Previously I wrote about ways by which we could ascertain if a behavior modification plan is actually working in changing the targeted behavior. Today, I’d like to expand on another reliable way of knowing whether success has been reached or even if we are on the right track.
I recently met with a couple that had me come over because their dog is growling at them. Initially, when talking to the husband over the phone, he described the incidents when their Basset Hound had growled at them. Once I got to their home and sat with both of them things began to unravel! As is often the case, the couple had different experiences and observations as to under which circumstances their dog was growling. And they even had very different expectations for their dog. In other words, what was acceptable about their dog’s behavior to one of them was not acceptable to the other at all!
We spent half of the Initial Consult identifying exactly when and how often their Basset Hound is growling at either one of them – yes, this is also a very possible variation: Different people = different relationship with the dog = different possible responses from the pup.
Because behavior is always fluctuating, sometimes it is really hard to be 100% about the specificity of triggers and the best way of maintaining the behavior in the first place.
I told the couple that they needed to have semi-private eyes. Their job for the next 10 days was to write exactly when and under what circumstances their dog growled. I need to know if during the ten-day any of the triggers reported or potentially under other conditions their dog growled at either one of them.
We had identified the following triggers, which resulted in their dog growling in the past: hovering over the dog, petting the dog (body location not specified at this point), and lifting or touching his paws. I told them to avoid the triggers where their dog responded with a growl, and they both agreed.
For the next 10 days, they were instructed to write down on a ready-made form the below information. Each one of them had their own identical form as their experiences were different.
- What happened just before the dog growled? Where are they walking towards the dog? Playing roughly? Cleaning the dog’s ears? When the dog was just waking up from a nap? Etc.
- Where did the behavior take place? When the dog was lying next to them? When they removed the food bowl or just prior to feeding? Etc.
- What did they do after the dog growled?
- How often did the dog growl at them?
- How did they feel when their dog growled at them?
Once we have identified with more certainty the specific circumstances under which their dog growls we can begin to work on each one of the triggers.
It is human nature to pile events under the same category – after all our brain is wired for looking for patterns – even if the patterns are really not there. Also, our memory is not as reliable as we think it is. Writing things down when they take place will reveal with much more accuracy what we are up against.
In addition, for this couple determining their own emotional reaction towards their dog when he growled at them was one big piece of the puzzle. When we write things down we can go back and look at them with more detachment. My job then is to suggest a behavior modification plan that takes into consideration both perspectives and factual information so that we can move forward in helping them.