Ep 30: Real Behavior Change for Reactive Dogs with Sarah Stremming

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast

Join me as I speak to Sarah Stremming about real behavior change. What are the steps toward achieving true change and how do we know we’ve been successful? When working with our dogs on a challenging behavior, real change can feel impossible. With the right tools and support, the end goal becomes much more possible.

We are socialized into thinking that masking symptoms is what getting better looks like. Something we must ask ourselves when starting a behavior modification journey with your dog is “Do we want a quick fix or to actually modify the behavior”? 

The pros and cons of a quick fix:

Pretty much all behavior concerns at least need a management strategy to prevent the behavior from getting worse and/or to make the environment safe for everyone involved. It’s like visiting a hospital when you have a bleeding wound. First they need to stop the bleeding and then they can assess the underlying cause. It’s necessary damage control. The challenges with a management plan include:

  • Management strategies are necessary to provide immediate relief and to prevent the behavior from getting worse, but it doesn’t address the root issue. 
  • It will fail because we’re human and we make mistakes. So backup management plans are always necessary. 
  • It does not modify your dog’s behavior. So if your dog is in a problematic situation again, they may react poorly and exhibit the problematic behavior. 

Let me be clear and say I LOVE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES. If that is all you have the bandwidth for – that is OK! There are many clients I work with that do not have the capacity to do detailed behavior modification plans and that is also OK! But if you do want to head down that behavior modification road, management strategies would be the first step while you work on a customized plan for long-term solution.

When creating a behavior modification plan, keep in mind that a certain behavior protocol or procedure that worked for someone else, may not be the right fit for your situation or the dog. We recommend working with a professional who is patient and flexible. The ultimate goal of any behavior protocol or procedure is for the dog to be comfortable. When behavior change is successful, constant intervention and management isn’t necessary. 

If a new behavior seems out of reach, neutrality is a worthy goal for many pet parents. Going from a negative association to a neutral reaction is a huge accomplishment and one that should be celebrated. It’s perfectly normal for dogs to not want to be friends with every person or dog they meet. They’re allowed to say “no” to an interaction. 

Remember: If the procedures aren’t working, it’s because the root cause isn’t being addressed. As you work toward true behavior change, there are steps between where you start and the goal. You may begin a procedure that gets you closer to the end, but doesn’t fully solve the problem. It doesn’t mean the time spent was wasted, it just means it’s time to move to the next step and find new tools to help on your journey.

True behavior change takes time, patience, and commitment. But it’s worth it.

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