One of the worst traps we all fall into is thinking that behavior is a simple mathematical equation. That if we do A+B we'll end up with C. What we forget is that our dogs are living beings. So before you decide a behavior is truly taught, or a naughty habit is fixed, or buy into the "magic" that a trainer sells you....take a giant step back. Make sure that you look at the whole picture. A perfect settle without regard to all the facets of behavior can turn into a hot mess. And a lot of handlers get caught in this trap, especially when marketing comes into play or we get fed up with a certain behavior we are seeing from our dogs.
We don't always see the whole picture. Behavior is like a gemstone and all the facets of the gemstone can make it shine differently. Every facet effects the shine and every facet adds a layer of color. So what facets do we see when we look at our dogs?
Genetics/Breed Choice: The breeds we choose are picked for a reason. Usually people that choose herding breeds are looking for that extra fire, they want to spend 1-2 hours a day training, or they have a back acreage full of stock that they need to move. Our dogs have certain inherited traits and so it's important to know your breed. The other thing to know, is if you are getting a dog from a breeder you had darn well better meet and know the parents. If a puppies mom is stressed, not good with people, not good with dogs, etc....well that can all affect your behavior down the road. This facet is important and one people often miss.
Age: Age plays an important part in any behavior. There are significant developmental stages in any dogs life. Especially for our puppies, from 10-16 weeks our puppies experience a critical sensitive period where they learn all about the world. From 4-8 months we see the flight period where our young puppies push to create boundaries. 6-12 months is the adolescent period where we start to see sexual maturity, a bit of flakiness, a bit of push, and usually when most dogs end up being re-homed due to behavioral issues. 12 - 18 months is young adult, where our dogs are learning to work within this new world they've found themselves in. Don't be shocked if you see some young scampy behavior still and be patient, some dogs take extra time to reach true maturity and adulthood.
Socialization and Experience: Did your puppy have a crappy experience with other dogs or people? Did they receive no experience? Was your dog attacked by another dog on a walk? Was your dog attacked by another human in your household? This all matters. Experience matters when we look at behavior.
Relationship: Does your dog respond if you ask for something? Can you even ask for something or is it a "you must"? Do yourely on a leash, or do you have verbal cues? Do you learn together often, or is it on rare occasion?
Exercise: What type of exercise? How often? How long? Are you truly meeting your dog's needs mentally and physically?
Food Choices: We could all live off of snickers, cotton candy, and beer with the right vitamins. It doesn't mean we would be healthy or feel well. Often we take advantage of the fact that our dogs have the ability to live off of crap. It doesn't mean that they should be eating crap, you know what I'm saying? How we support our dogs day to day matters.
Health: This is a broad one, but do you know how often to vaccinate or if you can titer for certain vaccines? Is your dog super itchy or fidgety when you handle a certain spot? Is your dog not moving correctly? Is your dog getting too sore from certain activities? Do they have something going on with their eyes? How they feel, affects how they act. Don't assume just because they aren't crying in pain that they don't have underlying issues. This is so important and anyone that has struggled with chronic disease understands how horribly wrong that can make anyone feel overtime.
Management: Is your dog given full range of the home? Do they fence run? Do you share your home with another person? Do they have conflict with others in the home? Have other people influenced your relationship and everyday life with your dog? Are you hiking in high volume areas with an off leash dog that shouldn't be off leash?
Know that behavior is a big gemstone and all the facets MATTER. They matter to your dog and they should matter to you. Don't go for the quick fix, dig deep and look at the whole picture. Life with a dog is so much more than obedience. The next time you want a behavioral change, don't forget to look at all the facets of the gemstone, rather than just the gemstone. Our dog's aren't creatures we can press into molds for perfect results. So go forth today and just appreciate your dog for the gem that they are!