Well for Sarah, my German Shepherd x Siberian Husky, being an opportunist was key to survival in her first year of life which she spent primarily as a stray. Her wiliness and great intelligence ensured that she survived! It also made her a handful for anyone who tried to ‘tame’ her.
Perspective is everything. How you perceive and choose to support your dog’s opportunistic tendencies is up to you!
Opportunism can be good and bad in both dogs and humans. We will start with humans that way it will be easier for you to understand how this will apply to dogs.
Let’s say I see someone struggling to understand their dog’s behaviour. This person is walking their dog - the dog tugs and pulls reacting to vehicles that go by. I see this as an opportunity to use my skills and knowledge; to take five minutes out, to help this person learn how to communicate to their dog not to lunge at cars. In so doing I have the irreplaceable opportunity to help a dog; I help the dog’s human - which if they ‘get’ what I am teaching them can have a positive and profound ripple effect on all aspects of their relationship with their dog.
A win-win situation…this to me, is positive and beneficial opportunism.
When one person takes advantage of another person or non-human animal just because there is a window of opportunity to do so - for there own gain.
SO HOW DOES A DOG EXHIBIT POSITIVE OPPORTUNISM
I have seen a lot of dogs try to be good opportunists.
I have worked with many clients’ who love their dog very much, but they think that their dog is a bad dog as the dog exhibits unwanted behaviour. I notice that the dog makes good eye contract, constantly looking at its people…but the people don’t see. The dog is trying to be positively opportunistic, but its attempts fail time and time again, because the humans are not aware and don’t see that their dog is asking for direction.
After providing direction to the dog once or twice, the dog quickly understands that it can look at me for direction and I will provide the coaching and mentoring it is seeking - the dog is a positive opportunist. It always was it’s just that no one was paying attention.
Just imagine how upsetting and frustrating this is for the dog. Yet the dog has never stopped trying…even though it was often reviled by its humans for being bad!
In the absence of direction the dog has little choice but to make up its own rules.
|Sarah asking for permission to pick tomatoes|
A piece of food falls to the floor the dog moves in and grabs the food. There’s food on the counter - the dog counter surfs. When the door bell rings the dog is at the door before you are, you open the door and the dog jumps all over the guests, the dog won’t stop, won’t calm. This is opportunistic behaviour - but it can be categorized as negative opportunism…the behaviour is bad for the dog and bad for its humans…but whose fault is it?
Is it the dog’s fault? Well many people think so, but they are wrong. Is the fault actually with the human as no one has communicated to the dog (in a way that it can understand and respect) that this is not acceptable behaviour…yes.
Humans create negative opportunism in their dogs when they fail to understand how to effectively communicate with their dogs, when they are not fully aware of their dog’s body language, when they do not provide proper leadership for their dog.
|I waited until Mom said 'go'|
Sarah is a great example of how opportunism forms. Sarah is a rescued canine and came with the baggage left by past humans in her life letting her down. If you have a rescued dog you inherit whatever issue the dog may have acquired. Rehabilitating and turning the issue around can be both a challenge and journey.
If you have had your dog since its puppy-hood, but have had no success curbing ‘bad’ opportunism you need to examine and correct what you are doing wrong. Remember perspective is everything. Your dog is trying to tell you, to inform you to show you how to be a better human being.
ENABLE YOUR DOG’S POSITIVE OPPORTUNISM
We often get the dog we need, not the dog we think we want. For example, if you are anxious and tense by nature - you will make your dog similarly un-balanced. Your dog is trying to give you a positive opportunity - a gift to grow as a person. You cannot help your dog, if you do not help yourself first!
Sometimes we have to adjust our expectations a little - no human is perfect, so, please do not ever expect your dog to be perfect…but also do not leave gaps were negative opportunism can thrive…by doing so, you set your dog up for failure.
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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld
Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
- an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
- an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
- an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate;
- understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
- a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
- the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
- behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
- self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
- kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
- the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
- understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
- absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.