What is a problem? The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that a problem is “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome” as well as “a thing that is difficult to achieve”.
And these two definitions allow us to put a boundary around the expression ‘problem dog’. Few if any owners ever approach dog behaviourists about the activities of their dog when the dog is asleep. In a state of sleep, the dog is entirely conforming to ‘our behaviour’ and is acting in a conventional manner that a human can recognise and accept.
This is not meant to be a glib remark, but is intended to create an awareness of the fact that, as with ourselves, it is the environment in which we need to operate (a situation that may be regarded as unwelcome or harmful) that affects behaviour. The tougher that environment is for us to function in (a thing that is difficult to achieve) the more likely we are to have low tolerance levels and revert to behaviours driven by frustration, fear, anger and so on.
Canines, like humans, demonstrate ‘inappropriate behaviour’ – behaviour that does not conform to the norm – our definition has become ‘problem dog’, or ‘problem behaviour’, rather than problem environment.
At Sheila Harper Limited we work with dogs and owners to understand how environments, the situations in which our dogs find themselves, their stress levels, diet, and their owners can all be contributory factors to their “problems”. We educate rather than train, through our dog courses, how these elements can be modified or eradicated so that the problem diminishes and the dog’s behaviour changes as a result of a new partnership developed out of awareness, trust and prevention rather than suppressed by command and control.