“Dogs will tell you everything you need to know.”
The beginning of the journey.
Dan was 27, and Jake, his oldest son, was four years old. He was living in a two bedroom flat in Berkshire, England, with his ex-wife and their two children. Their home was a battlefield filled with the constant noise of arguments. None of them could handle their son’s behaviour and strong tantrums. Some evenings, Dan, working at Blockbusters at the time, had to ask to leave work and return when they both managed to put him to sleep.
One night he was flicking through the TV trying to find a good place where his mind could wander to. He found a program called, “The Dog Whisperer.” Dan and his wife were having disagreements on their son’s behaviour, its causes, the possibility of their child being autistic and having to put him through tests.
When he started watching this program he realised some of the information Cesar Millan was referring to was basically the same while researching about autism. He felt compelled to investigate deeper. He learned that many great minds in the early 1900’s studied animals before they moved on to human psychology. And seeing that Cesar was changing people’s lives through changing their dog’s behaviour, he decided he had to do it too.
“The animal is a reflection of your environment, just like children.”
One afternoon he picked up his son from school. As usual, his son did not want walk home. So Dan tried to do what he usually did, hold him while his son kept slipping right through his arms or drag him around the street, which made him feel like the worst parent in the world. Usually, Dan would do what most parents do when your kid refuses to walk, hold their hand and pull along, resulting in tears which made him feel like the worst dad in the world. Dan stopped and asked his son, “What way do you want to go? What do you want to do?” That change added an extra 35 minutes to the usually 10-minute walk, but it was a blissful walk.
As soon as they got home, Dan carried his two-year-old daughter upstairs to their flat and called his son who replied, “In one minute.” But Dan had gotten to the end of his tether and said, “Come upstairs now!” In seconds everything returned to its usual. Dan sat down in self-reflection, he had caused that paddy. A lightbulb went off, and Dan realised whenever things escalated his attitude made things worse.
For the first time since he had dropped out of school at the age of 14 ( due to an unstable home environment), he was interested in studying something. He brought Jessie home, a brindle Boxer mix. Jake annoyed the dog, and the dog bit him back. Dan moved Jake away from the dog, sat down and explained he should not annoy the dog. Then the same thing happened.
Dan realised the dog was fighting for space, and by taking his son away he was telling the dog that was the dog’s space and whenever Jake returned to the scene things repeated themselves. Dan started moving the dog out of his son’s space instead of moving Jake, and the results changed. He looked at things from a different perspective, tried a new pattern, and got a different result. There was peace.
“Sometimes you cannot see that what you are doing makes things worse.”
Sometimes he would get home, and Jessie would be in her cage. Dan was heartbroken; he had spent many months training her and teaching her all sorts of boundaries and felt this would soon give the cage a negative association. Jessie walked at Dan’s pace on the street. For Dan it was about having a companion manifestated what he was feeling. If the dog was balanced, then he knew he was unbalanced.
Unable to have his own dog, Dan wanted to try out what he felt he could do, so he tried a new approach. He asked anyone in his community if they had any problematic dogs he could help them with, advertised as a walker for aggressive dogs and for a year and a half studied as much as he could.
“Training is manipulating something to do what we want it to do; a behaviourist is trying to restore calm.”
When he turned 30, Dan and his wife went separate ways, four months later he moved to Brighton to live with his brother.
Dan went from being a dog walker to a behaviourist. Many of those dogs had been written off the same way he had written off himself. When a dog misbehaves, many get rid of it, put it down or place a muzzle. Their owners decide they may never be any good for society without understanding that a dog would not bite you if you had not done something wrong. It’s usually a miscommunication issue. Dogs do not do things for no reason. Every action has a reaction.
Dan’s Biggest Challenges
The hardest challenge has been dealing with people. Since he started on this path, he never doubted it and is still waiting for the day he cannot solve something. Sometimes, when he doesn’t achieve change on the first session, he knows he will get there in the second. There is an endless amount of possibilities and ways of finding solutions. Explaining to dog owners that dogs feed on their behaviour and feelings, that’s a whole different story.
Sometimes owners transmit messages to their dogs without realising they are the ones sending the signal. In those cases, it is import to get people to change their understanding, behaviour so they stop telling the dog to act that way. Dan knows it is not easy. It took him over a year, willingly wanting to change, to decrease the quantity and intensity of his son’s tantrums.
What does Dan say to those who dreams of being dog behaviourists?
“Saying do not give up seems very cliche. Just, do not question yourself. I just did not take anyone’s ideas of how I should do things. That’s the greatest thing about working with dogs or children in a way. It does not matter what anybody says as long as you get results. That’s why I like being a behaviourist; we can all do it!
There is no method as long as we are all trying to get to the same result. How you get there is up to you, as long as at the end we all have a calm, submissive dog who is not in flight, fight or freeze. Instead, it’s surrendering to its surroundings, much like a homeless person’s dog. It’s never onthe lead; it’s always walking along. That’s an animal willing and staying where it wants to.”
Meet Dan Absolom
Dan Absolom is a dog behaviourist, passionate about social psychology, in particularly canine psychology as part of our social surroundings.
This is his story.