Dogs do dog things, just as people do human things but none of us do those things for no reason. There’s always are reason.
For example, many of us eat carbs when we are sad. I learned recently that when we have a bellyful of carbs, our body is so busy that it has to temporarily switch off the emotional response in so it can digest. We go into a sort of opiate haze relief for a while when we have a chip butty (Mm everyone loves a chip butty right?). Often after a period of overeating we will then go on a diet, trying to stop putting things into our mouths because we don’t like the shape of our bodies – But nowhere do we address the sadness, just the space between our hand and our mouth.
Dogs do things based on their emotional experiences too. They might not overeat for emotional reasons, but their feelings dictate their behaviour nonetheless. They may bark furiously at someone in the distance because they are scared. A dog may growl because they are in pain or jump up and grab us because they are stressed or highly aroused.
One of the saddest things I see online (and are way too common even in these times of positive change) are advertisements that promise a quick fix to change a dog’s behaviour without mentioning wellness, kindness and the reasoning behind that behaviour. They are often characterised with a group of unsure, or outright sad looking, dogs (sometimes slightly cringing at the trainer- if they wanted to be in their picture too). Wonderfully though, these disheartening adverts are lessening and we are seeing services based on empathy much more often.
Canine professionals and wellness coaches are talking of the dog’s inner state, the dog’s emotional wellness and so importantly avoiding quick fix promises in favour of restoring balance to the dog and guardian relationship. Within this type of service, the dog professional won’t promise anything, but in the long term yet they are the most likely to deliver the best possible results. They know and respect something very important you see, they know the importance of the deep-set, ingrained why. And they always find out why, before they ask the dog for anything – they then build the change within the dog, thus building the new behaviour along the way.
This takes us directly back to the belly full of carbs and the diet afterwards. We could change our eating behaviour by sellotaping our lips for 20 hours a day, or we could impose strict mental rules on ourselves to prevent us eating carbs at all. Both of these will change the behaviour – on behaviour level which is the bit between hand and mouth - and we won’t get the reprieve from our sadness through food. We supress our sadness instead, by a behaviour change alone and eventually we fall off the wagon and eat everything we see.
Or we could take a closer look inside ourselves and ask why we are overeating, is it for emotional security? is it habitual, a long term coping strategy for an unresolved issue, or does it switch off a barrage of negative emotions? (Or is it all three?) Or for our dogs, we look at how they feel – why they feel it and how we can make them feel better on the inside, naturally making them feel better whilst their (unhelpful) coping strategies naturally melt away.