Let’s Be Fair To Our Dogs
As loving dog owners we don’t want to focus excessively on our dogs’ unwanted behaviors, nor do we wish to be constantly telling our dogs “No!”. Doing so will only make them fearful and confused when they are young and vulnerable, and uncooperative as they mature. It would be like someone telling you that you are doing things incorrectly without ever telling you what you should do! Redirecting your dog to a more acceptable action in place of the one you wish to eradicate is much more productive and won’t damage your relationship the way that purely negative feedback may.
The list of behaviors attached to “naughty” dogs is lengthy, but typically may include the following: barking, jumping, digging, pulling, running away, etc. We humans tend to believe that our dog is working hard at trying to annoy us. Always remember, it is never the dog’s fault!
Dogs react a certain way and display behaviors due to two factors. First, they have inherent or hereditary traits which predispose them to certain ways of acting. Secondly, they have learned behaviors which are the result of their experiences and what has proven to be rewarding in the past.
The instinctual traits, for example, might result in a Dachshund digging holes in the yard, a hound dog pulling and sniffing on walks, a Siberian Husky running, and so forth. Could it be fair to punish a person or an animal for doing what it was created to do??
Let’s Take Ownership
With learned behaviors… somewhere, sometime, the dog has found a particular action to be rewarding. In fact, the behavior you dislike the most may possibly be one that you may have inadvertently instilled in your pet! And, every time you allow or encourage this behavior to take place, the dog is rehearsing and practicing it over and over.
So, to change, improve, make a positive difference… don’t just keep harping on the negative. Offer an alternative! And… make it fun and rewarding!!! Keep in mind that because the behavior has become a habit you shouldn’t expect it to change overnight.
Truthfully, the issues are more ours than the dogs’, but it is so liberating to relax and work on a solution that will make all of us happier.
The Basic Concept
Whichever unwanted behavior you are trying to remedy, attempt to catch the dog before the action advances, redirect the dog back to you giving him an alternate behavior, then reward. In other words, you interrupt the dog before it is what trainers call “over threshold” or over stimulated.
Good timing is imperative but not that difficult to execute as you are way too familiar with the repeated actions and what triggers them. Trying to redirect when your dog is at the point of no return will be futile. You have to capture the very instant that the dog is about to react and redirect him quickly to the alternate activity. I would highly recommend the use of a clicker to mark the instant that the dog changes course and rechannels so that you can effectively cue him as to what motion earned the reward.
You need to commit to the project and be proactive in setting the dog up and being prepared to redirect and reward. As common sense should dictate, you ought to be consistent in not allowing situations for the unwanted action to occur when you are not prepared to intervene.
Rewards are whatever your dog likes and will work for and all rewards should be high value such as superior food treats. Don’t forget that some dogs may prefer play such as a few moments of fetch or tug.
Some Examples At Work
- Dog jumps up… Teach dog “sit”, then click/treat
- Dog gets too excited at door… Teach dog to lay on bed or mat, then click/treat
- Dog chews shoes… Teach dog “leave it”, then click/treat and replace with toy
- Dog barks at fence… Call back, click/treat
- Dog reacts to other dogs on walk… Grab dog’s attention back to you, then click/treat
- Dog pesters other family pet… Teach dog “leave it”, call back, click/treat
After much patience and hard work at redirecting your dog, the habit or unwanted behavior will fade as the alternate action emerges as the first impulse. In other words, your dog begins to react at a noise out the window but instantly turns to you instead because he has been conditioned to do so with positive reinforcement.
My friend and colleague, Robin Bennet, wrote a blog about what she did in her household when the doorbell rang. She trained her kids to open the basement door and toss a dog cookie down the stairs. The dog learned to run to the basement each time someone was in danger of being leveled coming in her home. Provide an alternate behavior…. so simple yet fun and effective!