What’s the function? This is a question I ask myself whenever I am presented with a dog who is displaying undesirable behaviour
What’s the function? This is a question I ask myself whenever I am presented with a dog who is displaying undesirable behaviour. All behaviour has a function. Sometimes it is very simple to work out and other times it is much more complicated and requires a lot more unpicking.
Sometimes a behaviour seems to have an obvious reason for it, dogs jump up to get attention, or a dog barks at the postman so they go away. However, often it is more challenging, for example - a dog could be displaying aggressive behaviour because they want the scary thing to go away.
Often dogs display aggression because they are frustrated that they can’t get to the other dog to play or at least engage with. Both of these look very similar on the surface, and often owners find the difference between the two hard to see but it is an important distinction because if you constantly keep a frustrated dog away from other dogs this is only going to accentuate their behaviour. Additionally if you try to reduce distance too quickly with a scared dog you are going to make them more fearful.
Dogs who exhibit separation related distress, or separation anxiety typically display a set range of behaviours: howling, barking, destruction, toileting, pacing, are just a few. Most of these behaviours serve the function of trying to reunite themselves with their owners.
Dogs are not going to continue to display behaviours that don’t serve a purpose as it’s just a waste of energy.
So, if we want to change the behaviour we have to know what the dog’s aim is and once we know that then we can introduce a new behaviour that can serve the same function but be more appropriate!
Behaviour change isn’t a simple process by any means and just teaching an alternative behaviour isn’t going to fix all problems. But by systematically looking at your dog’s behaviour and working out why they do what they do, you can change the mindset of “I wish they didn’t...”, to “it would be better if they...”. This is a positive mindset, taking away the label of bad dog and instead turning it on its head to help understand your dog more.