Dog training is not magical. It is not “whispering.” It is something anybody can learn to do, if they understand the science of behavior. Just as there are laws of physics, there are laws of behavior that work for any behavior in any species. What is behavior? The definition I learned as a behavior analyst is “the activity of living organisms.” Essentially, anything any organism does to interact with the world around it. So, if you lift your arm- that’s behavior. If your dog barks- that’s behavior. But, if you just think about lifting your arm, that doesn’t count, because you don’t actually interact with the environment.
As a behavior analyst, if you tell me your dog is anxious when there are visitors are in the house, that is useful information, but it doesn’t tell me enough to help you. “Being anxious” isn’t a behavior. What I need to know to help you is what behaviors you see that suggest your dog is anxious. Usually these are things like barking, whining, chewing, hiding, growling, or other behaviors you’re not used to seeing in your dog when you don’t have company. In other words, I treat behaviors that can be seen. At the end of the day, if we can help your dog get past those behaviors, everyone will be happier.
In the next series of blog posts, I will cover the four basic principles of behavior science, how those principles relate to dog training in general, and examples of how each principle can be employed in dog training. This will give you lots of information on how to help your dog learn new behaviors and some more insight into how I work as a trainer. I hope you enjoy these posts- as a behavior nerd, I think this stuff is not only incredibly helpful, but also fascinating!