Musings and Random Thoughts

Is there a difference between behavior modification and training? Is it all semantics and does it really matter?  Here are some definitions I found on the web.


Behavior:  The actions by which an organism adjusts to its environment.

Behavior Modification:  The systematic use of principles of learning to increase the frequency of desired behaviors and/or decrease the frequency of problem behaviors.


Training:  The process of bringing a person (or dog in this case), etc., to an agreed standard of proficiency, etc., by practice and instruction.


"I'm looking for a behavior trainer."


Many of my clients call me for "behavior training."  Their dogs are not getting on well at dog day care, the dog park, at home with family members, strangers, their other pets, etc.  They've been told by their peers, vets, or other trainers that they need help and that a trainer who "does" behavior can help them make things "right."  What is "does?"  And what is "right?"  And according to the definition above, don't all living creatures behave?  Do dog trainers that work with behavior problems ("does behavior training") have a magic wand that makes dog day care a fun place for a particular dog?  Can dog trainers master every environment to only signal appropriate behavior?  What is appropriate behavior? :-) 


I wonder about well-intentioned pet guardians.  Are they really thinking that "behavior training" can cure the dog of inappropriate behavior? Do they only have their own experiences to reference? Did they hear or read something that may have made some sense to them at some level, but in actuality could be potentially harmful? Is everyone an expert when it comes to training dogs?  With all the training/behavior nonsense on the internet and in the media, it's no wonder people are looking for quick-fixes for successful behavior change. 


I look at success differently. I take a very simple approach to my work. I like to figure out what goals can be achieved quickly in order to create more stable relationships at home and when out and about.  For example, teaching dogs a simple go to place and stay exercise at home can be immensely helpful for dogs that are excitable, anxious, or consummate-counter surfers.  Giving clients something they can practice; giving them something they can do is often enough for them to become motivated to do more.  And, if I give them something that is practical and something that will help resolve some of their immediate concerns, they will be happier. 


Dogs and people need structure and schedules in order to manage busy day-to-day lives.  It's how we get things done.  Creating structures for dog-training clients can be a win-win for all.  The clients are reinforced for the work they do with their dogs and the dogs revel in the rewards that come from being "good."  For those folks whose dogs do not do well at dog day care or the dog park, creating structure at home might very well change some of the reasons they are going there in the first place.


So, back to "behavior training,"  the definitions, and how it relates to what we dog training professionals do every day.  To me, it's not an issue.  I don't take offense at labels used or mis-used.  I approach each client with a clear message and a few questions. 

  1. What are your top 3 more immediate goals?
  2. Are you committed to doing the homework necessary to achieve these goals?
  3. When can we get started?