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OPM - Owner Profile Modelling in Dog Behaviour by Colin Tennant MA Principal of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour & Training


It is common knowledge that owners are the main influence on a dog’s behavioural development from puppyhood to maturity and in essence the dog’s final adult temperament. Some other factors may be influential, including quality of breeding, as well as breed drives that are often overlooked by inexperienced animal behaviourists; that is why when you wish to obtain help with a dog you should use a dog practitioner who is an academically and vocationally trained expert.


Dog mind altering factors can be environmental, such as a dog living in rural isolation or on the tenth story of a block of flats, which will inevitability influence how we begin to assess and assist a dog owner in rehabilitating a dog exhibiting behavioural problems – in other words location – notwithstanding family dynamics.


Dog Law, especially the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), also influences how we rehabilitate a dog in public spaces and this law without doubt impedes good behavioural reformation training. Many armchair experts start from the position that some owners should not have a dog in certain circumstances and that makes rehabilitation difficult. Well, the fact is they do and that’s a reality check/fact and part of this work in dog behaviour and also the challenge for us is to be flexible and skilled. What is ironic is that some dog rescue charities promote ineffective fantasy, politically correct advice regarding dog rehabilitation methods, whilst simultaneously releasing hundreds of dogs from their homes which are aggressive to people and dogs. I work with people and dogs and respect owner and dog as clients. It is not all about dogs.


As dog experts we work with pet owners and observe their personalities in relation to working with them and their pet dogs, ultimately to help solve the dogs behaviour problems. This may surprise some dog pet owners, but I believe it is true in many occupations whereby working and forming partnerships for knowledge exchange is critical to success in that occupation.


Taking into consideration all the aforementioned factors, the dog owner is still the main conduit of an expert’s knowledge and only through understanding the owner’s psychological make-up can dog experts deliver their programmes for the dog in an efficient and understandable, but most of all a realistic and practical way.


I describe this approach as Client Centred Dog Behaviour. This means the professional focusing on the client as a first step to influencing the client’s dog’s behaviour issues. Most dog specialists work out the psychology of how to deal with a variety of owners who have dogs with serious aberrant behaviour. All people in my view are natural psychologists, some better than others; it’s a survival instinct and an innate ability in homosapiens to help us to deal with life’s problems we encounter. The dog specialist simply develops human on human psychology to a higher level in relationship to the occupation of dog ownership. This is mainly gained from experience and when honed we can and often do make the difference between a dog’s behaviour being solved to the client’s satisfaction or failure. Get the human psychology wrong and the dog may be got rid of or fail to change thereby not enjoying the quality of life it deserves.


Owner Profile Modelling (OPM) - Psychology


I developed OPM in the eighties in a basic form and then as I learnt more about people and dogs used human profiling to help me quickly assess the type of dog owner I was dealing with so that I could deliver the most dynamic and effective dog behaviour solutions. In essence it is about human characteristics, personalities and ultimately the relationships owners develop with their beloved pets. It is also about client/practitioner relationships, the first entry into that learning coalition. I add, it is wise to remember that though most aberrant behaviour in dogs is human generated, it is not necessarily the humans, who now own the dog, who caused their dog’s behaviour issues, because often they take on reforming a rescue dog’s behaviour problems anew.


Over three decades I worked out that there are different kinds of dog owner types that can be put into OPM categories. These categories describe an owner’s personality, the relationship with their pet(s) and resulting interactive behaviour in society. I have placed categories below that include four OPM attachment/relationship models that have worked well in operations. The OPM headings used describe the title/categorisation through my system and use at my dog behaviour centre.


Owner Psychological Modelling


Model 1 describes a balanced and normal relationship that dogs flourish in is known as a “balanced pack bond”, which is secure. The way an owner(s) responds to a dog’s natural-wired behaviours in an unnatural environment that they provide may lead to one of the four types of modelling categories – note that there may be other categories. The way a dog is bonded to its owner(s) also affects how it will behave towards people and its own kind in society and thereafter live in that same landscape we provide. I will now describe the four client centred models:


Model 1 – Balanced owner-dog relationship/bond


Model 2 - Disorganised / chaotic dog owners


Model 3 - Detached / ambivalent dog owners


Model 4 - Emotional /driven and insecure owners


A balanced owner (Model 1) has a good, sensible relationship with his dog and sees a dog as a dog even though it may be his best friend. They are the easier owners to communicate sensible instructions too for a specific behavioural dog problem.


