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Stop Correcting Natural Behaviors

Many natural behaviors that get "corrected" turn into real problem behaviors. When the truth is, if you just give your dog some space to be a dog, they can act naturally and be well balanced members of society. For example: I gave my dog a raw bone to chew in his kennel. I also let a client dog run up to his kennel while I moved dogs in and out of the house. My dog acted protective and even downright nasty over his bone when this dog ran up to his kennel, obviously interested in said bone. This is NATURAL and I NEVER CORRECT IT. I move the client dog along and don't let them fence fight through the kennel, but my dog is completely within his rights here. If I try to stop my dog from protecting what is rightfully his, then I can potentially create a very serious problem that spills out beyond the territory of his kennel.

If my dog barks when UPS drives up the driveway, or when someone knocks on the door, this is a good thing. This is a natural, normal response to people (strangers or otherwise) approaching our house. I like my dogs to bark a good strong, metered alarm bark. I praise them for it. But a lot of people NEVER want their dog to bark and this is confusing and upsetting to the dog because it's their job to alert us to outside beings.

Another example: I just had a client tell me that her puppy growls at her when she tries to pick her up. So my first question is: why are you picking up the pup? The puppy is saying, no thanks, let's do this another way. If you discipline the puppy for feeling this way, you can create a problem. When the real problem is, you haven't figured out what your puppy's comfort level is regarding being picked up (or in this case, a very strong temperament puppy doesn't want this type of contact because there is already conflict in the relationship). Use food! Don't fight the dog's natural boundaries. We all need agency and autonomy in order to feel grounded and whole. 

Picking up sticks and objects in their mouths is natural for puppies and dogs alike. If you try to grab every little thing away from them, they will get protective over inane objects. Your dog knows that a stick is not edible. They most likely want to chew on it or carry it. Don't make it into a big issue. Now, if your dog has pica and is ingesting rocks and other debris, you should consult a naturopath or homeopathic vet. But don't freak out just because your puppy likes to chew on pine cones. If you want to help them satisfy this oral urge, give them an actual bone (not a nylabone made of plastic, a REAL bone). 

Abnormal behaviors that I would correct, and by correct I don't mean discipline, I mean find a solution to the underlying issue or alternative behavior through which the dog can channel their energy: 

1. Demand barking: Have you spoiled your dog or given in to their demands one too many times? You are creating a monster, trust me!

2. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors: Ingesting poop, tail chasing, and light/shadow chasing. Speaking of which, this is why I never teach dogs to "spin" and we never play with laser pointers. 

3. Hyper-friendly/manic greetings with dogs and people: This is insecurity and a little bit of fear mixed with appeasement behaviors.

4. Inability to settle, constant addiction to stimulation: This dog needs an attention diet and is most likely owner-addicted due to an insecure attachment. OR their nervous system is stuck in fight/flight.

5. Reactivity or true aggression: Your dog is most likely reactive due to fear, as only a very small percentage of dogs are truly forwardly aggressive. Either way, you could have a problem here and it should definitely be addressed sooner rather than later. Barrier frustration shown by social dogs is less of an issue, but should still be channeled and grounded so they don't build up stress.

But remember, my dog protecting his bone is not "reactivity," it's real-world normal behavior for a dog. He's currently in possession of something with actual value. So learn the difference before you try changing your dog's behavior and you will have a happy canine companion!

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