Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing digging problems

In this fifth installment of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss digging problems.

Dogs may dig for many reasons, and like a lot of problem behaviors, it is a natural dog behavior. Some of the reasons why your dog may be digging up your yard or other areas include boredom, lack of attention or other constructive outlets, the desire to escape, trying to get at prey, or just a need to cool off and be more comfortable!

Cain enjoys some digging in an approved spot--on the beach!
Cain enjoys some digging in an approved spot–on the beach!

My dog Jasper LOVES to dig to find cooler ground in which to lie. He has done this from puppyhood, and we have allowed him to do it–in one spot. He has one spot that he chooses in our yard and that is his approved–and only–dig spot.

For a lot of cases, I do recommend giving a dog one dig spot (or some of my clients make a dig box out of materials they buy or out of a kiddie pool or something similar). This “compromise” of having an approved dig area can really be the most effective, and you can encourage him to dig in this one spot to help ensure it’s only one spot. I will praise, give treats or toys, whatever the dog likes, if he is digging in that spot to reinforce that is the place to do it. I will also even hide goodies in the dig spot for them to dig up–so much fun for the dog!

Another strategy for dogs who are seeking cool or comfort of some kind is to provide alternatives to address this: bring him in more often; have access to a water bowl, a wading pool, a softer surface or cooling pad on which to lie; provide a dog house or install items that can provide shade, etc., can all make your dog feel more comfortable and cool while outside.

If your dog is bored, or not getting enough attention or outlets, make sure you have alternate activities and enrichment for him, as this will be critical to success. Make sure your dog gets time to interact with you (walks, playtime, training sessions, having fun with puzzle toys or scent games), as well as provide other forms of enrichment (such as eating meals out of Kongs). Doing this daily can help tire him out in a more constructive way and lessen the likelihood of digging. Make sure to supervise your dog more closely while he is outside to ensure he doesn’t get the opportunity to dig, and engage him in other fun while you’re out there.

If your dog loves to dig to escape the yard, you definitely don’t want to leave him unsupervised until you come up with a long-term solution to fortify your fencing. You can make your fencing go deeper into the ground, or use rocks, chain-link fencing or chicken wire to prevent and discourage digging at the fence. Doing other activities and providing other outlets while he’s in the yard can also help him make a more positive association with staying in the yard. A tether can also be helpful, but we do not recommend EVER leaving a tethered dog alone unsupervised because they can possibly get tangled and hurt. If a dog is motivated and strong enough, he could possibly break it and still escape.

In some cases the dog may also be trying to get at prey–besides reinforcing your fencing and supervising per above, you may want to find ways to relocate the animals that are attracting him in a humane way. Seek help from a relocation professional if necessary. You can also work on a better come when called with your dog so when you are supervising, you can more easily call him to come to you in case a rabbit or other possible prey is tempting him.

If you are facing problems with digging or anything else, we highly recommend the help of a qualified professional who uses positive reinforcement techniques for the best success, and we would love to help. Contact us now!

Happy training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

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Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing chewing

In this fourth installment of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss chewing issues.

From puppyhood to adulthood, dogs LOVE chewing. It is a need, it is a way to help themselves relax, and it is a very enjoyable activity. As with many problems, chewing is a normal dog behavior, and understanding the motivation of the chewing is very important if you’re looking to address any destructive chewing your pup may engage in.

Puppies Teething

Josie enjoys a good chew break during a training session
Josie enjoys a good chew break during a training session

Puppies are very similar to human babies–EVERYTHING goes into their mouths! It’s how they explore the world, and they have an actual physical need to chew in order to help alleviate the pains of teething. By the time hit six to seven months of age, they should have all their adult teeth so things will get easier at that point. In the meantime, it’s important to be patient and have LOTS of desirable alternatives.

