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Life on film

I always love the “Question Time” bit when I’m giving a lecture. On the whole, this is a good chance for people to ask me questions about how what we’ve been discussing relates to their own dog’s behaviour. While sometimes they may start the sentence, “My friend has a dog who…!” it is still personal, and relates directly to a living, breathing dog or cat out there who – frankly – could do with a little help to be able to deal with his or her human!

I like the challenge that the on-the-spot questions bring, and also the way that it makes me edit and shape my answer so that it can be as quick and useful as possible – as well as easy to follow for the owner who really is going to go home and put the ideas into practice.

In one such lecture only a few weeks ago, I was talking about canine body language, but led by a question from the audience, I mentioned dog-dog aggression, and how difficult it can be to manage in a real-world situation. I referred to Grisha Stewart and her BAT methods and how it was important to always work with the dog ‘sub-threshold’ – that is at a level where the dog is not already reacting to the other dog, but can think and function in a cognitive way – not just an emotional one. Knowing that I specialise in aggression, the lady in the audience asked me if next time, we could do a whole day of using this method in a practical setting. The answer is both yes and no. Yes, we could, but no we won’t! Why not?

Unfortunately, done properly, watching good behavioural interventions work well can be a bit like watching paint dry! It takes time – lots of it. It takes repetition. And it takes patience, in bucket-loads. It’s a sad fact that the more dramatic the scenario, the less likely it is that the dog is actually benefiting – and, whilst I want students of behaviour and owners to have fun at workshops, the dog is always my top priority!

TV tends to show dramatic scenarios, and exciting ’15 minute fixes’ – but as we all know, this isn’t representative of real life! For this reason, I tend to fill my Masterclasses and lectures with video clips of real life cases, consultations, and dogs that I have filmed ‘doing their thing’. That way, us slow-coach humans can watch again and again. We can slow things down, pause and stop. We can discuss tiny nuances, as well as the bigger picture.We can watch at our own speed – which is, (as any dog would like to tell you!) painfully slow in comparison to our lightening-fast canine friends.

Sometimes life on film really can offer you more than the real thing.

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