Mark's Dog Blog

The Importance Of Consistent Behavioural Boundaries

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We teach young children behavioural boundaries, such as respecting others personal and social space, and to control their impulses. If we didn't, then we end up with very disrespectful children as they grow. However, not only are we teaching behavioural boundaries, we are helping them to understand how to control their emotional states, and therefore understand how to maintain emotional boundaries from a young age.

Young children do not understand their emotional states, they learn to control them by parents setting boundaries on behaviour. For example; "Hey!, settle down! Go over there and sit down". Dogs have no understanding of their emotional states either.

Rarely do dog owners have the same rules for their dogs. This lack of setting consistent behavioural boundaries is the number one reason for the epidemic we have of overly anxious, hyper-aroused and overly stimulated dogs (that in many cases have no idea how to "switch off"). Way too many dog owners are reinforcing anxious states in their dogs, and all because they will not teach behavioural boundaries.

By not teaching behavioural boundaries, in young dogs, we are conditioning very spoilt dogs that then instinctively see that they always control their environment, no matter if humans are around or not, and these dogs are usually emotionally and psychologically "unhinged".

I have gone to so many homes that have 2 or more dogs. When the dogs are on their own outside, they have set rules and boundaries for each other, creating a very respectful and well balanced natural relationship. However, when the owners go out into the dogs environment, or the dogs come into the humans environment, all hell breaks lose. This is also the number one reason some dog owners with 2 or more dogs have dogs that are fighting. Humans are creating imbalance within the social group, by not setting consistent behavioural boundaries when the dogs are around them.

We would never allow another human to invade and take control of our personal space. Then why the hell do so many dog owners think its cute when dogs disrespect their personal and social space? Not only is it disrespectful to allow your dog/s to force themselves on to others, it is also not being fair (nor responsible) in regards to your dogs emotional and psychological state. We also need to understand, the behaviour we allow at home, are the behaviours the dog will take elsewhere, such as off lead dog parks, or greeting other dogs on-lead. And hence why we see so many dog fights.. NO SOCIAL RESPECT & OVERLY ANXIOUS INTERACTION.

I have used the following video in another post as an excellent example of how a mother teaches her pups behavioural boundaries, which also in turn helps the pups learn to control their emotional state. Notice how she almost instantly snaps the pups out of a highly anxious and overly stimulated state. Now, if it was a human that walked up to the gate, and went into the pups, what type of behaviour and emotional state would the human reinforce by rewarding with attention and praise? Think about it. Remember, the emotional state and behaviour we reinforce in the home, will in most cases be triggered and displayed no matter where your dog is.

How often have you seen a highly anxious and hyper-aroused dog in an off lead dog park be what appears to be attacked aggressively by another dog? In many cases, this is not a dog attacking aggressively indiscriminately. In many cases (not all) this is a dog that instinctively views the other dogs behaviour and emotional state as a liability to the social group, so will instinctively try and snap the dog out of this "unnatural" state, by forcing it to the ground and pinning it down, until the dog snaps out of its current state. Sadly though, because the overly anxious and hyper-aroused dog is so flooded with adrenaline and in a highly unnatural anxious state, may fight back, resulting in a dog fight. Humans are responsible for dogs switching into this state, by the way they interact with their dog, by again not having consistent behavioural boundaries with their dog.

What I also hate seeing is dog owners taking a ball into an off lead park with a group of unknown dogs to throw for their own dog, triggering in some cases, either an overly anxious and hyper-aroused state in their own dog, or in another dog within the group. This activity has also triggered fights in off lead parks. Too many dog owners do not understand what psychological state their dog is actually in when throwing a ball for their dog, or what behavioural and emotional state will be triggered in any of the other dogs. A dog that is triggered into drive to chase a ball, shouldn't be triggered into a highly anxious state. However, so many are, and again because the dogs owner isn't aware of a dogs emotional state, only that it looks like its having fun.

We need to be very aware of what emotional states we are triggering in our dogs, by understanding what behaviours we are allowing to let lose by our daily interaction with them. We should NEVER reward or reinforce an overly anxious state in our dogs, whether that is giving attention, going for a walk, chasing balls, going for a drive in the car, approaching visitors, feeding, socialising/interacting with other dogs, etc. Any activity the dog views as highly rewarding.

A common call out I attend is dogs displaying aggression to people that approach the dogs owner, even aggression towards other family members. This again is usually due to not setting behavioural boundaries for the dog, and rewarding an overly anxious state in the dog to be with that particular family member. The dog intern views this person as a highly valued resource, that it needs to guard, no different to a prized high value bone.

It is so important that dog owners learn about a dogs emotional states, and understand how not setting consistent behavioural boundaries negatively affects the dogs emotional state, and hence causing so many behavioural issues. So many dogs are placed on psychotropic medications for extreme anxiety and aggression issues, when all the dog required was an owner that set consistent behavioural boundaries.

To many dog owners are too focused on their own emotional state when interacting with their dog, not understanding that their idea of what cute and fun interaction is, is actually very detrimental to the dogs emotional and psychological state, and therefore having a negative impact on the relationship the dog has with its owner.

If you are not sure how to achieve and maintain a more balanced relationship with your dog, then please for your dogs well-being contact a balanced professional dog trainer local to you that can guide you. Or if you live on the Gold Coast in Australia, contact me.

The Rescue Dilemma, Helping Our Dogs.