Guest post by Claudia Gaither of The Howly Hound
Claudia writes about ways in which a pet parent can work with his or her dog to help curb some unwanted behaviors. Not all tactics work for all dogs, you need to know and understand your dog to work with him best.
Here are her five tips for curbing certain unwanted doggy behaviors:
- Determine if the unwanted behavior is caused by an underlying condition. Take, for example, a dog who barks whenever he’s left home alone. It’s important to spend the time to find the reason behind the barking. Is it because he sits on the couch by the window and barks at people, dogs and squirrels all day long? Or is he developing separation anxiety? Always remember to address the condition, not the symptom. Note: DOGTV has unique programming aimed at helping your dog deal with potential separation anxiety issues)
- Assess how the unwanted behavior is rewarding for your dog. Humans often forget dogs do what works. Simple. If someone leaves steak on the counter, Fido may decide to counter-surf and steal it! Every time your dog counter-surfs and gets food from it, that’s a reward. Your job is to clean your kitchen counters, put everything away so when your dog tries to get something from the counter, there’s nothing to get. Remember, behaviors that don’t get rewarded slowly stop being repeated.
- Reward an alternative, incompatible behaviour. Let’s talk about jumping on people, because that’s common, and simple to fix. Most dogs who jump up do so out of excitement and/or as an attention-seeking behavior. Do not give attention to Fido for jumping, instead reward him for sitting. Coming home from work, Fido is excited to see you and jumps all over you. While standing up, request a sit, reward with treats and pets. If he jumps again, stop petting and turn away. Request a sit. As soon as he sits, reward again. Very simple. Stop rewarding when the unwanted behavior occurs, reward when the desired behavior occurs. Over time, Fido will automatically sit when you get home because that gets him treats and pets.
- Manage the environment, set your dog up for success. Let’s go back to the dog who barks when his human isn’t home. Assume we ruled out separation anxiety and found he barks at dogs he sees go by, just like he does when his guardian is home, but he’s more into it when he’s alone, because he’s bored. The situation could be managed by closing the blinds, leaving more toys* and DogTV ON, for him to entertain himself when alone. Such management could go on forever, or we could teach Fido not to bark at dogs going by, using counterc-onditioning and desensitization techniques.
- Be consistent. In the dog training world (actually, psychology in general), a variable schedule of reinforcement is the most powerful reinforcing technique. It’s so powerful that gambling and lottery games are based on it! If you sometimes leave steak on the counter, and thus Fido sometimes gets to it, that’s extra rewarding and he will continue going up on the counter in the off chance that there may be something left for him. Consistency is key!
*Note: Never leave a dog with toys unsupervised unless you are sure the toy is safe for that particular dog.