The Problem Behavior: A Dog's Attempt to Self-Regulate

Often times while working with dogs, we get multiple "problem behaviors" that are thrown our way. When the phone rings, I can't wait to see what's going on with the dog we are about to meet and how we can help.

"My dog is leash reactive."

"My dog won't stop barking."

"My dog bites people."

"My dog is destructive in the home when I'm not there."

"My dog pees and poops indoors."

"My dog fights other dogs."

"My dog is jumpy mouthy."

The list goes on and on... and maybe you've even experienced (or are experiencing) some of these problem behaviors yourself with your dog. Instead of focusing on what's happening in that very moment, you may find it helpful to take a step back and explore the root cause of that behavioral symptom. Could your dog's behavioral issue be them trying to self-regulate?... And if it's continued on for a good while, that pattern is now the only attempt they've got to come back to a neutral state of mind. One of my favorite speakers on this topic of self regulation and trauma in general is Peter Levine.

"Nature has instilled in all animals, including humans, a nervous system capable of restoring equilibrium. When self-regulating function is blocked or disturbed, trauma symptoms develop..."

-Peter Levine

The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don't define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the wa.png

To approach a problem behavior from a place of empathy and patience while developing a bond to help heal the dog through their natural prey drive, it's important that we realize that a problem behavior is more times than not, a symptom of trauma. It's as easy as that finger point and "NO" correction when they were a puppy to imprint trauma, yet maybe the effects aren't evident until they are 3-6 years old. The bite inhibition that was taught during puppy raising. The constant pinning and restraint at the vets office or hard core wrestling where the dog didn't feel they could win. Or the electric fence they weren't properly pre-trained with using other tools and rock solid recall. The over-stimulation indoors and lack of decompression (or over correcting), yet now they have separation anxiety or are anxious around guests (which can easily be mistaken as overly excited). The dog fight that happened at daycare and now they are fearful and reactive to other dogs. The birdhouse that lets out a sonic wave every time the dog barks indoors and now they shake violently with any noise or bark consistently outdoors. The one whack on the nose with the newspaper when they were trying to counter surf and now they cower & tighten up with anything that moves over their head. The list goes on and on. These are all examples of experiences that could lead to trauma as the dog develops. So what happens when a dog with PTSD (literally) tries to cope and self-regulate? It depends.

In some cases, a strong temperament dog can grow up with little effects. So, what about the others? With an attempt to self-regulate especially if trauma has occurred, it can look jarring to the human eye. We see them as "problem behaviors".

What's the treatment? Well, it's not a quick fix. And now that I write that, the best journeys in life aren't the quick ones. You have to take into account the number of times that happened, the dogs age, the dogs temperament, and the level of intensity in which those traumatic events took place. We can tell you that tapping into your dog's prey drive, using movement,  and channeling a quality that is innate and natural to them in order to express what typically was suppressed is therapeutic and begins the healing process.

When you start with the dog's prey drive - that primal desire to hunt and connect - and they do it all with you as the owner, you hold the key to peeling back the layers of their PTSD. Not only does their drive give them a way to move that energy, but it accesses their puppy behaviors to override the problem behaviors with practice, consistency, and teamwork outdoors. With this comes a deep form of relaxation and decompression when indoors... which for dogs not quite used to the extra downtime can result in a period of detoxing. What all the work results in? Empowerment for both you and your dog. A complete transformation in how you carry on with your day to day relationship, and a positive shift in perspective through the lens of your dog. Whatever their problem behavior was now has a way to move through them with you on their team. 

If anything, I urge you to approach you and your dog's relationship with compassion and think to yourself "Am I setting my dog up for success or squashing it?"

**Dedicated to all our past, present, and future clients who are making the movement move through their dog's drive, our colleagues who are spreading the love of Natural Dog Training.

Sam Corbo