Within my behaviour consultations I will use analogies to help the care giver relate to their dog’s emotional experience. Analogies can often lead the guardians to having light bulb moments enabling them to understand their dog better and to have more patience and empathy for their dog’s behaviour. Even though another being’s behaviour is incredibly complex by using simple analogies can help humans to relate to another species emotions. Emotions signal behaviour output. Embedded behaviours can take time to change whether human or dog.
I utilise a few different scenario’s and I find they work better if you have experienced the emotion yourself as it’s then an honest and heartfelt conversation. On fear driven issues I explain through my own fear of air travel and snakes, I then often ask my client if they have any fears themselves and we work from there
I utilise many analogies through personal life experiences, I am not suggesting dogs are exactly the same as humans, of course they are not but scientific research on how the dog’s brain operates is very similar to our own in the way associations are formed and memories are stored and they have emotions of fear, excitement, care and joyfulness, frustration, guarding and aggression as we do.
My bin analogy is the one I use to explain that there are no quick fixes and that an outward behaviour takes time and many repetitions to form new neural pathways within the brain and even then, if the brain becomes distracted at any given time the behaviour can full back onto the more embedded and previously successful action
Here it is then, my bin analogy, incredibly simple but I have found it to be really effective in getting the message across
My story goes back to my dearest canine soul mate Murphy, who is sadly over rainbow bridge now but continues to leave his mark on me to this day. Now Murphy was a proficient bin raider, he was a rescue boy with excellent survival skills and there wasn’t a bin on the market that he couldn’t get into. As scavenging is a perfectly natural behaviour I didn’t even consider a training regime and he never raided when I was in sight anyway. I managed this behaviour by removing temptation and resorting to a small bin under the sink cupboard. Thankfully he was not a cunning cupboard door opener, brute force was more his style
The bin remained in situ for several years and even a few months after he had passed away
On visiting my mother who had recently moved home I noticed her new smart looking bin, it had two sections and foot pedals to flip up the nicely imbedded lids
I purchased this bin and threw away the mini bin that was under the sink. Fortunately the present dogs have never had a bin to be upturned so they have not learnt that there may be goodies to be had. The lids of the new bin sealed down well to lessen any inviting smells, all was good and the new bin was ideal
This is where the fun started. On the first day I cannot remember how many times I opened the cupboard under the sink! Then having to make the trip down to the other end of the kitchen where the new bin stood snuggly in a corner
This habitual behaviour continued throughout the following week. I had to be very mindful about what I was doing each time I went to throw something away. It certainly opens your mind up to how much you are not actually in the present moment. Over the course of the following two to three weeks the occasions of going to the wrong area of the kitchen were still happening but far less, a change was starting to happen and a new memory motor pattern was being made
After about a month I would go to walk the wrong way towards the under-sink bin area but ‘ting’ I remembered the bin wasn’t there any more so at least I was making progress and not actually reaching the wrong end of the kitchen
After around six weeks of the new bin arriving I seemed to not have to pre-think what I was doing and a new habit had formed but this was still not 100%. If I was in a rush or if someone was speaking to me at that time (added distraction) the previous behaviour would surface again, cue swearing to myself! Three months in and the wrong decision happens far less frequently as finally the new bin position was imprinted in my memory bank. I am waiting to see what the circumstance is if the old behaviour pattern resurfaces again as I am sure it will do at some point, possibly in a stressful situation or on busy Christmas day when of course this will not be helped by the addition of couple of cocktails
I recount this in a shortened version to relate to their dog’s behaviour change in that there are no quick fixes. When there is a habitual behaviour present that has fed in some way nurtured the emotional being for a period of time, this then forms part of the fibres of that being and to make changes takes time and many repetitions for it to become second nature
The new pattern of behaviour offered must also be one that is desired above the other, in that it still has a feel-good factor or some sort of benefit to the dog otherwise that choice of behaviour would not be chosen over the other enough times to form a new habitual behaviour.
If I had put my new bin outside the house in the winter or the foot pedals proved too difficult to use or they didn’t work properly I would have been less likely to change my behaviour and would have utilised the old bin in the old position and closed the doors in my brain to make a change. As it was, I liked the bin as it looks nice, worked well and is in a good position in the kitchen therefore I was happy to overcome all the wasted trips up and down the kitchen initially
I explain to my clients that following any of my advisements for their dog there will be some changes of behaviour that maybe evident quite soon, but these are not embedded by any means and that it can take weeks and months for new behaviours to become more second nature and even then there may be ‘off days or distractions when the previous behaviour resurfaces
I have found this analogy albeit simple has really helped my clients to not get despondent in the first few days and initial weeks, thus enabling them to understand how important ongoing support for their dog is and that there is no magic wand. Just think back on how long it took me to go to the right bin!