Getting Rid of Unwanted Dog Behaviors
While your focus should always be on what your dog did right and teaching him to do it again, there are times when your dog is doing something you don’t like and you need to decide how to end that unwanted behavior or create a new one in its place.
The following is an interpretation from Karen Pryor’s fabulous book “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” You will see that the top 5 behaviors are actually using a positive techniques to change the behavior. This is what we want you to focus on. Often, we use them in combinations. The remaining 3 methods are not so pleasant and are to be avoided.
Often, as a society we tend to go to punishment of the behavior because many of us were raised that way by our parents, teachers, etc, or because it makes us “feel” like we have done something to right a wrong. Punishment in fact is often misused and has little or no effect on the behavior while damaging the relationship with the dog. For your benefit and understanding, I have enclosed the Eight Rules of Punishment as recorded by Steve and Jen White of Rivendale Learning Center, Woodinville, WA,. You may need to try different techniques before you find one that works. Keep in mind that it is crucial to teach the dog what you want them TO DO! If you focus on the unwanted behavior, you often have a dog that eventually understands you do not want something, but still has no idea what you do want!
Methods of changing unwanted behaviors…
|Change the motivation.||Identify the behavior (not the reason why) and stop reinforcing it; instead find something that you can reinforce that replaces or prevents the behavior.|
|Reinforce the absence of the behavior.||Reward everything the dog does that is not the undesired behavior. Remember, there are lots of behaviors going on.|
|Train an incompatible behavior.||Teach the dog to do something that makes it impossible for him to do the undesirable behavior. (Ex: DOWN, STAY when doorbell rings to prevent jumping at the door.)|
|Put the behavior on cue. (Then stop cueing the behavior.)||Train the animal to do the behavior using clicker training, get it solid then add a cue… then almost never give the cue for the behavior. Yes! Train your dog to do the behavior when you ask for it! Then rarely ask for it.|
|Extinction. Think of extinguishing the behavior.||Let the behavior die on its’ own. If a behavior, which previously had been reinforced, stops being reinforced in all ways, the given behavior will extinguish once the animal is convinced he will never get reinforced for that behavior again. Be warned, the behavior will get worse before it ceases. This is called the Extinction Burst and can be quite significant. When deciding if extinction will work, you must analyze all ways in which the dog may be getting reinforced. To a dog barking out of boredom or loneliness, the barking itself is reinforcing. A dog’s barking to get your attention, to be let out of his crate, etc., may be extinguished, but not if you in any way acknowledge hearing him.|
|Terminate the relationship.||Re-home the dog, divorce the spouse, fire the employee, etc. This guarantees you will never have to deal with the offending behavior from that particular animal again.|
|Negative Reinforcement||This does not mean doing something unpleasant when the animal offends; it means to remove something unpleasant when the dog does it right.|
|Punishment||Do something the animal finds unpleasant when the behavior occurs. Often the biggest result of using punishment is that the punisher feels better because they “did something” about the problem.
Unfortunately, it rarely is effective on truly stopping the behavior nor does it do anything to teach your dog what to do instead!
Yelling, “Bad Dog!”
Punishment is intended to affect a behavior in such a way that it suppresses the given behavior, making it less likely to occur. However, it does not teach your dog what TO DO!
Examples: Yelling (“Bad Dog!”), throwing things, shock collars/fences, choke/prong collars, slip collars, squirt bottles, withholding something they want, etc.
Note: This generally makes the “punisher” feel better (release anger, frustration, etc.) and leads to increasing punishment tactics.
The fall-out of punishment:
- Dog may become callous to punishment (build resistance).
- Creates fear, distrust and destroys bonds
- Dog may associate punishment with trainer presence.
- May cause physical or psychological pain to your Best Friend.
- It fails to get the job done.
- Creates “sneaky” dogs. (i.e. dog gets into garbage only when you’re not around)
- Temporary at best.
- Suppresses behavior, dog less likely to try a good behavior due to fear of punishment.
- Hard to gauge appropriate intensity.
- Difficult to have perfect timing and consistency.
- Dogs don’t get “Don’t”, they do understand “Do”.
- Does not teach desired behavior.
The Eight Rules of Punishment
Thank you to Steve & Jen White, Rivendale Learning Center, Woodinville, WA for allowing us to share this.
- The punishment must be something the animal dislikes and something the animal does not expect.
- The punishment must suppress the unwanted behavior, otherwise it’s just plain abuse.
- The punishment must be of the perfect intensity. Too much and the dog will shut down. Too little and the dog develops resistance to punishment.
- The punishment must happen immediately after the behavior.
- The punishment must be associated with the behavior, not you! Otherwise your presence is a signal that punishment may occur, and your absence is one that it will not. The result? Creating a “sneaky” dog.
- The punishment must happen every time the behavior occurs. Otherwise, you may put the undesirable behavior on a variable schedule and make it even tougher to break.
- There must be an alternative for the dog. Give him an opportunity to perform an acceptable behavior in order to escape or avoid the punishment.
- Punishment must never be used to the extent that punishment outweighs reinforcement from the dog’s perspective.
As a dog trainer, I believe that the most effective method of dog training revolves around teaching your dog what you want them to do, how to behave, how to act in their environment, and what appropriate behaviors are, under given circumstances and situations.