The Environment affects our dog’s behaviours
The dog’s environment, it consists of what?
There are many external and internal factors that all create a specific dog’s environment they are living within.
It is safe to assume that some of the most influential of these would be the genetics of the breed, the hormonal balance of the individual, who and what it socialises with and how often, and the home conditions including the people and other animals if present.
When it comes to a dog’s behaviour and modification, we work with public or external factors. Internal factors or private events are almost impossible to know precisely or predict their full effect.
The environmental effects on a dog begin even before birth. Caused by the influences of the environment on the mother and how she perceives them which can impact on the behaviour of the fetal animal.
What’s breed got to do with it?
Factors like the size of the home and surrounding gardens or land. Depending on the breed traits of the dog. These factors would have a lesser or more significant effect on the dog’s environment and their ability to act naturally.
Shut a herding breed in a small room for the whole day, or leaving a toy breed in the garden for long periods. Both would suffer negatively from the effects of exposure to these situations.
What about the house?
Where the house is situated will change the dynamics of this effect. Is it in a busy and noisy city street or the middle of the countryside?
The later, the only sound is the birds singing or a squirrel dropping his nuts! If a dog is used to living on a farm and then moves to a busy city. This move is a massive change to the dog’s environment.
A thing like storing the household rubbish may have its effect too. Is it in a bin with a lid or in an open bag and smelling like divine temptation. Is the home clean and tidy? Everything within the house and gardens will influence behaviour.
Sleeping for a healthy body and behaviour
Where the dog sleeps is another factor. Dogs require a comfortably dry, draft-free, clean and quiet place that they can rest, relax. Somewhere safe that they can remove themselves to if things are getting stressful elsewhere.
If the dog is living in cold and wet conditions, these may lead to illness. Dog’s that have nowhere to rest or is pestered constantly by people or other animals.
This lack of respite will lead to stress levels rising, likely causing health issues and behaviour complications.
The humans in the dog’s environment!
The type people that are part of regular life for the dog will play a pivotal stimulus for the dog’s environment. The number of people also change the dynamics within the home.
A house that has relaxed residents and one that has angry or agitated residents will create two completely different environments.
A household, with experienced dog owners and one that is first-time dog owners, will produce entirely different environments for the dog.
With regards to the people, how much quality time they spend with the dog is a significant factor. Dogs are social animals that require the company of their owners in varying degrees depending on the breed and individual.
The supervision of the dog during the day, time spent on its own, time spent on training and the training methods go toward the human environment the dog lives in and also can create or damage the bond it feels with the owner(s).
Visitors to the home in type and regularity will play their part too.
Multi-dog household and the dog’s environment
If it is the only dog in the family unit or a multi-dog family will bring different factors in its everyday routine. Sharing available resources with the other dogs including the owner’s attention.
Even in a multi-dog household, each dog needs a certain amount of one on one time with its owner. The behaviour of the other dog’s will dramatically affect the overall environment for each dog.
Exercise, It is not just the body!
The level of activity and how it is received will be a factor that causes effects. Off-leash free-running compared to on-lead walking, are two substantially different forms of exercise. It is not only physical exercise that is required.
Mental activity is just as important if not more so than physical exercise. Enriching your dog’s life by engaging their brains is essential for a balanced growth for a dog.
The dogs routine
Scheduling is another factor that influences the environment. Dogs have their mental and physical requirements and a balanced routine is essential to them. When they get their food, exercise, walks, training, toilet breaks on each day each plays their role.
A good routine gives structure and balance to the dog’s life. The routine needs to fulfil the dog’s needs and requirements. Routine produces a stable and reliable foundation for the dog and its behaviour choices.
I try avoiding a strict time orientated routine as these can cause issues. Rather, the routine for each day includes all my dogs physical and mental exercise and enrichment in a varied way.
Any individual, animal, smell or movement is part of the dog’s environment
Other stimuli that go towards creating each dog’s environment are the types of places it visits outside of the home. When living in a busy city, factors like roads and traffic, cyclists, busy pavements and parks come into effect.
If however, they live in the countryside livestock, horses wide open fields and agricultural vehicles play a more prominent factor.
Five Common Mistakes and how to avoid them with environments and training our dog’s:
1 – Training in an environment that is too high in distractions:
If your dogs are distracted, and attention is low either move to a less distracting environment or increase the value of the rewards they are working to achieve. If they are ignoring roast chicken, then it’s time to move! Read More: on Distractions
2 – “Trainers greed” in training, trying to move to fast through the steps:
Whatever you are currently training always work at your dog’s pace. In the long run, you will achieve the end goal a lot faster. Never be afraid to lower criteria or take a step back in training. Train the dog that is in front of you each day. Read More: the Rule of Five.
3 – Dog struggling in a new environment:
When training a known cued behaviour in a new environment. Go back to the beginning steps and work your way through. Train as if teaching the behaviour for the first time. Dogs do not generalise in the same way we do.
4 – Expecting the dog to perform new behaviour in all environments to quickly:
Much like ourselves our dogs are individuals. The number of different settings we need to train the behaviour in before they understand the cue means the same everywhere is individual to them. It may take three different settings or seven it doesn’t really matter, keep working at their pace and they will get there.
5 – Increasing distraction levels to quickly with different environments:
Be mindful of how much the distraction level is moving between each setting. It is easy to lose our dogs attention, and they become distracted.
As a result, a training plan would go something like Lounge/Kitchen/Back Garden/Front Garden/Supermarket car park when closed/Local Park when quiet/Local Park when Busy.
This planned progression sets our dog up for success at each level of distractions in the environment.
Conclusion, the dog’s environment
In short, every smell, sound and entity that the dog is experiencing combined with its current hormonal balance, medical condition, age and previous experience memories make up their entire environment at that moment in time.
It is the combination of all of these that create the behaviour choices our dog makes at that moment in time.
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