I find the journey someone takes to working with a behavior consultant is pretty consistent:
- Recognize that your pet has a particular behavior you’d like to modify.
- Research your pet’s behavior. Go down the proverbial internet rabbithole.
- Try a couple things, usually with limited success.
- Go down another internet rabbithole and/or get plenty of solicited and unsolicited advice from everyone around you.
- Become completely overwhelmed and start researching behavior consultants instead.
I get it! As a staunch do-it-myself person this is usually the path that I take when learning a new task, too. Things always seem easier on the surface than they are in actuality and I’m often reminded why people choose to specialize in different professions. As such, I can definitely empathize with one of the common statements I hear when someone reaches out to me:
“I just need someone to tell me where to start.”
Oh boy have I been there. So for all of you out there who don’t know where to start, this post is for you!
3 places to start when working on your pet’s undesirable behaviors:
- Learn your pet’s body language. Our pet’s are communicating with us all the time as long as we know how to listen! While there are some people who are more intuitive with observing body language, no one knows it all without researching and learning. And, like learning any other language, it takes time to be fluent.
- Why does this make the start list? When you are proficient at reading body language your pet’s behavior becomes more predictable. Wouldn’t it be great to know when your pet is going to do the behavior you don’t like instead of having to guess? Check out our resources section for some of our favorite body language resources!
- Make sure you’re meeting your pet’s needs. Our pets have many needs, just like us. Some of those include: physical exercise, mental exercise, feeling safe (including avoiding pain/fear/force/intimidation), and having power over their environment.
- Why does this make the start list? Properly-enriched animals tend to have fewer issues. There are plenty of examples out there where the undesirable behavior in question went away once the animal’s enrichment plan was tweaked. Check out our new book on canine enrichment for more info!
- Manage your pet’s environment. Management means making it so the animal can’t easily perform an undesirable behavior but also making it easy for them to perform desirable behaviors. For example, putting your dog in their crate before visitors come over means your dog can’t jump on them but you can easily reinforce all four feet on the floor. Setting up a scratching post where your cat likes to scratch helps save your furniture.
- Why does this make the start list? Behavior modification without management is almost impossible in most situations. Your training will be less effective if you don’t first address your management plan.
- Bonus! Contact a qualified professional. They can help you decide what’s important to start with and how to work on it. It’s what we’re here for after all! Check out www.iaabc.org to find a qualified behavior consultant near you.
- Discuss your pet’s management plan as a household. Include anyone who regularly interacts with your pet as well, like a pet sitter. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page and knows what to do and when. This discussion is a great way to brainstorm solutions too!
- Learn your pet’s body language as a household. Everyone should know what to look for! Taking video of your pet is a great way to learn their body language signals since you can play it as many times as you’d like.
- Assess your pet’s enrichment plan; don’t let ideology get in the way of observation. Is your dog still raring to go after a walk? Sounds like a walk is not the best form of exercise for that pet. Observe your pet without letting “should” cloud your vision. We offer enrichment consultations to help you get started with this!