  • All-natural animal parts of all kinds are absolutely great for puppies. Bully sticks, pig snouts, tracheas, chicken feet, cow cheeks and hooves, and much more disgusting (wink) delights are some of the best options you can invest in. We’re not a huge fan of rawhides, but we do love the Earth Animal No-Hide bones, and raw bones you can get from your butcher. Be careful with elk antlers–they can be a little hard for those tiny puppy teeth–so you want to make sure they do not chew too heavily for too long on those so be mindful of this.
  • Nylabones can be great and if their flavor wears away, you can soak them in a hot broth to “refresh” them to make them more appealing.
  • Dental chews of all kinds are available on the market, from CET chews to Greenies and more.
  • Kongs and other enrichment toys that you can stuff with a variety of food, including their regular ration, are some of our favorites. Kongs can easily be frozen as well, which can soothe puppy teeth. We’re also big fans of the West Paw Design line of toys for enrichment as well as their tug and retrieve toy options.
  • Even taking old clothing strips and wetting them, twisting them together to leave them in the freezer and then take out as needed for your puppy’s relief can be a good alternative.

In ALL these cases you will want to supervise your puppy to ensure he won’t get hurt. The Nylabones should be taken away if they’re destroying them into little bits, and rope toys as well as the clothing strip option we mentioned can be very dangerous when left alone. Kongs and other similar products, as well as all-natural chews can be generally safer for unsupervised time but be very careful and supervise whenever you give something new to ensure they don’t hurt themselves.

Remember your puppy will require patience and understanding. I call them puppy piranhas for a reason!

Boredom

Chewing can be a very fun activity. If a dog doesn’t have enough outlets, they may engage in fun you’d rather they not! All dogs should get mental and physical activity daily to be happy and have a great quality of life. Taking sniff walks, enjoying tricks training, doing nose work and scent games, practicing manners and going for outings in the park–there are so many wonderful activities you can do with your dog to engage them. If you’re running short on time, you can hire us for Day Training, consider hiring a dog walker or jogger, or finding a quality daycare option to help fill in gaps. We are happy to help provide referrals for professionals so just ask!

Anxiety or Stress

Some destructive chewing results as a symptom of underlying anxiety or stress. The dog may have separation anxiety or isolation distress, or they may be afraid of something that is happening that causes them to stress, and therefore chew as a way to try and alleviate the stress they’re experiencing. In these cases it is VERY important to never punish the dog. We do not use unpleasant consequences to punish a dog as a way to train. This can actually increase fear and anxiety, and make fixing the problem more difficult.

Setting up video cameras or other monitoring devices can help you see what is happening if it is while you are away, so you can better determine what is happening to cause the anxiety, or also rule out boredom. It can be hard to know for sure without doing such homework. If your dog is experiencing stress while you are away, or if you know it is caused by stressful events or triggers, we urge hiring a professional to help you. If you are struggling with destructive chewing, nothing can replace the value of hiring an experienced professional.

Need help right away? Contact us now!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing barking

In this continuation of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we’ll go over barking and what it may mean, and how to address it.

Dogs bark for many reasons. It could be to alert us to something (and they have been bred for many years to alert bark for us!), because they’re excited, frustrated or bored, because they’re seeking attention and it works, or because they’re afraid of something, and it can be an effective strategy to make space. In any of these cases, it’s important to understand the motivation for your dog’s barking, or you won’t be able to adequately address it.

The overly excited, bored or attention-seeking dog

Some dogs love to express themselves vocally. My old cattle dog would sometimes just bark because she was feeling well, instead of ill, so I considered it a great thing when she would head out of the house on her walks, announcing herself. It still meant she had spunk! But for some it may be going overboard and causing neighbors to report your dog.

Gretta Mae attests, barking is fun!

In any case, if you know your dog may be too excited, frustrated or bored at times, how can you change this? While we can’t address all the triggers for dogs in this one blog post, knowing those triggers and why they occur is half the battle. If you know your dog is going to bark at you when you get home because he’s very excited to see you, for instance, you can have some treats ready to toss away from you to redirect him to playing a FIND IT game, rather than bark at you. You could also have a toy ready if your dog loves toys, to give a more appropriate outlet. Leaving him at home with enrichment toys and activities can also be helpful to “wear him out” a little more prior to your arrival home.

If your dog learns that by barking at you, he gets your attention, ignoring him COMPLETELY is key. Even “negative” attention is attention, and if it works, there is no reason not to bark! By ignoring, you should not even look at or talk to your dog. I’ve even left the room when a dog starts barking to make that behavior elicit a response they do not want. Quiet means I stay and interact with you. Some dogs, if they have been very successful for a long while at barking for attention, may get “worse” before they get better. Since it had worked a lot they will work harder before giving up. This is called an extinction burst. Don’t give up or give in–keep ignoring and know it’s darkest before the dawn.