An example behaviour presented to a dog behaviour practitioner could be a dog that is noise phobic with vehicles, it panics and is difficult for the owner to control and handle. The dog becomes very frightened, pulls on the lead and might try to run home across busy roads. All this activity is full of tension and panic. The most common owner we see is the balanced model. They will receive and apply advice rationally using a phobia rehabilitation programme. This owner model understands that they have to ignore certain behaviours in the dog to help it overcome a phobia, like the dog’s fear of vacuum cleaner or washing machine sounds, and imagine the positive result. They stay calm if their dog reacts fearfully, ignore the panic behaviour and follow the expert’s advice in perhaps re directing the dog’s mind onto other rewarding distractions or seem so indifferent on cue that the dog sees the owner is calm and not suddenly changing their body language or verbal behaviour to match the dog’s distress.


So how would two of my OPM models hypothetically deal with this dog’s phobic behaviour. Well, from my files, not theory, I can give examples OPM Models.


Model 3 - the detached or ambivalent owner - is often not doggy at all or simply has a pet dog by default or has inherited one. Motivating these owners can be difficult; they simply see the problem as a nuisance, but cannot bring themselves to be consistent in methodological implementation. When dealing with the phobic behaviour in their dog they simply may not prepare for the event, be chaotic in implementing instructions and have no rewards or re directed activities in place on cue as advised by the dog behaviour practitioner. All in all they will not help solve the issue by being inconsistent in reformation advice. These owners will need plain, easy explanations in virtual bullet point form so the chances of implementation are greater. They may become more motivated if successful, but definitely will not read long reports with complex information. They will require extra contact and trigger calls for the best chance of success.


Model 4 – the over emotional owner - who begins to see dogs more as humans and the relationship becomes so intense as to be very much out of balance. These owners may generate an issue like separation anxiety and then refuse to follow distancing psychological methodologies to help stabilise their dog’s psyche; they may eventually teach their dog that time alone is normal as it is for people. These owners often simply cannot bear to implement basic techniques, which are critical to success like ignoring certain dog attention seeking behaviours and often are stricken by guilt for not treating their dog as an equal or offending its feelings. In fact, it is their responses to their dog’s excessive attention seeking that fuels or maintains the Separation Anxieties they so often want to solve.


So how does profiling help, in a practical way, the dog behaviour practitioner in this case? If the owner is so emotionally attached to the dog’s every whim then setting down standard behaviour advice of distancing the dog gently over weeks or months needs careful explanation. Reports will simply not influence such owners – they need as much care and attention as the dog and the consultation can be as much as 90% on the owner and 10% on the rehabilitation methods. Small incremental changes of the dog/human relationship is a way forward; once this model of owner sees results and actually observes their dog becoming less stressed, they will generally fulfil the rest of the programme. Understanding the human side of the dog/human relationship is just as important as understanding dog behaviour and psychology. Treating these clients as a Model 1 will generally alter little by way of the dog’s stress in separation situations. My own training in human counselling has helped much in my motivation of such clients; it is very hard work at times, but the dog is always in my mind’s eye.


Owners I describe in Model 2, chaotic owners who have a dog exhibiting chases/predatory behaviour on live stock or wild life need specialised dog training to a high level and the human commitment is critical to re training the dog successfully. Understanding these owner personality traits means the practitioner cannot waste time offering complex workable solutions, because little will change or be implemented. This owner needs straightforward steps of success to see results to encourage a stable approach and yes, it works well if the advice is proffered working within the chaotic lifestyle that is real.


Too many advisors often only spout theoretical happy-clappy reward solutions with little balance in training methods, not considering practicalities and human personality traits This often results in failure and it is the dog that suffers. The owner requires intelligent balanced retraining information that works. This Model 2 owner needs a patient and understanding advisor who is prepared to work hard with the type of dog owner and in the atmosphere that is sympathetic to the situation. Some family members have a number of Model traits combined, depending on circumstances; the experienced practitioner will understand these variations and work out good solutions.


I have simply categorised, as a guide, the Models as I have experienced them from over 10,000 cases. Many experts already do what I describe subconsciously. I have simply set it out for my students to learn and obtain new skills. As always from my perspective, the ultimate gain is dogs being allowed to enjoy life to the full and owners enjoying a satisfactory relationship with their dogs.


Find a dog expert: Canine & cat Behaviour Association www.cfba.co.uk

Future Education for experts in dogs www.cidbt.org.uk


PS - I brought the OPM system into the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training especially for aggression cases several years ago and students of dog behaviour have found them useful and popular in their studies towards the BA Degree through the Middlesex University Work Based Learning Programmes. My biggest learning curve here was the plethora of student information pouring into university work from the student experiences with dogs and owners. It was a new source of feedback that was amazing in its content.


This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Animal Behaviour

"Poor Tilly was feeling vulnerable and exposed at that most private moment for cats, and was too stressed to use her tray in that area at all. She was slipping round the corner to the settee which was hidden from view from the kitchen window and door."

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