Fulfilling a Need: The Total Dog Approach

fulfill a need before searching for a consequence

As an addendum, I have written about this before, but it is the first time I have posted a video on the subject. If you would like to read the initial article, click here. It is a direct excerpt from my first book Memoirs of a Novice Dog Trainer

One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the last year of dog training is the idea that some behaviours come about because it’s something the dog requires rather than something the dog does at random. It can be hard to see a behaviour problem as an expression of a need rather than a spiteful choice on the dog’s part, but this is the way I see many problems. In fact, in non-violent communication, we are taught to take nothing personally because everything that people say that can be taken as an insult or personally is nothing to do with us, but rather a tragic expression of an unmet need. The way you hear something will be very different than the way I hear it for that reason.

To remove behaviour problems we must give before we askI’ve come to call this fulfillment-first approach to behaviour my total dog approach. The total dog approach is simple in concept: look at the behaviour the dog is engaging in and the reward he’s seeking and ask yourself if you can be responsible for what the dog is trying to get out of that behaviour. For example, if your dog is biting and tugging and pulling on the leash while you’re on walks because he’s all hyped up, switch the leash for a tug toy and play tug with your dog for 20 minutes before each walk and watch how the behaviour gets diminished. The idea is if your dog has a need and desire for something strong enough he’s willing to take it upon himself to get it then it should be something you do with him.

You ask any child who is into video games if you would like it if his parents played with them and you’ll say yes but more often than not parents are okay with just allowing the kids to play and not being involved. Most kids will tell you that it would build the relationship and bond with their parents if their parents actually engaged with them. My father was never big on video games, but I still remember him playing a crappy golf game on my Super Nintendo when I was very young and it was very fun.

The whole idea is that if your dog enjoys something you should be doing it with him. It pains me when I see dogs outside alone because most people think the dogs just want to go outside when in reality what the dogs are likely asking for is to go on an adventure or an exploration with their owners and not to be just stuck outside alone.

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This can be seen in other behaviours as well. Things like destructive behaviour inside is normally a result of boredom but most people think the dog is just becoming obnoxious. A lot of the time when dogs engage in destructive activities or problematic chewing it’s because of under stimulation mentally.

We can avoid this by making sure our dogs mental and physical needs are handled before leaving them alone.

One thing you must consider is how long it’s been going on. If your dog starts engaging in a behaviour last week and it’s gonna take you less time to fulfil that need and desire then it is if your dog is been doing it for a year or two. In that amount of time, there’s a strong possibility that a habit might’ve formed. If there is a habitual component to your dog’s behaviour problems you must address both: the fulfilment required and the habit that has been formed.

Always consider what your dog is getting out of the behaviour that he’s engaging. Most dogs will default to the most rewarding thing in that moment but many dogs will also attempt to escape or avoid unpleasantness or discomfort as well. These are two prime driving forces behind most behaviours. Instead of relying on the reward/punishment paradigms of behaviour we must observe the reward/punishment paradigm is in the dog and ask ourselves, can we fulfil the desire that is driving this behaviour? If the answer that question is yes, it is our responsibility to take responsibility for the desire and the dog that is not being met. Accepting responsibility of this will not only build your relationship with your dog but it will show your dog that you are the person that can be counted on to fulfil those needs.

In “The 5 Love Languages” we are told to make sure our partner’s love tank is full before we expect them to fill ours. In Verbal Judo we are taught to be the first one in the conflict to show empathy as a way of diffusing tension. In non-violent communication, we are taught to hear insults and put downs as tragic expressions of unmet needs. In business and content marketing we are taught to give and give some more if you ever expect someone to trust you enough to buy from you. So why is it that more people aren’t focusing on giving to the dog first before asking for shit in return?

Doggin’ Around Episode 002 – Solving Mouthing and Leash Biting with the Total Dog Approach


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