In this podcast (episode #391) and blog, I talk to speaker, author, mathematician, and dog trainer Grisha Stewart about dog training and empowerment, pets and mental health, why dogs struggle mentally, how we can help our pets and ourselves, and so much more!
As human beings, we need to understand our pets’ behavior and work on our communication with them. It is important to understand that animals like dogs think and choose as well, in their own unique ways.
The key thing to recognize is that behaviors are a puzzle, whether we are talking about humans or animals. They require problem solving and critical thinking. There are many variables and a lot is predictable, if we take the time to be aware of what is happening and be willing to explore the “why”.
There is a reason why a dog does what it does. As dog owners, it is our responsibility to explore this “why” behind our pet’s actions. Like us, the way dogs behave is based on not only their biology but also their experiences and learning.
This is why dog training should always start with curiosity. We need to become aware of what our pets are experiencing and going through, while avoiding letting preconceived notions like “dominance” impact how we understand and manage their behavior. This means understanding both the environment and the individual dog. How are they responding in this particular environment? And, if we change something, do they respond differently? How?
If your dog is showing signs of aggression, this is a sign that they do not feel safe. Dogs are not “naughty” if they are scared. The key is to understand that all dogs have different experiences from their time in the womb. As dog owners, we need to understand what makes that individual owner feel safe through the way we manage their space and time (their environment).
This means thinking about the boundaries we put in place with our pets in different situations. We do this by observing their behavior and responding to what they want or need based on positive reinforcement.
Yet it is also important to understand that we can become too reliant on positive reinforcement. Our goal as pet owners should not be to turn our animals into perfectly well-behaved robots. Our training should be needs-focused: we need to adapt our training in real time to our needs and to our pet’s needs so that we can live in community with our animal companions.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a needy dog. There are only unmet needs, and our responsibility as pet owners is to find creative and kind ways to meet our pet’s unique needs. Compassion and curiosity should drive all our interactions with our pets.
As Grisha notes, “in a culture obsessed with dominance, more power may seem like the last thing you want to give your dog. But empowerment is actually an efficient, effective way to solve behavior problems. When you remove obstacles in the way of learning and give dogs a way to meet their needs, their 'misbehavior' disappears.”
This is why she created an online academy based on her B.A.T. training method (Behavior Adjustment Training). This training method:
- Empowers Dogs to choose calm behavior over undesired reactivity. For example, instead of barking and lunging, BAT dogs can proactively choose to engage in a calm behavior, allowing them and their handler the opportunity to adjust to a “trigger” that was once causing fear, frustration or aggression. BAT teaches these skills naturally and humanely.
- Builds Confidence and Reduces Excitement. An animal that has greater control of its environment (i.e. behavior is effective) is less likely to be anxious, fearful, or over-the-top excited, resulting in less reactivity as well as the development of calm and confident behavior.
- Builds Communication and Trust. When the communication channel between the animal and its handler is clear and accurate, the relationship may then develop greater trust. BAT teaches people how to better understand a dog’s body language, most especially before, during, and after the dog calmly experiences a “trigger.” The goal is to empower the animal and handler to remain active in the calm, stress-free behavior vs. becoming reactive in the undesirable behavior.
- Reduces Stress. In a properly executed BAT training session, the animal exhibits little to no distress during the BAT experience. The absence of distress is a critical component to BAT.
- Has a Fast Learning Curve. It works with an animal’s natural repertoire of desirable behaviors, and doesn’t require much pre-training for the human to begin the rehabilitation process for both them and their dog.
If you're a professional dog trainer or behaviorist, dog walker, shelter staffer, groomer, or veterinarian, Grisha’s amazing online dog training academy has the continuing education you need to stay (or get to) the top of your game. But it’s not just for professionals! If you need help with your own dog, they have straightforward, practical, effective positive dog behavior classes for you as well. These classes are more than just dog training; you'll get skills to help your dog(s) thrive in your family.
Taking the time to understand your dog can bring both you and your pet joy. Not only can having a pet positively impact your mental health, but when you put in the time and effort to become a good dog owner, you can also improve your pet’s mental health. In fact, practicing mindfulness with your dog is a great way to bond mentally and emotionally.
For more on dogs and mental health, listen to my podcast with Grisha (episode #391), and check out her amazing work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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3:45 Dogs can help us be better humans
4:12 Dogs have mental health issues too!
5:30 Why Grisha became a dog trainer
6:35 There is always a reason behind your dog’s behavior!
7:30 How we can understand our dogs & ourselves better
8:20 The dominance myth
10:55 Why dogs become aggressive
18:05 Dogs & boundaries
21:30 The importance of kindness & why dogs need to feel empowered
23:10 There is no such thing as a needy dog, only unmet needs
27:32 Pets & mental health
30:30 Why we shouldn’t label our pets
37:44 Pets & the COVID pandemic
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