Teaching calm behavior as rewarding can also help. There are many protocols but this wonderful video from Emily Larlham shows some great tips in capturing and reinforcing calm behavior. We often ignore our dogs when they are calm and quiet so it’s important to be proactive in making these behaviors rewarding.

Alert barking

When a dog is alerting us to something, it’s an important job for them. Many times I have clients who like having a dog that will alert them to something–because you never know what could be happening, and it’s a great deterrent to have a barking dog in some cases–but it can reach a point of too much.

For most clients they want to be able to just successfully interrupt and redirect the dog. Conditioning the dog’s name and/or a positive interrupter will help you do this. If you say your dog’s name and he looks to you, click and treat. Do this many times, in many situations. You can also do this with something like a kissy noise or other word or sound you want to make, just like in this video from Emily Larlham (she makes so many great videos!). If you do this successfully over time you will be able to increase distractions, including the moments when the dog is alerting you to someone in the yard, going down the alley, coming to your door, etc., but remember you have to practice without these triggers first.

Over time you will be able to call your dog’s name or make another positive interrupter noise, and pair it with coming to you for a treat, or redirecting him to another activity or toy. Great job for letting us know someone is here–now you can have your ball and play!

Barking out of fear

When dogs bark to make space, they learn quickly it is very effective. Making yourself look bigger and making a threatening noise is very reinforcing for dogs who are terrified of what is in their environment. We’ve had dogs who react in many ways to many triggers: at the front windows/doors at passerby, in the yard at strange people, dogs, trucks, bicycles and more, or in parks or other public areas at any or more of these kinds of stimuli; the list goes on and on.

Determining what your dog is afraid of and barks at is the first step. Then it’s your job to limit their ability to get practice at this, so if you have a dog door, it may be necessary to cut that all-access way of going out to bark out of the picture while in training. It could also mean taking shorter walks to minimize exposure to triggers, or blocking access in some way to windows, doors, etc.

Following a well-thought-out desensitization and counterconditioning protocol is key to addressing the underlying emotional state of fear these dogs have. Before worrying about any behavior, we need to make those items very positive. Then they will be able to calm down, and offer calmer alternate behaviors we can reinforce.

For clients with dogs who are fearful I recommend choosing one or two very high-value food items (i.e., bits of hot dogs, chicken, roast beef, cheese–whatever your dog loves most!) and use it in conjunction with these triggers. If strangers walking down the alley mean meatballs, over and over, they will be less scary and more wonderful! It’s important to not overdo it–if the dog is allowed to still rush the fence and react (we call this going “over threshold”), that’s not the best scenario. I will recommend putting the dog on a well-fitted harness and leash and stay as far away from that fence as possible to cut off the rushing at the fence, and therefore limit the barking/reactivity. It is also important to remember that the trigger should make the food happen; if the food shows up first, you risk not only having an ineffective method, but you could very well make the food a negative association for the dog as the food means a scary stranger shows up.

In all these cases, particularly with fear, we do recommend hiring a professional who can help you plan out training to be more successful. There is no substitute for such! And it can save you a lot longer of a training path if you are clearer from the very beginning. It takes far longer to undo a bad protocol so we encourage anyone facing these problems to reach out.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing jumping on people

In this part of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss the problem of jumping on people.

Like most problem behaviors, jumping is a very common and acceptable behavior for dogs—it’s a way to greet someone they like, so in a lot of ways, it’s a great compliment. However, it’s not what most people want, and while it may be cute when the dog is smaller or a puppy, larger dogs and older dogs can be seen as a nuisance and, at worst, injure people by jumping on them.

We do not advocate for allowing the dog to jump, and then punish the behavior. At best it may stop the behavior in the moment, but it’s still allowing the dog practice at jumping. Jumping can be very self-reinforcing to the dog so allowing it to continue is still helping the dog learn how to get better at doing it. At worst it will damage your relationship with your dog; they may start to view you as a scary person, or feel the need to fight back. Punishment has the potential for some very devastating fallout, so we opt for other approaches to cut off the behavior and teach the dog what we want, instead. It’s more productive and safer for all involved!

