These are the words of Billie Groom, creator and founder of UPWARD Dogology, when faced with the ever so popular question “What do you do when your dog does X behavior?”.
“There is no one right way to work with a dog.”
“It’s just like with children. You have to change how you parent when they sort of become three years old to four years old… So, it’s the same with dogs. You could just continue to use operant conditioning, and it works really well. But, at some point, it’s very common for dogs at around the age of six months to have some of those methods that were working before, just not work as well,”
Because of this, Billie uses an approach based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)—rather than the standard operant conditioning—when working with dogs.
UPWARD Dogology is an acronym that stands for “Urban People Working with Adopted and Rescued Dogs”.
“Cognitive-behavioral therapy works off a completely different platform than operant conditioning. Standard methods—positive reinforcement training, balance training—work off the operant conditioning, which is reactive in nature. On the other hand, cognitive behavioral therapy has different elements and different components. So, UPWARD Dogology adheres to those components.”
It works with adolescent, adult, rambunctious, and rebellious dogs that are over six months old.
As successful canine consultant and entrepreneur, Billie developed UPWARD Dogology to become a scientifically proven formula that adheres to the principles and policies of CBT.
The goal is to help effectively address anxiety, aggression, and other similar behaviors.
Traditionally, many dog trainers utilize operant conditioning to teach expected behaviors and discourage unwanted ones.
“Just by virtue of doing that, UPWARD Dogology decreases surrenders, decreases euthanasia that are due to behavioral reasons. It also increases successful adoptions, and it also decreases frustrations, which can lead to abuse.”
For UPWARD Dogology, however, they make use of CBT to work proactively with dogs and change their perception and behavior.
As per Billie,
This is not to say that your Fido’s perception of you is wrong.
“It works under the assumption that the subject already has preconceived ideas…that they have to do a behavior to achieve their goal. So, you’re changing their perception to change that behavior.”
In fact, in Billie’s opinion, what your dog thinks and how they perceive you is never wrong.
What you just need to do is to build up those skills that will change your pooch’s perception of you.
This includes changing your ability to recognize the things that your dog holds in high regard. This way, they can perceive correctly your ability to manage them calmly in different situations.
According to Billie, this is what makes her an unintentional behaviorist and trainer in practice, although not in the same sense as people might commonly think.
“Part of CBT is that you need to apply the skills and see the changes because the changes determine the next steps. And then you need feedback, so this is a very interesting thing,”
Although there may be other methods that would work just as well, such as distraction training, positive reinforcement training, and counter-conditioning, it’s still possible that they will fall short simply because they do not harness the cognitive side of your dog’s brain.
This is also the reason why UPWARD Dogology only applies to dogs beyond the age of six months, as this stage is when their cognitive abilities start to truly kick in.
Because the approach can be unconventional for many dog owners, it makes changing the mindset of first-time clients interesting.
“So, if you take a street dog, and they’ve been surviving on the streets, they’re probably using their cognitive skills. So, we need to harness that when they come into our homes. That’s why, sometimes, standard positive reinforcement training will fall short. But you don’t wanna be going over to negative reinforcement.”
However, Billie mentioned that UPWARD Dogology is very flexible and adaptable. Thus, you can rest assured that it’ll remain effective with different dogs and different types of scenarios.
She does this by working closely with her clients in order to provide them with effective advice and strategies that adapt to their lifestyle as well as their dog’s needs.
When asked about her future plans for UPWARD Dogology, Billie replied,
“I would really like to be able to get this on platforms that have a lot of influence in the dog world… Personally, I would love to work with rescue organizations and celebrities who are just fun and love dogs and are really big on animal rescue… I think that would be a way of getting it out there.”