Here at the ranch, we believe that what we do and think can change the structure of our brain; this theory is called Neuroplasticity and it challenges the thought that the brain is a static lump of meat between the ears.
We believe that dogs, although different to humans in many ways, are also akin to humans in many ways. Thus, though they are hard wired for smell instead of language like we are, we believe they have self perception [widely argued, this one!] a detailed cognitive thought process, and, through neuroplasticity, are able to change even the most ingrained behaviours.
Take for instance, the Michael Vick dogs….all hardened killers, right? No, not when you see how all but a very few were completely rehabilitated from fighting dogs to become family pets, capable of residing next to other dogs happily without pulling them to pieces. This was achieved through a change of environment, each dog learning new skills, a human intervention bringing in emotions and care/ attentiveness unseen or experienced for most of these dogs, new sleep patterns, new exercise patterns and a change of diet.
Change can happen when change happens……………
Here at the ranch, we do our best rehabilitation work when we get the dog out of its normal environement, change everything that the dog knows and expects, introduce new friends and positive experiences, build some trust between dog and handler, and THEN, only then, do we ask the dog to go the next step to shake off all his previous responses to stress triggers. He’s out of his normal environment but comfortable and happy; hes made new friends that bring out the best in him; hes eating food that regulates his energy and stress responses, and getting exercise enough to calm him….[athletes are always calm when theyre resting, arent they?].
At that point, we bring in new exercises, perhaps walking on a log, or nosework, or weaving through poles….it could be anything, but the fact is, it resets the brain. It stimulates other, unawakened responses, and that means, my friends, the dog has a wider palette of choices available at his mental disposal with which to make better choices.
We have had the huge pleasure of working with some amazing dogs, some change very fast, some change a little slower…it depends on the relationship we build with the dog and how ‘tapped in’ we become to what he needs, but the fact is, in dog rehabilitation, as with most things in life, CHANGE IS GOOD.
It can be hard, it can take time, it can even be painful…but remember the old adage that a friend of mine taught me a couple of years ago….If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.
In parting, I will tell you that this process works for both humans and dogs alike, but unless you grow four legs and a tail pretty quick, youre not going to convince us to work on you at the ranch….sorry!