Arranging your antecdent

As discussed in our introduction to this blog series, antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

If you’re expecting house guests and you know your dog loves to jump on them as soon as they come in, putting your dog in a crate or Xpen, behind a gate, or even in another room or the backyard, can cut off this behavior from happening. You could also put him on his harness and a leash and have him tethered to a sturdy piece of furniture, or to a leash hitch attached to the wall, or if you have others in your home who can hold the other end of the leash, he will be able to be managed while they arrive. Remember to make ample space, whatever management technique you use.

In other environments, having your dog on a harness and leash at all times, and ensuring there is enough space between them and the person to not gain access to jump, is key. A portable crate, Xpen or other tethers can also be used. The goal is to ensure the dog is unable to get to and jump on the human, but we also want to make sure whatever we are using that is safe for the dog, and doesn’t create anxiety. If your dog is not properly crate trained you shouldn’t use a crate but perhaps tether instead. We also do not want to leave a tethered dog unattended as they can get tangled and possibly injured. Whatever management technique you use, make sure it is safe and that you’ve considered all the possibilities.

Luna is learning that sitting gets more attention; her harness and leash is on for management in case she gets too excited!

Teaching an alternate behavior

Now that you’ve addressed how to stop the jumping from occurring, it’s important to have a plan to teach what you want your dog to do instead. For a lot of people, sitting for greetings is a goal. If your dog is managed well, you can reinforce a sit as the dog is able to sit. However, some dogs find it difficult to have the self-control to sit, even if you ask for it. It may be because the visitor is too close and he REALLY loves your aunt because she always bring him a special gift!

It’s always important to consider what the dog is able to do and how to teach him by starting where is able to be successful. For this special aunt, I may be treating him for standing as she comes in, starting the instant he notices her, and I may use a higher-value food reward because she is so exciting and I have to have the right motivation for my dog. By lowering my criteria—rewarding for the standing as soon as he notices her arrival—I am meeting him where he can be successful, and making it very rewarding to be standing rather than jumping in this moment, with a very potent food reward.

Over time, I will be able to get a sit. If I have done a great job of reinforcing him, over time he will be able to offer behavior more consistently, and relax more to offer a sit. That sit may mean aunt comes over more quickly to say hi! Standing/sitting are both alternatives that can mean attention from the aunt. If he is too excited and jumping, the aunt takes steps away, or possibly leaves. Being consistent with the consequences will mean he will learn faster and be overall less frustrated.

A harder part of this equation is instructing guests to COMPLETELY IGNORE the dog and not approach him so that he understands that jumping or trying to get at the guests doesn’t result in getting to greet them. Some people will accept being jumped on by puppies or adult dogs but it can work against your training as it won’t provide consistency for your dog to understand that jumping isn’t the way to interact with humans. Start with coachable humans and plan carefully. The human should know they can approach if the dog is standing or sitting, but should stop or even move away if the dog starts to jump.

Being patient and consistent will mean more success for you both. It’s important to repeat this process with different kinds of people who come to visit so that you can help your dog learn that ALL humans prefer standing or sitting, and do not like jumping.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: how to address problem behaviors

Welcome to our new blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, on addressing common problem behaviors!

In this first post we’ll discuss some basics of how to approach problems and considerations when dealing with any problem behavior you’re facing. Future posts will give insights on how to apply this to different common problem behaviors clients want to address, and change.

Many times in training, and in life in general, we focus on consequences for behavior. Consequences are of course important. If the animal we’re teaching finds consequences reinforcing for a behavior, that behavior will likely increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the consequence is punishing or unpleasant, the behavior will likely decrease. Having this knowledge and understanding how it applies based on the animal and the behavior s/he is presenting is crucial. Far too often, however, we are looking at it from our own point of view and not through that of the animal’s.

Mac is learning that sitting will get him out of his kennel

Let’s take a simple example of this: if my dog is barking at me because he wants me to feed him dinner, and I feed him, then I’m reinforcing his barking. That seems pretty simple and most people can understand how feeding the dog dinner if he is barking at me is actually working against me and my goal of a quieter dog.

