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Stop Unwanted Behavior

dvm (54)Your dog does something(s) that you wish he wouldn’t; pull on the leash, jump on you and people, etc. In order to teach your dog not to do the things that irritate you, we first need to learn how your dog learned to do them in the first place.

We know that dogs repeat behaviors if there is some form of reinforcement/reward in doing them. We can say the same things for humans. There has to be something in it for them/us. The reward(s) can come in many forms; direct and indirect, positive and negative, functional (something that fulfills a need or want) Sometimes our own actions or lack of them can be rewarding your dog’s actions. For example, a dog that pulls on a leash and we keep moving forward allowing a tight leash or pull and tug him back (keeping a tight leash), the dog is learning that in order to go forward (his functional reward) he has to pull. His pulling is rewarded by our continued forward movement.

In order to stop your dog from doing something you do not like it will be your job to remove the reward for the problem behavior and to give the dog something to do instead and reward the desired behavior. The reward for the desired behavior must be greater or equal to the reward they receive for the problem behavior. Here I encourage you to stop focusing on the negative behavior (jumping up on people) and start thinking about what reward your dog is receiving from the undesired behavior; what are they earning from the people, or the world around them by doing the behavior. Additionally you need to think more positively on what you would rather your dog do instead. Example: your dog jumps up on people, because he wants attention and we have rewarded him by petting him when he jumps on us. I would rather my dog sit quietly beside me and wait for his attention, so I do not reinforce his jumping on me and I wait for him to be quiet, ask him to sit and reward him when he does.

In summary, in order to stop your dog from doing something you dislike you need to make a game plan and implement the plan by:

  • Analyze the problem to find the functional reward for your dog’s behavior. What does your dog get out of doing what he is doing?

  • Decide what you would rather him do instead, an alternate behavior. When possible choose an alternate behavior that can earn him the same functional reward as the undesired behavior.

  • Decide what replacement reward your dog will receive when he gives you the desired alternate behavior. If your dog was seeking attention for the undesired behavior, you can fulfill that need by giving him attention when he gives you the desired one. You can also use food, a toy, verbal praise and pat’s under the chin to reward the desired behavior once your dog offers it to you.

  • You must set your dog up for success. Control conditions, as much as possible, so that you can prevent the undesired behavior and get the desired behavior. Example: You know that your dog jumps on people that enter your house so you will leash your dog, ask him to sit near you by the door, before you answer the door. If he breaks his sit before you open the door, place him back into a sit and reward the sit. As you open the door to let the people in, ask them not to talk, touch or look at your dog unless he is sitting (prevent rewarding the undesired behavior).

  • When your dog gives you the desired alternate behavior, mark/acknowledge the correct behavior with a word such as “yes” or you can use a clicker (if clicker training) the second that he gives you that behavior and then reward him. Timing is everything so be sure of what you are marking. If you mark the behavior too late, you may be rewarding him for something you don’t want. Example: If you are wanting your dog to sit by the door quietly, and he gives you a sit but you are slow in marking it and you said ‘yes’ as he was rising up from a momentary sit then you would be marking and rewarding his getting up and not sitting. You are better to error on the side of too early than too late. If he is on his way down into a sit and you say yes, at least he is on his way down and not up.

  • Practice often. Every time you are with your dog is a learning opportunity. Be creative and try to think of different situations you can create during your dog’s day with you to practice the skill you are trying to teach. Dog’s (like people) learn through repetition. The more you practice, the faster he will learn and the better he will become. Example: if you want your dog to sit quietly at the door when guests arrive, I would practice a sit by the door before guests are even there. I would have my dog sit by the door to go outside for play, for the bathroom, before I take him for a walk. I would practice a sit before I give him his supper, before I pet him or give him any attention.

  • Be consistent. If you don’t want him to dash out the door when you open it and you want him to sit by the door and wait until you tell him it is ok to go through the door, you must enforce a sit every time before you open the door, for any reason. It means that everyone in your household must follow the same rule. It is confusing to him that it is ok to rush out the door for Dad but not ok for Mom. Don’t expect your dog to read your mind. The rules should be clear and consistent, that is the only way he can know and learn what you expect of him.

  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST- Give your dog lots of love and attention when he is being a good dog and doing just what you want him to do. Reward his good behavior. MAKE LEARNING FUN WITH YOUR DOG!

  • The information on this page is the foundation that will help you become a great dog trainer, a responsible pet owner and for your dog to learn exactly what you wish him to do. Next, visit our other training web pages to get more helpful information on how to teach your dog good social and obedience skills and help him learn to be a prized member of your household.

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