‘Why?’ is my favourite question. It saves time and frustration as I don’t do things just because ‘they have always been done that way’, because ‘it’s expected from me’, because ‘everyone does it’.
So, I’ve taught Lily to sit because it makes her focus on me and I can use it every time I want her to stop doing something else (rolling in fox wee, barking at strange dogs). I’ve taught her recall because it can save her life. I teach her tricks because she loves my attention and we spend time together having fun. I expose her to new situations, objects, sounds, people, dogs because it reduces the stress when she encounters something new unexpectedly. And so on.
I ask why she does things as well. She growls because she doesn’t want to be approached, she needs time to get to know people because she didn’t meet many as a puppy. She jumps and barks because she’s excited. Without knowing what causes her behaviour I will never be able to modify it.
Sometimes I see people shouting at the dog. Asked ‘why?’ they might say: ‘because he barks, pulls, misbehaves’. But by asking ‘why?’ I really want to know what the practical outcome of this behaviour is. Shouting will make the dog scared or excited or more agitated. If that is not the aim, shouting misses the point. ‘Why?’ or ‘what is the practical application of the behaviour?’ applies to the dog as well. So maybe he barks to scare someone off, or because he wants your attention, or maybe it’s a play bark or maybe he barks because you shout (bark) so he copies you.
Asking why a dog behaves as he does and why we react as we do helps. When we know what he wants to achieve and what we want, it’s much easier to find a way to make both parties satisfied.