I often have clients contact me after their attempts to resolve a behavior problem on their own have been unsuccessful. What I often find is that people are attempting to address the symptom (which itself is a problem for them) without addressing the underlying problem. Let me explain with an example.
I recently met with a new client for a behavior consultation. One of the issues they are having is their nearly two year old dog spends a great deal of time watching out the windows for people and dogs passing by on the sidewalk. Once he spots someone he barks and will race from window to window to follow them. If he has the opportunity to go in the backyard, he will race back and forth along the fence line barking at them.
For my clients, the problem is their dog barking at everyone who passes by. As we discussed the other issues they want to address, the dog's training thus far and his daily routine, I discussed with them that the “problem” they were seeing was merely a symptom of the real problem.
In this case, the real problem was the dog's lack of exercise and outlets for his energy level. This is a fairly high energy breed and a young dog. After examining his daily routine, I realized that this dog was not getting enough physical and mental stimulation. His watching out the window and barking at passersby is really a symptom of not having enough appropriate outlets for his energy. This dog is BORED!
Now, from the client's perspective, I understand that barking out the window and racing along the fence line outside is a problem. And I most certainly can help them address that issue. However, the problem with addressing the symptom and not addressing the underlying problem is that a new issue will replace the current issue. This is why so many people continue to have problems with their dogs. They address a symptom but not the underlying issue. If we stop the dog from barking out the window, but he is still bored, what will happen?
If the real issue is not addressed, the dog will simply find another outlet. He might stop barking out the window, but the boredom will express itself in a new way. Barking out the window might be annoying, but at least it's not destructive. What if the dog now decides to express his boredom by chewing up the couch cushions, stealing laundry, surfing the counters, or digging in the trash? We solved the barking problem but now we have a new problem.
Many people will see this as an entirely new problem and think their dog is doing these things to spite them. That's simply not true. Our dogs are not out to get us, take over the house, or make our lives miserable. They are simply being dogs. It's our responsibility to ensure we are meeting their needs and providing appropriate outlets for them.
The next time you are addressing a behavior issue with your dog, consider whether or not you are addressing the real problem or only a symptom of it.