It’s About the Dog and Owner

Owners are the main influence on a dogs behavioural development from puppyhood to maturity and in essence the dogs final adult temperament.

Some other factors may have influences including quality of breeding, breed drives often overlooked by inexperienced animal behaviourists. That is why when you wish to obtain help with a dog you should use a canine practitioner academically and vocationally trained expert.

Canine mind altering factors can be environmental such as a dog living in rural isolation or on the tenth story of a block of flats which will inevitability influence how we begin to assess and assist a dog owner in rehabilitation of a dog exhibiting behavioural problems – in other words location – notwithstanding family dynamics.

OPM Owner Profile Modelling in Canine Behaviour

Dog Law especially the dangerous dog’s act also influence how we rehabilitate a dog in public spaces and this law without doubt impedes good behavioural reformation training. Many armchair experts start from the position that some owners should not have a dog in certain circumstances that make rehabilitation difficult. Well the fact is they do and that’s a reality check/fact and part of this work in dog behaviour and also the challenge for us to be flexible and skilled. What’s ironic is that some dog rescue charities promote ineffective fantasy, politically correct advice regarding canine rehabilitation methods whilst simultaneously releasing hundreds of dogs from their homes which are aggressive to people and dogs.

I work with people and dogs and respect owner and dog as clients. It’s not all about dogs.

As canine experts we work with pet owners and observe their personalities in relation to working with them and their pet dogs ultimately to help solve the dogs behaviour problems. This may surprise some dog pet owners but I believe it is true in many occupations whereby working and forming partnerships of knowledge exchange is critical to success in that occupation.

Taking into consideration all the aforementioned factors; the dog owner is still the main conduit of an experts knowledge and only through understanding the owners psychological make-up can canine a expert deliver their programmes for the dog in a efficient and understandable but most of all a realistic and practical way.

I describe this approach as Client Centred Canine Behaviour. This means the professional focusing on the client as a first step to influencing the client’s dog’s behaviour issues.

Most canine specialists work out the psychology of how to deal with a variety of owners who have dogs with serious aberrant behaviour. All people in my view are natural psychologists some better than others – it’s a survival instinct and innate ability in homo-sapiens to help us to deal with life’s problems we encounter. The canine specialist simply develops human on human psychology to a higher level and relationship to the occupation of canine ownership. This is mainly gained from experience and when honed we can and often do make the difference between a dogs behaviour being solved to the clients satisfaction or failure. Get the human psychology wrong and the dog may be got rid of or fail to change thereby not enjoying the quality of life it deserves.

OPM Owner Profile Modelling (Psychology)

I developed OPM in the eighties in a basic form and then as I learnt more about people and dogs used human profiling to help me quickly assess the type of dog owner I was dealing with so I could deliver the most dynamic and effective canine behaviour solutions. In essence it is about human characteristics, personalities and ultimately the relationships owners develop with their beloved pets. It is also about client/practitioner relationships the first entry into that learning coalition. I add, it is wise to remember that though most aberrant behaviour in dogs is human generated – it is not necessarily the humans who now own the dog that caused their dogs behaviour issues as often they take on reforming a rescue dogs behaviour problems anew.

Over three decades I worked out that there are different kinds of dog owner types that can be put into OPM categories. These categories describe an owners personality, relationship with their pets and resulting interactive behaviour in society. I have placed categories below that include four OPM’s attachment/ relationship models which have worked well in operations. The OPM headings used describe title/categorisation through my system and use at my canine behaviour centre.

Owner Psychological Modelling

Model 1 describes a balanced and normal relationship that dogs flourish in known as a “balanced pack bond” which is secure. The way an owner(s) responds to a dogs natural wired behaviours in an unnatural environment that they provide may lead to one of the four types of modelling categories – there may be other categories. The way a dog is bonded to its owner(s) also affects how it will behave towards people in society and with its own kind and thereafter live in that same landscape we provide. I will now describe the four client centred models:

  • Model 1 – A balanced owner dog relationship / bond.
  • Model 2 – Disorganised / chaotic dog owners
  • Model 3 – Detached / ambivalent dog owners
  • Model 4 – Emotional /driven & insecure owner

A balanced owner Model 1 is an owner who has a good sensible relationship with their dog – sees a dog as a dog even though it may be our best friend. They are the easier owner to communicate sensible instructions too for a specific behaviour dog problem.

