Behavior Analysis Unit - Dog Division
I am obsessed with the show "Criminal Minds". I watch it religiously. I love the show so much, I feel like my calling in life could have been as a profiler if I wasn't such a chicken and didn't absolutely love dogs and doing what I do. There is one person I have to thank for enlightening me to this show and his name is Scott Jetter. My late mentor had so much knowledge and deep understanding of dog training and dog behavior that I hope to one day have the same amount of understanding as well. When I was really starting to learn how to be a real dog trainer, as opposed to the semblance of what I at the time thought a dog trainer was, I started working for an amazing group of dog trainers at Canine Craze in Urbandale, Iowa. These trainers were amazing and I was learning so much from them at the time and all I could do was hope to absorb all the information they had like a sponge. I was working with a group of dogs in their Train & Play program and there was one dog I was having trouble with. He was clearly displaying inappropriate behavior that needed to be worked on and I just could not figure out how to fix it. I had tried multiple different things, and being the new trainer I was that didn't have even an ounce of the knowledge I now have, I was getting frustrated at the fact that I wasn't seeing any quick results or fixes. I went to the late Scott Jetter and his wife Renee and asked what I was doing wrong or what I should do. The answer I got has honestly stayed in my mind for years, introduced me to one of the greatest shows, and also has changed how I look at dog training. Scott replied, "Have you ever seen the show 'Criminal Minds'"? I was a little taken aback by the answer and answered "no". He explained what the show was about and said, "you need to become a profiler. Treat this dog like an un-sub. Get in his head. Figure out why he is doing what he is doing. Then you can fix the problem. But seriously, you need to watch this show". Now, anyone who has ever met Scott Jetter can tell you, that is a total Scott Jetter answer. And I took it to heart because I admired Scott and thought anything he said was liquid gold and I needed to do it. So I watched the show and by-golly, he was right!
The beauty of the show "Criminal Minds" is that it follows a group of FBI profilers for the Behavior Analysis Unit as they dig into the behavior of the crimes they see to try to capture serial killers and prevent future attacks on society. They look at all the intricate details of the crime scene they are analyzing from location, placement of certain objects, anything out of the ordinary, how a body may be left and disposed of. Then they try to figure out any patterns they are seeing and how that behavior relates to cases they may have seen or analyzed in the past. What sort of background did this person have growing up and about how old are they know based on behavior they are displaying? Believe it or not, take out the horrific crime scene portion, and this is how dog trainers analyze the dogs and owners they are working with.
When I first work with someone in private lessons, I try to cover all of the variables for why a dog is doing what they are doing. How long has this been going on? What specifically is the dog's behavior showing us? Is it fear, anxiety, aggression, reactivity, excitement? Where did the dog come from? How long have they had the dog? What training or socialization history is in its past? These are usually the outward signs I ask of owners specifically. Then there are things I don't ask that give me an even clearer picture. When the owner talks about their dog, what does their body language say? Is the owner concerned and worried about the behavior? Are they desperate and almost pleading to address the issue? Do they have a tone of irritation and frustration, maybe raise their voice even slightly when talking about the specific issue? Do they have a nonchalance attitude about the behavior? What does it look like if I ask them to play with their dog? Do they pet their dog as we are working or do they talk to their dog? These all help me see a picture of what can feed into the issue and how much the owner may or may not be willing to go the extra mile for the dog and what I need to do to portray the dog's needs clearly to that specific owner. Even how the home is laid out: where are the people things in the house and where are the dog things, can be another clue for how to work with this specific dog. Even in a group class, how the owner comes in, what they do with the dog, what questions they ask, the supplies and types of supplies they bring, all give me a picture for how to work with that specific owner/dog team. And even in daycare, without the human half, I can still look at the behavior and figure out how to work with each individual dog based on that.
Many people, and novice trainers like myself years ago, just want to look at getting the results. We just want the bad behaviors fixed. We just want the bad guy in jail. But in order to "fix" the behaviors and catch the bad guy, we need to figure out the "why" of why the dog is behaving the way it is behaving, why the bad guy or girl does what they do. You need to look at the whole picture, even wider than you may be thinking, and then look for those little intricate details to piece a better picture of what is going on in your dog's head. Once you figure out that key, creating the roadmap to fixing the problem behavior is significantly easier and comes almost naturally. That doesn't mean there won't be hiccups along the way or adjustments to your training plan that need to be made, but you will at least know how to analyze and adjust accordingly. You can change your strategy based on new information presented to you by the dog, inadvertently or not. Try not to focus so much on just what you want fixed, and focus more on the why.
Now, I would love to just say to people when they ask me a question about how to fix something that they need to watch "Criminal Minds" and treat their dog like an un-sub or serial killer. However, my personality does not permit me to give an answer like that and someone to think it is brilliant. Scott Jetter, however, was always able to give an answer like that that led to absolute clarity, even if it seemed a little unconventional. So instead, I leave you with the statement to just think about the why. Analyze your dog's behavior and how your dog interacts with the world around it. And if you would love an excellent TV show recommendation, go check out "Criminal Minds".