If my dog is barking because he not only wants dinner, but my undivided attention, and I decide to yell at him or tell him QUIET to communicate that I’m unhappy with him, then I am very likely still reinforcing the behavior even though I’m trying to discourage it. Any attention, even if it’s “negative” attention to try and dissuade him, is still reinforcing for him. This is not as obvious to some people–attempts to discourage him are actually giving the dog what he wants: attention!

However, if I know once I get home my dog is going to bark at me for dinner, or attention, and I ignore him COMPLETELY–maybe even going straight from the front door to the bathroom, shutting the door–then I have removed myself, and the attention he finds reinforcing. I then wait patiently for quiet. Once it’s quiet for a few seconds, I go out and give my dog a treat, or attention. The dog will learn that by being quiet, he will get what he wants, if I’m consistent with these consequences.

Consequences are important. Sometimes, though, they can be too little too late, and make for more frustrating or stressful training. With barking, it may be just as stressful for the human as the dog because the loud noise can be jarring and unpleasant. Also, if the dog has been rewarded a lot for barking, it can take longer for the dog to quiet, meaning the person has to be patient and deal with the noise.

What if I told you there is a better way?

Antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

So, if you know your dog is going to bark as soon as you get home, how can you arrange things to make it work better for you?

If your dog is very good at a behavior that is incompatible with barking, you can ask for that behavior as soon as you walk through the door. One option may be to go get his favorite toy. If you’ve taught your fabulous, food-loving Labrador retriever to “go get his ball,” then ask for that as soon as you walk in. He can’t bark with a toy in his mouth! Once he brings it to you, you can play with him.

ABCs of behavior graphic courtesy of Lili Chin, doggiedrawings.net

If you take careful consideration of how to set you and your dog up for success to prevent or redirect the problem behavior through antecedent arrangement, you will benefit the most: your dog won’t get practice with the behavior you don’t want, making it stronger, and you will instead be able to reinforce behaviors you want instead of resorting to punishment, and experiencing frustration and a deterioration in your relationship with your dog.

You will learn more about the ABCs of teaching dogs as we continue this blog series with addressing common problems like jumping, digging, bolting doors and more. Most of what we perceive as problem behaviors are naturally occurring behaviors for dogs, which is why we have named this series Dogs will be Dogs. With patience and careful planning, you can remedy problem behaviors, give your dog appropriate outlets, and instill good manners in him.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Misconceptions and proper help for fearful and reactive dogs

A great deal of my business centers around dogs who are fearful, and therefore reactive or possibly aggressive. Some express their fear through barking and lunging, or even growling and snapping or worse. Others appear more typical for what people would expect out of a fearful dog: cowering, turning their head or body away, or trying to hide, for example.

While it’s true that fearful dogs are likely to cower and try to get away (the “flight” response), the “fight” response dogs are often labeled as aggressive or corrected for what they do. They’re “bad;” they act inappropriately through their lunging, barking, baring of teeth and more. These dogs tend to embarrass their owners more, and the scene they cause can make people think they are in need of a good, firm hand.

In my experience, these dogs that are on the offense are doing so because it is the best DEFENSE. It is a great way to make space, and it usually works, as people or others are more likely to move away when a dog is offering such behaviors, and it is therefore reinforced.

A lot of clients with these dogs try different approaches to solve the problem. They may pull at their dog, or give a leash correction, or they may try to hold or restrain their dogs, adding to the tension. These methods may work to repress a behavior for the immediate short-term, but they are not going to give the dog what he needs to truly resolve the problem for the long-term. Others may ask for too much self-control, like sitting and looking at them. While admirable, the dog is not in a thinking state of mind to be able to comply, and it only adds to the frustration and stress for both the owner and dog.

Clients will give me a puzzled look when one of my first pieces of homework for these dogs is to get a very high-value food (real people foods like bits of deli or boiled meat without additives/flavors, cheese, etc., tend to be most economical and effective) whenever the dog notices the other person, dog, etc., (the “trigger” for the “bad” behavior). I tell them to be generous and do it as SOON as the dog notices the trigger.

“But even if he’s barking?”

“Yes, even if he’s barking.”

