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The Holistic Approach: Understanding Dog Behaviour in Context



For ethical professional dog trainers, our approach must extend beyond conventional training techniques, focusing on a comprehensive understanding of each dog's unique behaviour, environment, and needs. This holistic perspective acknowledges that sometimes the solution isn't just training, but also addressing factors like environment, stress, pain, and the expectations of the guardian.



Holistic Assessment: Beyond Behaviour Modification


The first step in ethical dog training involves a thorough assessment that goes beyond the dog's immediate behaviour. We need to consider the dog's environment - are there stressors at home or in their daily routine that might be contributing to the behaviour? Pain or discomfort, often overlooked, can significantly impact a dog's behaviour. A dog in pain might display aggression or anxiety, which are often misinterpreted as behavioural problems.


Guardian expectations also play a crucial role. Sometimes, what is perceived as a problem behaviour may be a normal canine response. Educating guardians about realistic expectations and normal dog behaviour is an integral part of our role.



Addressing Root Causes: Environment, Stress, and Pain


Adjusting the dog's environment can sometimes be more effective than traditional training. For instance, a dog that barks excessively at noises outside might benefit from a quieter room or soundproofing measures. Similarly, recognising signs of stress and implementing stress reduction strategies can alleviate many behavioural issues without direct training.


Managing pain or medical issues is another crucial aspect. Regular check-ups and veterinary consultations are important to rule out any underlying health problems that might be influencing the dog's behaviour.



Signs of Pain in Dogs


Recognising signs of pain in dogs is crucial for their well-being. Unlike humans, dogs cannot verbally communicate their discomfort, making it essential for guardians and professionals to understand the subtler cues that indicate pain.


  • Behavioural Changes: A shift in activity levels, such as a usually energetic dog becoming lethargic, or vice versa. Increased restlessness or agitation can also be a sign.

  • Physical Discomfort Indicators: Limping, reluctance to move, or a noticeable discomfort when moving. Negative reactions to touch in certain areas, suggesting localised pain.

  • Posture Changes: Unusual postures like a hunched back or tucked abdomen, which may indicate discomfort or pain.

  • Facial Expressions: Subtle changes such as a pinched or strained look, furrowed brows, or flattened ears. Excessive panting or drooling in the absence of heat or exertion.

  • Eating and Sleeping Habits: Loss of appetite or difficulty eating, possibly due to dental pain. Changes in sleeping patterns, including sleeping more or difficulty getting comfortable.

  • Vocalisation: Uncommon in some dogs but can include whimpering, howling, or groaning, particularly when moving or if a specific area is touched.

  • Behavioural Changes: Increased aggression or irritability, snapping or growling when approached or touched, which could be a response to pain.

It's important to remember that dogs may exhibit one or several of these signs, and their manifestation of pain can vary. Regular veterinary check-ups and close observation of these changes are crucial for managing a dog's pain effectively.



Meeting the Dog's Needs: A Priority


Often, what might seem like a behavioural issue is actually a response to unmet needs. Our job as trainers is to identify and meet these needs. Does the dog have enough physical and mental stimulation? Are they receiving the right amount of social interaction? These aspects are as important as any training regimen.


In cases where the dog's needs are not being met, the focus should shift from trying to change their responses to ensuring that their requirements for a healthy and balanced life are fulfilled. This might involve recommending changes in routine, introducing enriching activities, or providing more opportunities for socialisation.



Training as Part of a Bigger Picture


While training is an important tool, it should be seen as part of a larger strategy to improve a dog's quality of life. We should aim to create an environment where the dog feels safe, understood, and cared for. This approach not only resolves behavioural issues more effectively but also strengthens the bond between the dog and their guardian.


Our role as trainers extends to educating guardians about the importance of a holistic approach to their dog's well-being. This includes understanding the dog's natural behaviours, recognising signs of stress or discomfort, and creating a nurturing environment that allows the dog to thrive.


Ethical dog training is about more than just teaching cues or modifying behaviours. It's about understanding the dog in a holistic manner, considering their environment, addressing any stress or pain, and meeting their physical and mental needs.


By adopting this comprehensive approach, we not only address behavioural issues more effectively but also contribute to the overall well-being and happiness of the dogs we work with.



Are you a dog professional? NICE membership offers you a close and safe community to be part of on your dog journey. You can enhance your canine journey by joining us at The National Institute for Canine Ethics!


As a member of our supportive community, you'll receive access to 12 free member-exclusive webinars and over a dozen free member meetings annually. You can also download a free ebook, just by visiting the website, click the the button.



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