Monday, June 20, 2011

Training Before Behavior Modification

You might be thinking, “What does teaching my dog commands have to do with teaching her not to do that annoying habit?” It has everything to do with it. Training and behavior modification go hand in hand (or paw in paw as the case may be); they are not isolated skills despite what a certain popular dog psychologist may lead us to believe.

So many times I’ve heard people say they love everything about their dog, except (fill in blank). They wish she wouldn’t do this or that. Ask them what they would like her to do instead and they tilt their head a little and look confused.

We get so focused on what we DON’T want our dog to do, that we forget what we DO want our dog to do. For example, if you don’t want your dog to jump on people, what would like her to do instead? Sit? Go to her bed? Well, tell her that. It really can be that simple.

That was my Ah-Ha moment in dog training. When my trainer explained instead of focusing on what not to do, focus on what you want your dog TO do.

I can say, “No, no, no, stop it, stop it, stop it, blah, blah, blah…” all day long to my dog. But if I never tell her when she’s doing something right, she’ll try to keep guessing (and consequently be stressed) or worse, give up and resign to being a blob. Does this sound familiar in our own lives? How many of us have had bosses where we felt like we can’t do anything right because our boss was always pointing out the things we did wrong. Yet she never gave us appropriate feedback of what she wanted to see happen instead?

Also how many times have we completely ignored when our dog was being a well-mannered little girl and only comment when she goes berserk? We just missed tons of opportunities to say, “Yeah, good job!”

In every behavior modification, I start by teaching owners and their dogs basic (and sometimes advanced) commands. Then, we move towards that goal of getting rid of those annoying habits (from our perspective!). I’ll sometimes put those annoying behaviors on command to give the dog an opportunity to still ‘misbehave’, but it’s in a controlled setting. And I control it by turning it on and off.

Going back to the jumping example. This is where teaching your dog commands meets behavior modification. Teach your dog to sit. If your dog is sitting, she can’t be jumping. If sitting is still too tempting for her to bounce up, then teach her to go to her bed. This removes her from the super excited situation of “Oh my God, my butt is wiggling so hard that I can’t control it”. It also gives her something to do that will teach her the self-control she needs until the situation isn’t so exciting anymore.

You can also teach your dog to jump on command. WooHoo, an opportunity to be a dog and jump. Have you seen how dogs greet each other? Especially labs and bully breeds. They don’t just shake hands, how do you do; they body slam each other like basketball players coming off the court after a 3-pointer. Just be sure to immediately follow the jump cue with a sit cue to keep her from getting too excited again. 

Kajta, Jump
Kajta, Sit

So, the next time you get frustrated at what your dog is doing, tell her a command instead. By consistently giving her things to do, you’ll also be building upon your relationship in a positive way. 


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