Of course, the end game is to end the barking or lunging or whatever is happening, but the crucial part in the beginning is to make these triggers THE BEST THINGS EVER. I always want clients to make space to keep the dog in a place where he is less likely to react, and that is what we always work toward, but in the beginning, I want these dogs to “snap out” of their emotional responses. If it rains hot dogs every time a dog sees that other dog, then he’s going to start seeing dogs as something very wonderful, and will associate this if the client is very committed to the technique.

I also explain this in a way that is hopefully easier for humans to understand: If you are afraid of snakes, for instance—someone pushing you into a pile of them to just “get over it” usually doesn’t work, and makes you more stressed and actually makes your fear stronger. We want to try and keep distance and make things easier for the dog. This may mean taking shorter walks in less popular areas to lessen the chance of encounters as opposed to going to Wash Park on a weekend, or it may mean walking away as needed to help give the dog more space before he feels the need to react in the way we don’t want him to. Or it may mean limiting his ability to go outside and bark at the fence, or placing a curtain or other visual barrier at a window, and so forth. This will ensure he doesn’t get more practice reacting wherever he is likely to react.

Then, if we expose the dog to these triggers gradually, and make them very valuable, we are going to lessen stress and set up the dog—and person—for success.

Jackson LAT
Jackson (R) is getting meatballs for being calm around Hidalgo during a training session. This means Jackson REALLY LOVES seeing other dogs, and can offer this calmness.

“Oh Benji, see that dog over there?” (Benji looks over at the trigger as you look over at the trigger. Then feed food continuously as he looks at the trigger. Trigger goes away = food ends. Repeat many times.) When that stranger, other dog, or whatever goes away, the hot dogs go away, which is so sad! 🙂

Even if the dog reacts, if I go a little over threshold, I will feed. I may try to turn and run away with the dog in a light-hearted way and then feed for him moving away, or sometimes I will drop treats on the ground as I’m moving away to have the dog find the food by sniffing it out. This can interrupt and stop the behavior, give him a way to hopefully calm himself as sniffing can help dogs calm down, and will help him feel better about what has happened—instead of giving a jerk on the leash which can make him feel worse. Making space to ensure the behavior doesn’t happen is very important, but if I flub up, I want the dog to have a positive experience, and hopefully refocus on me by following a treat line away from the trigger.

With these kinds of dogs, the key is ALWAYS addressing the emotional state first. By doing this, we can help the dog calm down, and then learn what is appropriate. Being mindful of the threshold and level of stress is also key. Going over threshold every time will certainly not help either, which is why getting training help is so crucial for owners to have success.

So please, don’t think that when your dog is afraid of something, or doing something “bad” that it is because he is needing “correction.” Very likely the dog just needs a good plan to make that thing the best thing in the world, and once that is the case, he can give you his best!

We highly recommend reaching out to us if you are experiencing problems with a reactive, fearful dog. We have a great track record for success, and would love to help you!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Training & Behavior

Don’t correct–redirect!

There is a mantra among trainers who focus on positive reinforcement-based training methods: “Don’t correct – redirect!”

I did some Googling to try and find the origin of it so I could give credit where it is due, but unfortunately came up with no results, so I’ve been trying to ask around to see if anyone knows. If so, I will gladly come back to edit this blog to give credit where it’s due! Regardless, it is a great way to help us all understand what is probably the most important way to view problem behaviors: instead of focusing on “How do I get my dog to STOP DOING THAT?” we should focus on “What do I want my dog TO do?”

Millie works on sitting instead of jumping for rewards and attention
Millie works on sitting instead of jumping for rewards and attention

When we do this, we switch to being more proactive, rather than reactive. This can be challenging because we live in a busy society that is commonly reactive, but if you are able to switch your habit in this way, you will find much better success with your dog. After all, how many people do you know yell at their dogs to stop doing something, and have success? Not many. This is because the dog either gets used to it and it has no effect at all, or because the dog finds it unpleasant and gets sneakier with the bad behaviors that draw this attention. Worse yet, for some dogs, it can cause anxiety or worsening of fears and even aggression, because the averse nature of the tone/approach causes worse reactions in this regard.

So, how do we redirect?

