I am no scientist, mathematician, or statistician but I really do value data–hard and clinical data. We may have feelings about what we might be seeing or hunches about things but without real data, it’s hard to be conclusive and get a total picture. Behavior logs are one of the easiest ways to collect data on behavior–you become an objective observer and just jot down what you see. The great thing about behavior logs is that it allows you to see change over time (is what you are doing working on resolving the issue or is the behavior actually getting worse). The ability to see change over time helps us be able to make decisions based on actual data, not just ‘feelings’ or hunches.
When dealing with any number of behaviors, it can be extremely helpful start a log. You can log/journal about reactivity, aggression, resource guarding, fearfulness, or anxieties. Logging makes guardians better observers. Living with a dog often makes guardians ‘immune’ to some features of their dog’s behavior because it is just a daily occurrence–it becomes background noise. Sometimes those things are critical in understanding the dog’s behavior and resolving it.
So many of my clients say that their dog’s behavior issue (or their dog) is unpredictable–that sometimes the dog is fine and other times there are big issues. Logging about reactivity, aggression, and resource guarding can absolutely help guardians better ‘see’ and understand their dog’s behavior. After one week, most of my clients discover triggers all on their own that were unknown previously. Maybe the dogs RG more often at night when they are sleepy, maybe aggression occurs often in tight corners, etc. Logging helps us see the behavior in a new way which can help us discover triggers or patterns that we can use to better manage situations and focus our training efforts.
In other instances we can see the full extent of a behavior that we have come desensitized to. Particularly with anxious dogs, fearful dogs, or dogs with compulsive behaviors we can start to see aspects of the behaviors that we’ve learned to “not see”. How often is our fearful dog showing stress signals when in areas we typically think he is okay or with people we thought he was okay with? How long does it take our fearful dog to recover from low-level environmental trigger (a dropped spoon)? For dogs with generalized anxiety, just how often does the dog pace and whine? Are there people who trigger than anxiety more than others. Is there a time a day more problematic than others for dogs with compulsive behaviors? Does amount/type of exercise change the intensity of the compulsive behavior?
What you choose to log will be different based on the behaviors you are trying to log–anxiety, fear, aggression, reactivity, etc. HOW you choose to log will be different for everyone. When I request students start seriously logging behaviors, I give them a template that makes sense in my head but we are all individuals and process things differently so I highly encourage students to make their own logs that make sense for them or customize the basic outline I provide. I WANT this to be easy enough so that it gets done–I’m perfectly content with Post-it notes stuck on a page or whatever works. You don’t have to write a novel for each entry-it can even be short hand so long as you understand it.
For Reactivity I would be logging the following (more or less depending on dog):
One entry for the reactive dog may look like this: “10/4–pre-breakfast–neighborhood w/ me, no unseen dogs barking–leashed husky on walk ignoring us–lunge bark growl, moderately easy to redirect– 4/10 — 80ft — 3 min once out of sight.
What you log would be different for different behaviors you are wishing to track but this is the basic outline for all types of behaviors: Date/time of day (time of day doesn’t have to be exact, just general since that may be part of a pattern), Environment (set the scene, what was happening prior to the behavior), Trigger (what caused the behavior, if known), Describe behavior (what happened as a result of the trigger happening), level of intensity (how intense was the behavior), what happened after (this will vary drastically depending on the behavior being tracked but could be time to settle, dog’s body language after, time to ‘normal’, change in place/position).
I am currently working with a student regarding her dog’s generalized anxiety. One of the things I wanted her to track was her dog’s ability to truly settle or relax. We talked about tracking when it happened and how long it took to happen. After two weeks, it became very clear that there were only two times during the day that her dog legitimately relaxed (not including sleeping at night)–this was information that she never would have recognized without logging. This discovery was a huge piece of the puzzle for his continued behavioral improvement.
Logging absolutely takes time and commitment but the things we can learn from logging can be life changing for our canine partners (and in return for the humans). If you are being perplexed by behavior, you may want to give logging a try–it doesn’t have to be overly time consuming. You won’t capture everything and that’s okay–the more you get the better data set you have but you don’t have to spend every waking moment logging.