At some point or another we all want to know why our dog is doing this or that behavior. Perhaps we are just curious and want to know. However, most of the time we want to know because we would rather our dog stop doing the behavior in question. Under these circumstances the “why” question is plain irrelevant! There is much we know about dogs’ ethnology, physiology and behavior in general, but there is perhaps much more that we really don’t know or understand about these incredible creatures. Besides, much of what we know is at best an educated guess, because so far there has been no (real) dog that has spilled the beans as to why they do certain things.
The most important questions however, to ask ourselves are:
1. What would I rather my dog do instead of “x”? And…
2. How can I motivate my dog to this instead of that?
When we have identified an alternative behavior that we can live with we then should ask if this is a fair alternative for the dog. Yep. We need to make sure the need that is behind the “why” behavior satisfies the need. Not only because as the keepers of our dogs its frankly our duty to satisfy their needs simply because many of them can’t be satisfied by themselves, but also because by doing so we can be best assured that the “why” behavior will go into extinction or at least become easier to manage.
There is, however, instances that having some knowledge as to why the dog is doing something can prove to be quite helpful in making some lasting changes. Say, for example, that a dog was attacked while being a young dog by a black large dog.
Now, months later this youngster sneers and lunges at any dog he sees while on walks or when a dog comes into his proximity. We being aware that the dog we are working with was attacked by a large black dog when young can shed some light onto the situation.
Now, having said that, the remedial work to be done in order to boost the dog’s confidence that most dogs are friendly and are not out to hurt him will be the same if we are unable to determine the immediate cause behind the aggression, for example. But if working with a dog like this, I would probably not begin to work with him with a large black dog! Instead I would begin building his confidence with a smallish “fluffy” dog and gradually approach the real trigger for his fear.
The take-home message then should be: not ‘why is my dog doing this,’ but ‘what would I rather have him do’ and then find practical ways of achieving this. Sometimes the alternative is right in front of us and easy to implement while other times the alternative will require some behavior modification and, of course, management but in most cases this is worth a shot especially if it means a better quality of life for us or our dog.