Thank you, as always, to everyone who has sent emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. I am truly grateful for all of the kind words and am thrilled each week to read new questions. Remember—there is no such thing as a stupid question. If you are struggling with your dog, please ask away and tune into this column every week. There is always hope, even if the issues you are facing with your dog seem insurmountable.
Today I would like to discuss something that I feel is often overlooked. We are going to dissect primary and secondary emotions in dogs.
It’s pretty easy to see that dogs are emotional animals. They may not experience emotions to the extent that we do, but their emotional states are just as powerful.
Before we can begin to rehabilitate problem behaviors, we must remember that problem behaviors are a reflection of our dog’s internal emotional state. So often we hear, “My dog does (insert problem behavior) for no reason.” This just isn’t true. Unless the dog is suffering from a medical condition, there is always a reason for the behavior, and that reason is the true source of the problem.
Many owners come to me for aggression or anxiety, and very often, they are challenging behaviors, BUT they are not the ILLNESS; they are the SYMPTOMS. They are a representation of a deeper emotional stress.
For instance, aggression is often a result of four different emotions: insecurity, fear, frustration, and entitlement. A fearful dog very often is aggressive. An insecure dog will usually have aggressive tendencies. An entitled dog feels as if it deserves to act out. A frustrated dog will respond aggressively in situations it hadn’t before.
Anxiety is often the result of two emotions: insecurity and fear. An insecure or fearful dog is often anxious in new situations or when left alone.
Fear, insecurity, frustration, and entitlement are primary emotions — the illnesses. Anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity, and jealousy are secondary emotions — the symptoms.
Sometimes all it takes is a little more structure or a little more input in your dog’s daily life. Next time you see your dog acting out, watch them and try to pinpoint the emotion they are feeling. Once you know the secondary emotion (this is the emotion you can see), you can narrow in on the primary emotion. Once you have that knowledge, you can dive into rehabilitation.
As we navigate the journey of training together, we will do so through these lenses, and we will find significantly more success in our endeavors. By understanding our dogs’ emotional states and practicing true leadership, calmness, and guidance, we can conquer seemingly monstrous problem behaviors without ever tackling them head on.
Stephanie Vichinsky is the owner/head trainer of United K9, LLC in Post Falls. 208-964-4806