Updated: Jul 18
This is the most common phrase I hear when learning about a dog's behavior problem, whether it be jumping, barking, or bolting out of the front door. I couldn't agree more with the owner, the behavior does need to stop (after all, practice makes perfect). That is why the first line of offense in most behavior programs is to find ways to make the behavior unlikely to occur.
Positive Dog Training Basics:
Prevent the rehearsal of the bad behavior
Reinforce the behaviors you want
Choose an alternative behavior and train it
Ignore the behaviors you don't want*
*I'll get to the last item on the list - ignore the behaviors you don't want - in another blog post. Naturally, you cannot ignore behaviors that are dangerous or detrimental to the animal or trainer. For now, reflect on the words of Dr. Susan Friedman, "...ignore a particular behavior, meaning to withhold attention for a behavior that has been previously given attention."
This blog post concentrates on the first item: prevent the rehearsal of the bad behavior. By following LIMA Protocols (least intrusive, minimally aversive), after we determine that the dog is mentally and physically fit, we examine the environment to see what changes we can make that prevent the rehearsal of the behavior. Some examples:
Dog is barking out the front window = cover the windows with privacy film and/or do not permit the dog access to the front windows
Dog jumps on visitors that enter the home = put the dog on leash and greet owners outside the house, only permitting the guests to interact with the dog when all four paws are on the ground
Puppy is biting hands = be ready to redirect the puppy's teeth with a toy, provide soothing things for a teething puppy to chew on, insure adequate physical and mental enrichment
Dog is taking food items off the counters = restrict access to the kitchen, keep the counters free of food, place defrosting items away from counter edges or defrost in the refrigerator or microwave
Once the problem behavior is not being rehearsed the training plan can be designed. Here, we are not just looking for an alternative behavior. What we want is an incompatible behavior. Example: a dog cannot jump on people while all four paws are on the floor.
The tricky part about management is consistency. Until your dog has learned an incompatible behavior to fluency, management will always play a critical role in any behavior modification program. Management alone may be sufficient. If applying privacy window film stops the dog from barking, excellent! It may not be necessary to implement a b-mod program.
Coming Soon: Reinforce the Behaviors You do Want
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S.G. Friedman, PhD, Utah, and Bobbi Brinker, Ohio. "The Facts About Punishment." Original Flying Machine, Issue 4: Jan/Feb 2001