First, use a happy tone to interrupt behaviors. Doing this will more easily get your dog’s attention, and you can praise him and redirect him to something else you want him to do, and reinforce it. We call this a “positive interrupter.” Sometimes sounds, rather than words, work better. I tend to use a kissy noise.

You will have more success with a positive interrupter if you condition it first. What do I mean by this? Get the dog accustomed that the interrupter is rewarding so when you DO need it in those naughty moments, it will be more likely to be more effective.

  • Get some yummy small treats and a clicker (or you can use a marker word, such as yes, if you don’t have or want to use a clicker)
  • Give your kissy noise, or other noise or happy-tone cue that you want to use for a positive interrupter, one that you know will get your dog’s interest.
  • The instant your dog turns their head toward you, click (or give your marker word), and give your dog a treat.
  • Repeat this several times in many different sorts of situations and environments–different rooms and areas of your home, in public, etc.
  • After some time, when your dog is orienting to you each and every time, you can click and treat less, and do it every other time, two to three times, etc., as well as substitute praise and other rewards. We call this “intermittent reinforcement,” and it’s like a slot-machine effect–the dog isn’t sure when he will actually get a reward, but the anticipation is more powerful than the reward. By using this intermittent reinforcement, we make the behavior even stronger. It also sets you up for success in using your positive interrupter when you need without having your clicker/treat.

There is also a great video from Emily Larlham on conditioning a positive interrupter that you can see here.

Interrupting an unwanted behavior is only part of the equation, so let’s talk about the other part–what do you want your dog TO do? After you have successfully interrupted the behavior with your positive interrupter, redirect the dog to something you want him to do, and then reinforce that behavior. Doing this over and over again to address particular problem behaviors can help him learn an alternative behavior that he can use instead of the one you don’t want.

But let’s take it a step further–if your dog is always doing the problem behavior before the one you don’t want, you will not be as successful. Why? This is because he’s getting practice at the behavior you don’t want or at worse–you are creating what we call a behavior chain, where the “bad” behavior precedes the “good” one, and therefore must be what you want, right? At least, that’s what your dog thinks.

So, it’s best if you can determine what your dog may do before he even engages in the problem behavior. You may need to note his body language, or how the environment is set up, and take steps to either change this or know it so you can redirect before the moment of naughtiness occurs. Observation is key and will help you in successfully replacing what you don’t want with what you do want. If you do this earlier, rather than later, you will not fall into the trap of setting up a behavior chain that includes the unwanted behavior, and your training will be more efficient in teaching the dog what is expected of him.

To illustrate all this, let’s use an example. Let’s say I have a dog who is always raiding the trash. The best way to address this is to put trash away where the dog is unable to access it, or use a locking trash that he can’t open. Even then, my dog may be smart enough to learn how to get to it, or I may accidentally leave it out. In those cases, if I’m around and I see my dog heading over to the trash, I may catch him early enough to use my positive interrupter to get him to come back to me to play with a favorite toy instead, and then put the trash away.

Let’s use another example: jumping. My dog jumps on me when I get home and I want him to stop this. When I get home, I am ready with my clicker and treats to anticipate his excitement, and once I open the door, I throw a handful of treats down and away from me so he will go eat them. Then, I can click and treat as he approaches and I move away, to prevent his jumping on me and to reinforce all four on the floor. I could also practice “sit” and prompt him with this cue, instead.

The next time your dog is doing something you don’t like, ask yourself, “What do I want him to do?” Use this goal as a way to guide you to redirecting him to that behavior. Make notes of when he does the behavior, to whom and under what circumstances? Can you modify those to eliminate the behavior? Or can you see what’s going on as early as you can to interrupt it before it even happens, to instead get the behavior you want, and then make it very rewarding? Doing this will make your lives more peaceful and will eliminate the frustration you have, and any need for punishment, which most always has drawbacks.

While all of this seems relatively simple–and it is–applying it can be difficult. This is because every dog is different and there are many nuances to timing, and management. Extreme problem behaviors are always best dealt with under the guidance of a professional, so I always recommend meeting with a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based methods for people who are struggling with their dogs. If you are having problems applying techniques with success, contact us. If we can’t help you, we will find someone who can!

Thank you for reading and happy training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies