There's a movement underway -- a complete paradigm shift in our cultural concept of dogs. Science has vastly expanded our appreciation for the true complexity & depth of our four legged friends in the last decade.
But the “pet dog” industry has so far sadly fallen behind, still stuck in outdated models of “obedience” that over-simplify or utterly neglect the full scope of our remarkable companions. Until now.
There’s a growing collection of leading professionals in the world of dog training & behavior who have recognized the problem & are actively working to reconcile the gaps between science & practice in our field. The only question for each of us to answer is whether or not we’re going to keep up as professionals, & push ourselves to grow with the science we now have
We need a change in perspective as professionals – from our central question of “how” to change a dog’s behavior to that of understanding “why” that behavior is occuring.
Before we proceed with “training” a dog, it makes sense to ask what the behavior is reflecting about the nature, needs, & welfare of the dog. We need to do an inventory of the many elements – visible and invisble – influencing the observable behavior. The truth is that, quite often, such a shift in approach yeilds very surpising answers & solutions. In fact, “training” might not be necessary at all. Proceeding with behavior modification while missing the true sources of behaviors can indeed do great harm to a dog – no matter what kinds of methods are used. So it’s critical that we understand what we are looking at before we “train”. There’s a whole lot we’ve been missing so far.
With the dawn of the “pet” concept in modern society, we have lost some critical pieces of the puzzle about dogs. Though we preserved the hundreds of working breeds as we romanticized their origins & cherished their beautiful differences, we came to treat them all as “pets” as their jobs became increasingly obsolete. It seemed a kindness to them to provide the spoils of an easy life, & it likely never occurred to most of us that they might suffer in such conditions of sedentary indoor luxury. In the last century, we have become totally disconnected from the natural history of dogs- the remarkable integral roles they have played in human survival over thousands of years in countless ways as we partnered our lives & instincts with their own. We humans had changed because of them – successfully improving our methods of hunting, settlements, and agriculture over our own evolution. But they had changed even more than we had for the partnership.
OLD KEYS & NEW LOCKS!
People first discovered & exploited the benefits of dogs' natural attributes for protection & defense of resources, tracking & catching game, moving & maintaining control of livestock.
Then we improved those traits, developed them into genetic niche specialists in their perceptions & behavioral responses to an incredible variety of conditions through artificial selection. We made them into distinctly different keys to fit very specific locks —masters in their element.
But most of us were born into a world that no longer needed dogs to do these once essential jobs. We kept the breeds, but lost the niches for which they were created. They found themselves fish out of water – judged, punished, and pathologized for the very same behaviors we once prized them for. This dissonance of modern understanding is at the very heart of the chronic behavioral dysfunction increasingly observed in the pet population, & we as professionals have so far been ill-served by the narrative that genetic heritage or breed play no part in understanding & treating behavior problems. In order to truly help dogs & their families, our industry must evolve to reflect a more comprehensive appreciation & standard of care.
We will need to change the keys, or we will need to change the locks we have to fit them. It will take a village of professionals to create the solutions on both ends.
EVOLVE WITH US!
Wherever you are in your professional journey, we welcome you to grow as a professional by exponentially expanding your knowledge & transforming your work.
Fill in the gaps & connect the dots with the Dog L.E.G.S.® model & Family Dog Mediation®. Find your own niche in the movement to create lasting solutions. A better future for you & the families you serve awaits!
If you are curious about how the L.E.G.S. model works in practice or would like to consult with one of our Family Dog Mediators on a specific case from an applied ethology lens, we also offer: Pro case consults