Many of the dogs that I have the privilege of working with, suffer from anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorder, the inability to focus etc…Often times, part of an overall treatment plan involves teaching the dog cue words or teaching the dog’s family members how to give the cue word so the dog understands what is being asked in a way that the dog does not find threatening or anxiety provoking. Cue words are critical in providing our dogs with information on what we would like them to do OR how they should feel about something. It would make no sense at all to use cue words or commands in such a way that actually makes the dog more anxious or aggressive! This is counterproductive and inhumane! This is why an understanding of learning theory is so important. We often see people asking their dog to something in a tone of voice or with body language that scares or intimidates the dog. We often see people who are giving commands in a nice kind way but the techniques they are doing, without realizing it, leads to blocking or overshadowing ( important learning theory terms) which will prevent the dog from learning what we want him to learn, or confuse him because, we the humans, think we are teaching the dog one thing but he is actually learning something else! For example we think we are teaching the dog to sit by saying the verbal word sit, but at the exact same time we hold up a treat. We are not teaching the dog in a manner that is clear and concise and he may not be learning the verbal word to sit YET we think the dog does understand the word “sit”. Then what happens when we ask them to sit with just a verbal cue and they don’t do it? We get mad! How unfair is this to the dog??? Can you imagine trying to work with a dog who has any behavioral issues when the two species are unable to communicate effectively? Once we have established a line of communication between the species that is clear and not anxiety/fear provoking, we can then begin the real behavior modifications that are often necessary to deal with aggression and anxiety.
Emily D. Levine DVM
Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Animal Emergency & Referral Associates
Fairfield NJ 07068