A few months back I wrote about the “why” questions: People love “why” questions. Perhaps because we are curious, because we think “why” questions help us understand our own dog better (which sometimes they do, of course!) but most of the time it’s because we’d much rather our dog not do something and we think that by “knowing” the why he/she will not continue to do so.
Why questions, as I stated, are not very useful when it comes to animal behavior and training. The reason behind this- as a form of recap- is that why questions, while being interesting, seldom help us move in the right direction with our dog’s behavior and training.
So then, what kinds of questions should one ask in order to make changes in our own dog’s behavior?
“What” questions are really great starting points. As in “What is your dog doing that concerns you? Irritates you? Etc.”
Answers to what questions are observable, and as such, specific. For example: What is your dog’s response when a stranger reaches out to pet its head? Answer: Lowers the head, emits a low growl and moves away.
If someone were to give me the response above to my question of what is your dog doing… I would most definitively get a clear picture of the interaction between dog and stranger for this very specific action- the stranger reaching towards the dog’s head with the hand.
I am also getting a clear concrete “picture” of how the dog is responding to it. I might not know what the dog is thinking because nobody knows, but I can infer by the dog’s body language, distance increasing and growl that he does not want to be reached out by a stranger.
“When” questions are also very helpful because they tell us similarly to “what” questions under which specific circumstances
the behavior is taking place. As I have stated before, behavior never happens in a vacuum so knowing the precise conditions will help in coming up with a plan of action and will very likely set up the scenario so that the dog does not continue to engage in the dangerous, unwanted behavior.
Here is an example: When would you like your dog to walk on a loose leash? The answer to this question might vary. When we are taking a walk in town, when going to and from the car, when see other dogs also on leash. When is it okay for your dog to pull or walk on a taught leash? When we are practicing scent discrimination on leash or when we are practicing skijoring. An activity in which a dog is attached by a long line and is pulling you on a bike, sled, etc.
Finally, “why” questions are also critical in reaching and understanding of what we want the dog to do instead of what the dog is doing at present.
If we do not have a clear picture of what we want there is really no way that we can reach our goal of communicating clearly to the dog in what we want him to do instead.