Why is My Animal Being Such a Jerk?!
We have all had that one session… the one where your animal just gives you the middle flipper, the middle paw, the middle toe. Then you look at your fellow trainers with those wide eyes and say “man, why is my animal being such a jerk?!” There’s a good chance you might use another word other than “jerk,” but we’ll keep it clean. It might not seem like it but they have a reason, I promise you that much. So how do we figure out what it is that’s causing this behavior?
There’s the obvious one- environment. Has something changed, or moved around? Is the weather different? Are your guests being noisy? Is there construction or some kind of festival or concert nearby? ANYTHING that targets one of your animal’s senses can easily be the source of their jerky-ness. Hopefully, whatever it may be is temporary; if not, or even if so, work through it!
Now, how’s their motivation? How’s their drive? If it’s not strong enough, then you’ve got a big problem. I would say, most trainers are pretty well off to notice this one. Our animals often earn their meals, and their extras (treats, toys, extra love, etc.) So if you don’t have their motivation in the bag, that is easily the first place to start.
Are you fulfilling their internal instinctual needs? This is a big one. So often dog owners will say, “well I play fetch with them, but they’re still being a jerk!” Okay. Your partner gave you five minutes of their time- are YOU going to be genuinely happy and content for the next 24-72 hours until they maybe give you another five minutes? HECK NO!
Most all animals that we care for are social creatures, make sure their social mind is fulfilled regularly and PROPERLY. Dogs- they need to play tug (correctly!) They need to sniff, be social, roll in the dirt, run, play frisbee, chew- remember what breed you’re working with- and don’t give me the “they’re a mutt mix” excuse. DO NOT just take them to the dog park and expect that to fix all of your problems!
Marine mammals, they’re all a predator to some other species. Allow them ways to hunt, and be creative! We get in such a rut of using the same EEDs, but think bigger! We are their only opportunity to explore those senses, so make it worth their while!
This week, I started a new job. My dog Rory (lab and pointer mix) who was regularly able to come to work with me, is now no longer able to. I made the poor mistake of thinking that she would be fine in my bedroom rather than in her crate for 9 hours. Well, day one she tore apart a whole mess of things (she has not eaten one single thing in the house since the day I adopted her.) When I opened the door and first saw the mess I had to clean, I took a deep breath and wasn’t even the least bit mad. That’s only because I knew in that instant, that I had not been fulfilling her needs; I’d been slacking big time on her training and was not allowing her a proper outlet for her drives.
Also, the irony of this picture kind of made it all worth it.
Guys, there’s so, so many reasons your animal may be acting like such a jerk- hormones, a bad day, factors below the waterline that you can’t even see, and plenty more. Its happened to every trainer or pet owner, but think through it. Think to yourself what you and your team can be doing differently to improve the sessions or general behavior. It will almost always pass (I only say almost, because I don’t like absolutes, but I can pretty much guarantee.)