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Behaviour literally changes the mind! So, it’s quite important to teach our dogs well

Eva was the inspiration for Safe Hands

When I first adopted Eva, she would dig in her bed ‘to make it more comfy’. Fast forward 7 years and this cute, innocuous behaviour is causing significant issues.

As I have now discovered, the more she practiced digging the better she got and the longer she would do it for! This behaviour migrated out of the ‘making the bed comfy’ setting and into other areas of her life.

Looking back, this migration started with digging to get my attention and has developed into a mania whenever she becomes frightened. It’s like she is trying to get me to stop the frightening things – the thunderstorm, the fireworks, the heavy rain. Digging now appears to be feeding a panic cycle.

She digs, this makes her hot and more anxious, she takes a break to cool down but can’t because she is so anxious, she needs to dig… This vicious circle is being tackled, but as an established pattern it is taking time.

So, what is happening?

Our brains are not hard wired. We learn something and this takes time and we feel clumsy. But as we continue to practice the brain changes, the pathways that are being practiced become better connected and less practiced behaviour pathways become less well connected. The nerves involved in the practiced behaviour even gain a coating or myelin (fatty insulation) that speeds up nerve transmission. This is called ‘neuroplasticity’. Want to see this in action? Try brushing your teeth or writing with your wrong hand for 2 weeks.

Little practiced behaviour - weak neural pathway
Consistently practiced behaviour - clear, efficient pathway

Why is this relevant to your dog?

Does your dog have a behaviour that is becoming a problem?

If, like me, your dogs’ behaviour is not serving them (or you) well you can do something about it. With time and patience, a new behaviour can supersede a problem behaviour. In time the new behaviour will become the dominant option for your dog – so choose your behaviour wisely.

For me this is strengthening a come command and shaping a fetch. Not easy to do with a dog when they are manic, but possible when that bed really does need to be made more comfy! This also helps improve our bond and gives us an excuse to work together.

Is your dog learning something new?

This ability to strengthen neural pathways and create new ‘routes’ is key when teaching anything new. In my Core Conditioning courses I help owners teach their dog to complete each exercise.

Because done correctly my exercises will strengthen a dogs’ core musculature, rebalance their bodies and grow their confidence.

Incorrectly or inconsistently doing the exercises creates the wrong or poorly defined pathways and prevent improvement. But worse, it could create imbalances, poor posture and long term physiological issues. Creating new direct pathways for anything new takes time, but far less time than trying to redirect a pathway and correct a behaviour.

Find out more about my core training here

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