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Tracy Courtney

Cause & Effect

Can we begin to look at cause & effect a little differently, from a new angle? Where do our thoughts normally travel when it comes to this subject? Many of us look to external stimuli as the cause of the problems we experience with our dogs & horses but what if the cause was much closer to home than we realize? What if it was so close, we could touch it? Place your finger on your arm. Now you've touched it! What? How could this be? How could I possibly be responsible for the problems experienced with my dog or horse? Could this just be another abstract concept? Or could there be some truth to it? Contemplate it, experiment with it & then decided. 

We are often baffled & confused about the behavior of our pets & we spend countless hours researching, watching videos & asking others for advice. We experience a lot of frustration & anger in trying to find the answers & here's the best part - we already have the answers, we just don't realize it yet!

Let's begin by looking at some common dog behavior inside our homes. The dog that countersurfs, the dog that tears open the garbage every chance they get, the dog that cries when they're placed in a kennel, the dog that swallows everything they can get into their mouth & has possibly already had to have an expensive surgery & the dog that runs out the door at every opportunity. Take some time to consider how we feel about these behaviors. What is our habitual go to conclusions about these behaviors? We're not going to take the time here because the list is endless, but I would like for us to have these possible cause/effect conclusions in the forefront of our mind as we move forward. 

Now let's shift our thoughts to our children when they are babies, learning to crawl & walk. What common types of behavior traits do children of this age have & what is their predominant mindset? When human babies begin to crawl & walk, do they begin to explore the world through a sense of mischief, like they want to get into as much trouble as they can find or are they testing out their ability to explore new things? I think we can agree that they are not conditioned to concepts, beliefs or words yet, so their only motivation is interest, curiosity & the sheer innocent joy of experiencing everything around them. Is it possible that our pets feel the same way about their environment & us? That they are only interested in exploring everything that exists within reach, through an innocent curiosity?

What are the typical characteristics of children who are newly mobile? Do they want to touch everything within reach? Do they want to play with everything within reach? Do they want to put everything they can get their hands on in their mouth? Do they want to explore everything new with all their senses & begin to make associations? Are we a huge influence on the associations made? Do we direct those experiences through making choices to patiently guide the tactile behaviour or react with anger & impatience?

WHen our children display this behavior, do we get angry with them? Do we yell at them & call them terrible names? Do we take things they grasp in their hands away from them & then hit them while telling them how horrible they are? Do we tell them they're stubborn, defiant, disrespectful, vindictive & they need to be taught a lesson? Why don't we treat our human children this way? Because we understand that they're just curious about what life has to offer. So why do we treat our pets this way & think it's ok? Why do we feel satisfied with justifying our violence & judgement toward our pets?

What do we do with our children when they're at this new mobile exploratory stage? Do we leave the room for two hours & let them fend for themselves? Do we sit down & get so distracted by a tv or phone call that we completely forget our babies exist for extended periods of time? When we put our baby down to play or nap, why do we place them in a secure area? We do this so we can be sure that they can't get into trouble while we're distracted. So we don't have to worry about them ingesting something that could make them sick or be fatal, or to be sure they won't fall down some stairs & hurt themselves, or so they don't get into the garbage can, or knock a boiling cup of coffee from the table onto themselves. 

Why do we not only look at our dogs this way but treat them the same way? We verbally attack people who suggest putting or dog in a kennel for safety. We blame our dog for tearing up the garbage or eating the chicken off the counter only long after the deed has been done & our dog has forgotten about it & moved on to something else. When our dogs play with our shoes or put things in their mouths for new experiences, we call them all sorts of terrible names, become angry & in some cases, physically violent.

Many of us don't pay attention to our dogs other than when we decide we want to do something with them, otherwise they are left on their own for extended periods. What would happen if we did this with lla a toddler? How could a toddler learn to interact & behave in a cohesive manner & learn what's to be expected if limited time was spent showing them how? Out of a lack of guidance & direction, toddlers would learn all kinds of unwanted behavior & would eventually become attention seekers for lack of interaction, connection & communication.

If the only time they received attention was when they did something wrong, then they would quickly learn how to become defiant & naughty, just so they would receive some type of response from us. These would be taught/learned behaviors. If we didn't take the time to show them what's ok & what's not, how could a toddler learn our language & what may not be the best choices in varying situations? They would grow up displaying a lack of verbal & reasoning skills, impatient, frustrated & in some cases, an outcast with other children because they don't have the skills to interact as others do.

Can we begin to look at our pet's behavior from a new angle & see it for what it really is instead of what others told us? Can we begin to realize that our pets need this constant connection from us in order to guide their curiosities in a productive direction? Can we stop making decisions based on misguided beliefs & momentary emotional gratification in order to place our pets in a kennel when we're unable to supervise & guide them? And can we begin spending more time observing this behavior to begin to build a mutual language that will eliminate the need to resort to focusing on everything in the environment except us as the cause that creates the effects?

I will share a recent conversation for illustration. This person has an adult dog & an older puppy. This person was visibly frustrated over the puppy's particular behavior when running around their yard & playing with the older dog. During the explanation, this person used many derogatory descriptors as well as accusing the puppy of deliberately being spiteful & other terrible labels. The puppy would become overly excited when running around the yard with the other dog & the behavior had reached a point of causing injury & fighting between the dogs. The person claimed with exasperation, that they had spent a lot of time training the puppy in & around the house, so there was no excuse for this behavior. They exclaimed, without a doubt, that the puppy knew better than to act this way because this behavior never happened anywhere else.

The first things we discussed, were how misplaced this person's descriptors were, that the puppy wasn't responsible for this behavior, the owner was . We then discussed how this person had already given the answer for their "problem" during the initial discussion & they didn't even realize it. This person had taken the time to teach this puppy what was expected in & around the house, but didn't take the time to show the puppy what was expected away from the house. So who was responsible for this behavior & how long it has been allowed to continue & solidify? Out of a lack of guidance, this puppy had to develop their own rules of behavior while in the yard, away from the house.

What we fail to realize is that what we allow, is what we get. The behaviors don't have to be taught directly, through boxes of designated training time. Allowing these behaviors to develop & solidify is easy. We don't have to spend any thought or training time to teach them & we don't realize how many thousands of repetitions went into their creation. Then when we decide we finally want to change an established behavior, we become frustrated & often give up because we feel it takes too much time & work to follow through with creating the same amount of repetition needed to rewrite the behavior we allowed. It's so much easier to blame the dog, the environment or other people for the behavior & not take the responsibility for its creation.