Your Pet is Not Like Your Car

A few months ago my car was intermittently making a strange noise. I had to take it in for an oil change anyway so I set up an appointment for a couple weeks from then. The morning of the appointment my husband reminded me to tell them about the noise (which I hadn’t heard since I scheduled with the mechanic). I responded, “With my luck, it won’t make any noise and they won’t be able to figure out what’s wrong with it.” I then told him a story about a similar incident where I intermittently smelled something akin to burning rubber when I drove but when I took it in, the mechanic couldn’t smell it and wasn’t able to diagnose the issue. 

And then it hit me. This is why people want to show me their dog’s undesirable behavior. I hear on an almost daily basis statements like:

I want you to come to my house to see the behavior. 

I hope we see dogs on our walk so you can see what he does. 

I’m worried she’s going to act perfectly when you’re here. 

Let me show you what he does.

All of these boil down to the desire that people have for me to see their pet doing the behavior that they want to change. And, on an almost daily basis, I respond with:

I don’t need to see your pet’s behavior in order for us to work on it. Actually, we’re going to manage the situation so that we hopefully don’t see it! 

That statement is usually met with skepticism and a look that says, “What do you mean you don’t want to see the behavior?” And while I’ve always understood that it’s a foreign concept for most in our society to address behavior issues before they happen instead of relying on consequences, I didn’t understand why it was truly so difficult to overcome the desire for me to see the behavior. That is, I didn’t understand until I said the exact same thing about my car. 

It dawned on me at that moment that there are issues that truly can’t be diagnosed without the problem happening in front of the expert. An optometrist needs to administer a vision test. The IT person asks to remote into the computer to poke around. The mechanic says that they can’t diagnose an intermittent smell because everything else looks okay. Most of us have a long learning history that reinforces this thought process that the expert needs to see the problem in order to develop the solution. We also have a learning history that says that when an expert doesn’t see the problem, we’re stuck with it. 

So why doesn’t your behavior professional need to see the behavior in order to modify it? Here are 5 reasons for us at Pet Harmony:

  1. We’ve seen it before, and we believe you. Because we have spent years studying the behavior sciences and their practical application, we understand the underlying causes of various behavior issues without needing to see them happening. We’ve worked with thousands of animals with maladaptive behavior over many years and assign our consultants based on what they’ve experienced and worked with. We know what questions to ask in order to develop a behavior modification plan for individual pets and can “see” the behavior in our heads. Only once in a blue moon do we get asked about something that none of us have seen before. In those cases we’ll often ask our clients to video the behavior, if it’s safe to do so, and/or refer them to a Veterinary Behaviorist. 
  2. Safety. We work primarily with aggression, reactivity, anxiety, and fear. In order to keep you, your pet, the public, and ourselves safe, we need to manage the environment so the animal can’t perform unsafe behaviors. If the pet’s problem is biting people then we definitely don’t want to see that!
  3. Mitigating stress levels. Once your pet passes a certain point, their brain is not receptive to learning. This is why people tell us that nothing works when their dog is reacting or they’ve tried using food in training and it didn’t work. If we want to start teaching the animal different exercises in our session then we need to keep them calm enough that they will be capable of learning. 
  4. Practice makes perfect. The more an animal (ourselves included) practices a behavior, the better they get at performing it. If our goal is to decrease the unwanted behavior, we don’t want them to continue practicing and perfecting it. This is why management (arranging the environment so the animal doesn’t perform the unwanted behavior) is so critical to behavior modification. 
  5. We can change unwanted behavior before it happens. There are several options to changing behavior and many of them can be implemented before the animal does the undesirable action! For example: if you don’t want your dog jumping on you, you don’t have to wait for him to jump on you to start training; you can train before he jumps and save yourself the frustration. 

Now what?

  • Take a few minutes to let this concept soak in: we don’t need to see your pet behaving badly to change their behavior. How do you feel about that? Relief? Skepticism? Email us at [email protected] if you’re still unsure! 
  • Consider the plethora of service options that open up knowing that we can help without being there in person. Is there actually a service that makes more sense for you than in-home sessions?

Happy training!


2 thoughts on “Your Pet is Not Like Your Car

  1. Remote training with Emily helped me learn how to work with my (112-lb) dog to overcome reactivity. Before meeting with Emily, we visited behavioral consultant in person, and it was not at all helpful. So…yes, this works! (And I especially agree with #4 and #5 above.)

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