I can’t speak for any other trainer’s approach in helping their clients and the client’s dogs. However, for most of the behavior modification work that I do – and most of what I do is behavior modification – my approach is a multiple prong approach.
Yes, of course, on occasion the situation is quite simple and there is no need for this approach, but in my experience that is the exception, not the norm.
A multiple approach is needed because behavior always happens in a particular context. In the world, so to speak. So while the behavior might be very specific there are always multiple factors that contribute to the behavior being reinforced and because it is being reinforced the behavior will continue.
Let’s take, for example, a dog that aggresses at people when being walked on leash. For almost any case where there is aggressive behavior directed at people or other dogs, I will recommend the following:
The dog should be fitted with a proper head halter. This is especially important if the dog is a large dog. Not only do head-halters, when fitted properly AND used properly, allow my client a better chance at re-directing the dog if there is an instant where the dog might aggress, it is also quite frankly an important factor in being proactive should the worse case-scenario take place. And with that being said, there is now the potential of being liable if the client gets sued.
The second piece of equipment that I would recommend in most cases is a calming cap. The calming cap is a “cap” of a soft almost translucent material that covers the eyes of the dog when it is fitted properly. As the name implies it can “calm” a dog down because the visual stimulus, in my example, a person is not so obvious to the dog.
As with most tools we use on dogs, this one too requires a proper fit, use, as well as a period of desensitization, so that the dog is comfortable and accepting of the cap.
Now that the tools are sorted out, the behavior modification can take place. Do keep in mind that the above recommendations are really not behavior modification per se, but very important tools that will help in the managing of the problem and give support to the efficiency of the behavior modification.
Here then is where the “fun” begins! Teaching both dog and owner different behaviors that will either serve as confidence building exercises, “do this instead of that” behaviors… look at your “parent” instead of “lunging at a passerby” is a typical one as well as emergency strategies.
I will mention here that I do NOT teach a “watch” (or “look” at) as many trainers do. Instead, I want the dog to be able to see what concerns him – this makes it less scary. Only then do I want the dog to look at the owner or perform a behavior that will prevent him from aggressing.
The owner, of course, must also come along for the work! In relevance to my example above, the owner must be able to redirect the dog away from what concerns the dog. So there is indeed learning for both parties. They are a team and they must respond as a team.
What pretty much always derails a good training & behavior modification plan is when a client takes the recommendations as mere suggestions which they can decide to implement if they “like” them. Yes, indeed very much part of human nature. However, the problem in second guessing a well laid out behavior modification plan, which by the way should always have a management component to it. Those measures and recommendations are always there for a reason: experience from the part of the dog “pro” and know-how.
Going back to team work, the owner of the dog (client) and trainer must also work as a team. My favorite people to work with are the ones that let me know when they are feeling ambivalent, overwhelmed or else about a recommendation. Not because they need my “permission” to veer course, but because I can best find an alternative – if available – or really support them as needed in order for us to move forward and reach their goals.
In essence if you are calling a “pro” to do anything for you… fix your car, put tile in your bathroom AND, above else, work with a live being, please listen carefully and be ready to follow up. Otherwise it begs these questions: Do you really trust the “pro”? And are you really ready to do what it takes to reach your goals?