An example behaviour presented to a canine behaviour practitioner could be a dog that is noise phobic with vehicles, it panics and is difficult to control and handle for the owner. The dog becomes very frightened; pulls on the lead might try to run home across busy roads. All this activity is full of tension and panic.

The most common owner we see is the balanced model. They will receive and apply advice rationally using a phobia rehabilitation programme – this owner model understands that they have to ignore certain behaviours in the dog to help it overcome a phobia like their dogs fear of a hoover or washing machine sounds, and imagine the positive result. If their dog reacts fearfully they stay calm, ignore the panic behaviour and follow the experts’ advice in perhaps re directing the dogs mind onto other rewarding distractions or seem so indifferent on cue that the dog sees and owner is calm and not suddenly changing their body or verbal behaviour to match the dogs distress.

So how would two of my OPM models hypothetically deal with this dogs phobic behaviour. Well from my files not theory I can example OPM Models.

Model 3 the detached or ambivalent owner is often not doggy at all. Or simply have a pet dog by default or have inherited one. Motivating these owners can be difficult. They simply see the problem as a nuisance but cannot bring themselves to be consistent in methodological implementation. When dealing with the phobic behaviour in their dog they simply may not prepare for the event, be chaotic in implementing your instructions and have no rewards or re directed activities in place on cue as advised by the canine behaviour practitioner. All in all they will not help solve the issue by being inconsistent in reformation advice. These owners will need plain none complex explanations in virtual bullet form so the chances of implementation are greater. If success they may become more motivated but definitely will not read long reports with complex information. They will require extra contact and trigger calls for the best chance of success.
Model 4 the over emotional owners who begin to see dogs more as humans and the relationship becomes so intense as to be very much of balance. Canine Behaviour practitioners who meet these owners who in the first place may generate an issue like separation anxiety and then refuse to follow distancing psychological methodologies to help stabilise their dogs psyche and eventually teach their dog that time alone is normal as it is for people a group social animal. These owners often simply cannot bear to implement basic techniques which are critical to success like ignoring certain dog attention seeking behaviours and often are stricken by guilt for not treating their dog as an equal or offending its feelings. In fact it is their responses to their dogs’ excessive attention seeking that fuels or maintains the Separation Anxieties they so often want to solve.

So how does profiling help in practical way to the canine behaviour practitioner in this case?

If the owner is so emotionally attached to the dogs every whim then setting down a standard behaviour advice of distancing the dog gently over weeks or months needs careful explanation. Reports will simply not influence such owners – they need as much care and attention as the dog and the consultation can be as much as 90% on the owner and 10% on the rehabilitation methods.

Small incremental changes of dog/human relationship is a way forward and once this model owner sees results actually observes their dog becoming less stressed they will generally fulfil the rest of the programme. Understanding the human side of the dog/human relationship is just as important as understandably dog behaviour and psychology. Treating these clients as a model 1 will generally alter little in way of the dogs stress in separation situations. My own training in human counselling has helped much in my motivation of such clients – its very hard work at times but the dog is always in my minds eye.

Owners I describe in model 2 chaotic owners who have a dog exhibiting chases/predatory behaviour on live stock or wild life need specialised dog training to a high level and the human commitment is critical to re training their dog successfully. Understanding this owner personality traits means the practitioner cannot waste time offering complex workable solutions because little will change or be implemented. This owner needs straight forward steps of success to see results to encourage a stable approach and yes it works well if the advice is proffered working within the chaotic lifestyle that’s real.

Too many advisor’s often spout theoretical happy clappy reward solutions only with little balance in training methods and not considering practicalities and human personality traits This often results in failure and it is the dog that suffers. The owner requires intelligent balanced retraining information that works. This model 2 owner needs a patient and understanding advisor who is prepared to work hard with the type of dog owner and in the atmosphere that is.

Some family members have a number of model traits combined depending on circumstances and the experienced practitioner will understand these variations and work out good solutions. I have simply categorised as a guide the models as I have experienced from over 10,000 cases. Many experts already do what I describe subconsciously. I have simply set it out for my students to learn and obtain new skills. As always with my occupation and progress, the ultimate gain is dogs being allowed to enjoy life to the full and owners enjoying a satisfactory relationship with their dogs.

I work with people and dogs and respect owner and dog as clients. It’s not all about dogs.

Colin Tennant MA Canine Behaviour & Psychology