Dogs are not born with bad behaviors. They are developed over time and reinforced more and more the longer they go unchecked. The good news is that they can easily be fixed as long as the proper steps are taken to address them. If you can devote just 10 minutes a day to working with your dog, you can eliminate those annoying, frustrating and embarrassing behaviors. Want to know how? Keep reading and I will let you in on my secret.
How to do it
No matter what behavior problem your dog has, I am going to teach you how to fix it. This method is tried and true, and has been proven to work with dogs of any age and any problem. Are you ready?
Step 1. Clearly identify the problem.
In order to effectively fix or change a behavior, you must first be crystal clear on what it is that you want to fix.
This may seem simple enough. Your dog barks all the time and you want it to stop. But do you really want your dog to never bark? Or do you just want them to not bark every time the neighbor’s kid rides by on his bike? Maybe you like that they bark to let you know someone is at the house, but you just wish they would do it with moderation or stop when told to.
Clearly identifying the desired change in behavior is crucial to effective behavior modification.
Step 2. Make sure that you are not reinforcing the behavior.
Many unwanted behaviors are caused inadvertently by dog owners. As such, you may need to change your own behavior in order to change your dog’s. For example, I have had countless clients that came to me to fix their dog’s excessive jumping. While they discuss the issues they are having, their dog proceeds to demonstrate said jumping.
What do the owners do typically? Some yell at the dog, some push them off. But a very large number of them continue to talk to me as they pet their dog. Now, what impression is the dog getting in this situation? For one, the jumping is an attention seeking tactic. They want your attention so much, that they feel the need to jump up on you to get it.
Let’s look at this same situation from the dog’s point of view. He wants you to pet him. Oh boy does he want you to pet him. He wants it now! You are ignoring him, that is until he jumps. You look at him, say something and shrug him off.
“OK, so that was a start,” thinks the dog. Let’s try again. He jumps again. This time you laugh, say something else he doesn’t understand and pet him a little. “Holy cow, that worked!” is your dog’s thought. He jumped to get attention, and attention was received! If it worked once, it will surely work again.
This cycle will continue until you break it by changing how you react to your dog’s behavior. So to start this change, you must be sure to withhold that attention your dog is seeking while they are behaving inappropriately.
Step 3. Make sure that your dog understands what they are supposed to do.
In situations like the above example about jumping, this is relatively simple. In order to reinforce the wanted behavior in that case one must simply wait until the dog is staying down before giving them the attention they are seeking. Others may require a bit more thought and planning. The concept is the same though. In order to change a behavior, you must make sure that the dog understands what it is they are supposed to do.
Dog’s are creatures of habit. Like every living creature, dogs seek comfort and pleasure. As such, they will be more likely to repeat a behavior that is rewarding to them. Be it receiving attention, being given a treat or getting a short play session with a favorite toy. We can use this to our advantage by setting up situations that will trigger the unwanted behavior, and giving a reward when they choose a desirable behavior over the unwanted one.
Let’s use excessive barking at the doorbell as an example:
This is relatively easy to set up. You simply need one other person as a helper to stand outside and ring the doorbell for you. If your dog doesn’t bark, reward with abundant praise, a treat, or a quick game with a toy. If they do bark, you can try to ignore it, (good luck) but most likely you will need to proceed to Step 4 to correct the unwanted behavior before you can reward the desired one. Once you have done that, and they are remaining quiet when the doorbell rings, BOOM reward that behavior.
Step 4 Correct the unwanted behavior.
Ignoring the unwanted behavior is usually not enough. By the time a behavior has gotten to the point where you are fed up, it has likely become a deeply ingrained habit for your dog. In order to change that behavior you are going to need a way to get their attention and communicate that you do not want them doing that.
Giving an effective correction is essential. Do not confuse this with a punishment. Your dog has no concept of what a punishment is. You cannot put your dog in time out for jumping on your grandmother and expect them to connect those dots and not do it again. A correction is simply a well-timed attention getter that effectively communicates to your dog that what they were doing at the exact moment you corrected them is not an acceptable behavior.
This could be a sudden squirt of water from a water bottle, a loud clap, or a quick snap from a leash. The idea here isn’t to be mean or excessively physical. A good correction is enough to break their concentration and no more.
Combining this with Step 3 and reinforcing the desired behavior makes things really simple for your dog to understand. Again, dogs will repeat behaviors that work for them and stop behaviors that don’t.
Putting it all together
To recap, here is the process for fixing behavior problems:
- Identify the behavior you want to fix.
- Change your behavior if necessary to avoid rewarding the dog’s unwanted behavior.
- Reward what you want them to do.
- Correct what you don’t want them to do.
Once you have identified the problem and taken steps to be sure that you are not rewarding the dog for what you don’t want them to do, this all becomes relatively simple. Here is what you do:
Set up the situation that triggers the unwanted behavior, giving them a chance to do the right thing first. If they react in an acceptable manner, reward that behavior immediately. If they do not, correct the unwanted behavior (timing is crucial) then reward once they are behaving appropriately. Rinse and repeat.
It took time and repetition for your dog to learn the behavior you are trying to fix. Reversing that is no different. Be patient, yet firm and consistent. Just 10 minutes a day of practicing these steps will achieve amazing lifelong results.
When in doubt, it is always best to contact a professional trainer. If you are experiencing extreme or dangerous behaviors with your dog, you should always consult a professional before trying to address the issue yourself. Doing so can cause more harm than good. If you have any questions or would like to receive a free evaluation for your dog please feel free to contact me.