"But, you have to see what my dog does..."
I hear or read this a lot from clients and in emails; and I definitely think I've been hearing it a lot more recently than in the past. That's probably because the pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop, making in-person training impossible, less likely, or heavily modified to maintain health and safety.
The good news, though, is that - in A LOT of cases - I don't need or want to see the behavior that we're concerned about! There are a few reasons for this:
Before I even touch on why I don't necessarily want or need to see a behavior, let me point out a situation that frequently happens...When I visit someone's home, more often than not, the dog is a perfect angel. Not only do we not see any of the behavior or concerns I was contacted about, but, there are a decent number of times the dog is relaxed and calm or they're even just sleeping off to the side! The dog not doing the "thing" absolutely doesn't mean we can't do anything about it, though!
If we don't see the behavior when I happen to be visiting someone's home, we have to do the next best thing: talk about it! A lot of times, I can get a really good idea of what is happening just from talking to the parents. They've, obviously, seen the behavior and can often give a great description - especially because I can ask a lot of questions to fill in any blanks or help all of us see things from a different perspective. On top of that, the chances are pretty good that I've often already seen the behavior before and know what a "naughty" dog looks like!
Practice Makes Perfect
I really prefer not to see the behavior because I don't want the dog to continue practicing the behavior. Just like the old adage, practice makes perfect. The more a dog has a chance to do a behavior in response to a particular situation, the better they're going to get at doing it. And, if it's a behavior we don't like or don't want to see, we really don't want them to get even better at it!
Better for Everyone
In some cases (actually, in more cases than you'd think), a dog is performing a behavior or acting a certain way as a result of anxiety, stress, concern, or frustration. So, for the behavior to be displayed during a session, we would have to intentionally put the dog in a situation that is uncomfortable, stressful, or genuinely frightening.
I avoid putting a dog in a stressful situation for a few reasons:
I don't want a dog to experience fear, anxiety, or stress when it isn't necessary.
I definitely don't want a dog to associate any of that fear or stress with me or with a guests' presence.
For sessions to be effective, I want my human and my furry clients to be comfortable, relaxed, and open to learning; fear and stress and anxiety - be that in the human or in the dog - make it difficult to learn.
So, with that in mind, it's better for everyone in the session to avoid these fear-based behaviors and everyone is going to get more out of my visit.
(Side note: this is one of the reasons that remote training is helpful and successful with dogs who are afraid of or very worried about guests; if I am not there, the dog parents don't need to spend the whole session worrying about how to manage their dog, how to control their dog's barking or pulling or other fear-based behaviors; and we're able to accomplish a lot more without the dog or human's constantly distracted by the presence of a guest!)
The takeaway? It's just not necessary to SEE the behavior to be able to work with it, through it, or around it!