ABSOLUTELY! And easier than you may think. Let’s think about people, I know we are not dogs and dogs are definitely not people, but when a person has an addiction to a substance or perhaps a behaviour such as gambling, they most certainly, in many cases, can be helped and get this problem under control.
This is done via some management, some retraining, some re framing, some impulse control and emotional regulation training and a lot of SUPPORT.
It may surprise many to know that we use a very similar model with the dogs that we work with.
OK so why do some “fall off the wagon”?
Firstly, let’s remember that we cannot in any away, remove the memories of the subject, dog or human, on how to display the old behaviour and we also cannot remove the benefit the dog experienced when displaying it either.
So, there will be some desire to display the old behaviour for quite some time. More just after rehabilitation and ideally less as time goes on.
Management or the lack thereof
No one can supervise, guide, reward, correct and handle a dog every minute of every day, asking a client to do this is a sure recipe for failure.
So, we design a management system that the owner can use when they are not able to supervise or at least guide their dog at that moment.
Some owners are used to giving their dog total freedom to run the home and make their own choices, so they can have trouble coming to terms with having their dog have less than, 100% freedom.
But consider the human comparison again, a person comes out of rehab for substance abuse, it may not be a great idea to give them free access to people who may provide them with temptation or access to the substance for some time.
Strength and resilience take time to build, with some people, years.
Leadership and guidance
When dogs stay with us, we form a relationship with them, we convey to them that we will teach certain behaviours and welcome them, but are not at all accepting of other, undesirable behaviours.
Your dog likely see’s you a certain way already, permissive, accepting, soft, flexible, inconsistent, cheap? and possibly many other things.
So, you will have some work to do to reinvent yourself to your dog so he or she sees you in a different way.
When you first have your dog trained or rehabilitated, when they come home they will feel like it is time to go back to the old ways.
The difference now is that they now know the new ways, but they still think of you as the old flexible person.
We even see dogs go home and be perfect for one family member and totally disregard another. This has a lot to do with how they interacted with their dog previously and how accepting they were to the dog before the training.
If the owner makes no changes they will get no (lasting) changes. The dog will most certainly regress.
We enjoy a very high success rate in our board and rehab program, and considering most of the dogs we see are very serious, we feel very proud and fortunate.
In fact quite a high percentage, around 90% need no more than the two lessons we include with the package and email support.
Another 5% or so need more lessons to develop their understanding and their skill set to be better and more effective leaders, handlers, rewarders and managers.
There are, like everything, people who can’t change, don’t want to change, have a dog that is well outside of their abilities and don’t want to learn more.
It is impossible for some regression not to occur sadly.
Many people get a dog because they like the breed for looks, or some childhood memory or perhaps they saw one in the movies, but it is imperative to either research the breed or up skill to suit the breeds needs, traits and temperament.
Dogs with high prey drive for example may be fine in your home but turn into a barking, lunging chasing machine when they see another dog, person, cat etc.
Their prey drive will not go away or settle down, it will need to be channeled in conjunction with an effective life skills training program or you will struggle.
If the dog has high prey drive and is also assertive or dominant, you may add aggression to that mix above.
Nervous or dogs that have suffered previous trauma
These dogs can need a lot of support and assistance negotiating things they find frightening or startling.
Handlers need to be aware of the triggers and thresholds, at which their dog is not able to cope, which of course we need to teach dog owners to be aware of and help their dogs maintain a rational state of mind.
Inconsistent rule setting
This can be easy to see in retrospect but hard to plan in foresight for many people.
Allowing your dog to race to the front door barking and ignoring your recall cues will not get you a solid recall in the park.
Allowing a dog to display uncontrollable excitement, aggression, prey drive etc. on a daily basis will dilute your value of information to your dog.
Barking at the door is OK, in fact there may be an advantage to having a dog in reduced crime, but if you can’t recall your dog off barking at a door or a gate, you need to look at your training.
The true benefits of board and rehab
Many people have dogs that are simply never going to improve when the owner / trainer is inexperienced, the dog may be just too serious for the pet owner even with help.
One problem may be that walking your aggressive dog down the street and he or she exploding on leash at a person or dog is against the law and even though your dog may not make any contact with the other person or dog, he or she can face severe council action.
So, this is one reason that even our consults with aggressive dogs are not conducted in public, but rather in our indoor training room on our private property.
Some dogs have never shown any other behavior than the problem one, they have been through a list of trainers, medications, systems, tools and prayers and there is no evidence that the dog is even capable of anything else.
We will be able to, in our system prove what is capable by showing the owner the dog behaving acceptably both via live video and demonstration on collection of the dog.
Now this does not mean that the dog will by default display that behaviour but it proves the dog CAN do it and we now only need to get the owner to guide and advise the dog in the system as we do.
It may be a process of elimination really; we eliminate the chances of the dog rehearsing the behavior and taking advantage of an owner that can not change anything.
We add the training and work the dog with controlled exposure until he or she is very easy for us to handle, and then we get the owner involved and work with the owner.
Those that go through the whole program do exceptionally well, sometimes it takes a day, a week a month or more but if owners stick with it, they can and should expect the results we gained.
Whether you have a difficult dog, or a friend that has struggled with addiction as I mentioned earlier, or a special needs child, the answer is in a lifestyle change rather than an intervention alone.
We need to understand and accept them for their differences but guide them to be the same.
Very few of them are broken, most lack education and self control actually.
I wanted to finish with an example of a Rottweiler we sent home from board and rehab. He is an excellent Rottweiler, in the working dog sense. He has a lot of prey drive, solid nerve, great structure, the working attributes are magnificent.
But these days, many Rottweilers are laid back, chilled and even lazy.
It took a lot of repetition to gain good respect from this guy and he ended up behaving really well.
He is not a problem dog, in fact he is perfect for a working Rottweiler, but he isn’t really a pet, and many years ago they just were not pet dogs, but working dogs.
So, some retraining and an up skill is needed by the owners to meet the needs of their awesome dog with huge potential. His owners are great diving at the new work.
As they often say, few things in life that are worth it, come without cost.