financial and vital/safety issue for you. If your poor leash mannered dog is a chihuahua… that may just be a nuisance issue for you. These broad categories will enable you to break down your dog’s behaviors quickly so that you can move on to training instead of being overwhelmed or dabbling ineffectively, but you need to use them in a way that is effective for YOUR own household.**

This sums up how to start prioritization, and you’ll see how that has been playing out with Ranger when we go back to our training examples for the next few days. Then, we will return to planning mode and I’ll explain how to find solutions – quick fixes (these CAN exist, but aren’t that frequent), prevention, active management, general training, and specifically focused training.  Wow that sounds boring so I’ll try to come up with adorable category names by then… never fear!

Now… try this out, figure out your own focus, and get started making some positive change!  Leave a comment if you give this a shot, I’d love to help you troubleshoot.

And here’s an adorable dog picture since there are no adorable pictures yet.

rough collie

Lady the Collie

Ok, the end.

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