Can you FIX my dog?

May 8, 2015 | Training


When dealing with canine behavior problems, it is much more effective to take one step at a time to reach milestones and attain the end result

When clients contact me, they often ask, “Can you fix my dog?” It has become something I smile about now, but nonetheless a pet peeve.  There’s nothing wrong with the word itself, but let’s take a look at it applied to a living, breathing animal.

Used as a verb to FIX something by definition is to fasten (something) securely in a particular place or position and that is not something to do with dogs, although I am sure your imagination can give a quick picture of what that might look like.

Another definition is to direct one’s eyes, attention, or mind steadily or unwaveringly toward, as in more directly meaning to affix. With training a dog CAN be taught where to direct eyes, to be attentive and to find an owner worth listening to. So we have conundrum of meaning because when I think of fixing something, I think of inanimate objects, versus some living, breathing skin, bones and fur. For the latter, it IS possible to HELP the dog owner, or to TEACH or to MODIFY behavior or to have your dog FIXED as in spay/neuter.

As a noun to FIX something by definition is as in a difficult or awkward situation from which it is hard to extricate oneself; a predicament like “how on earth did you get into such a fix?” How, indeed, did the dog or dog owner get into this FIX?

Another definition is a dose of a narcotic drug to which one is addicted as in “he hadn’t had his fix”.

A dog is a living, breathing being and one might counter that with “can you fix grandma from pinching Johnny’s cheeks” or “can you fix my dad who is an alcoholic” or “can you fix my child from (fill in the blank here)”. All silly in context.

Can you FIX my dog? I say, I can HELP, or TEACH, or COACH and I can MODIFY behavior so it isn’t repeated or so that it extinguishes. Is that what you mean?

A dog can be taught manners, to be attentive to their owner, to enjoy learning and to be reliable, which fits another, more viable, definition of FIX. Teaching a dog to focus, yes that is possible. We can get the dog to FIX their attention on a task or on a dog owner in a positive manner to achieve the goals and milestones we establish in the beginning. We can work on behavior and teach the dog.

With behavior we do ask questions to determine how the dog got into this FIX in the first place. What are the triggers? What is the environment like? Is there a known history? What techniques are being used currently? Are pet guardians committed to the process?

Since some behavior can be looked at as an addiction, something the dog has repeated over and over again until it has become habituated, we can also look at it as an addiction. The dog is getting their FIX for the day by repeating reactions or aggressions of behavior.  We can help MODIFY and TEACH.

Depending on which definition is chosen when presented with the question “can you fix my dog?” the answer might be yes. The reality is the definition from the client is usually “fix this problem, or else” or literally “end this problem today”. The word FIX when verbalized by the client always denotes urgency and simply tips me off to the emotion behind the issue. They want it to stop, and stop now.

When a trainer hears the word FIX, we imagine an inanimate object that we might piece together, rewire. It is infuriating because a dog is not an inanimate object, they are not a robot, and they don’t have wires or screws and can’t be just fine-tuned with a tool. If we are looking at habituated behavior that has been allowed to continue over a long period of time, then it will take time to teach new habits.

Better plan is to take one step at a time to reach milestones and goals to the end result.  If you imagine each step having a skill or technique to work through first in baby steps climbing the stairs will be much easier than trying to jump from the bottom step to the top in one bounding leap.

This is a behavioral journey. If you try to do too many steps at one time you may experience some fallout. As humans we could potentially twist an ankle or break a leg setting us back. Time to healing will be much more than if you just took one step at a time, chunking each behavior or skill into tiny parts.

The Merriam Webster dictionary describes FIX as:

To make (something) whole or able to work properly again: to repair (something)

To deal with or correct (a problem)

To attach (something) in such a way that it will not move: to connect or join (things) physically

If we substitute the word dog in these sentences, it makes no sense at all.

  1. He fixed the fence (dog) last weekend.
  2. I need to fix this dent in my car (dog).
  3. People expect the schools to fix whatever is wrong with their kids (dogs).
  4. All tables (dogs) on the ship will be fixed to the floor.
  5. The scarf (dog) was fixed in place with a pin.

If we focus on the word FIX, it indicates something that can be done as a project or in an afternoon or day. We all know behavior runs deep and there is no quick FIX.

So next time a client asks, “Can you fix my dog?” Smile, and craft your answer positively.  Just know they are at their wit’s end.