When addressing a problem behavior, it is important to treat the cause of the behavior as well as the symptom. A proper treatment plan for unwanted behaviors will have four components.
1. Positive Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors
2. Managing and setting the dog up to succeed
3. Consequences for the problem behaviors
4. Consistency in Dealing with Problem Behaviors
With these four components you have a treatment plan. In order to eliminate unwanted behaviors, all four components needs to be addressed.
Positive Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors
Most unwanted behaviors are typically normal dog behaviors that are not appropriate when mixed in our human environment. Digging, jumping, and chewing are normal dog behaviors. Dogs normally enjoy engaging in these behaviors, which is why we call them self-rewarding behaviors. When addressing a self-rewarding behavior, you need to teach the dog an alternate behavior that is more rewarding then the unwanted behavior. It is also important to find the trigger to the unwanted behavior and desensitize the dog to the object or situation while teaching an acceptable behavior.
Managing and setting the dog up to succeed
The idea to manage the the problem and setting the dog up to succeed means to provide the dog with every opportunity to learn that the alternate behavior is more rewarding than the unwanted behavior. This means the dog needs to be supervised so the dog does not perform the unwanted behavior. Every time the dog has the opportunity to perform unwanted behaviors the dog is being positively reinforced, and it will make reaching that goal much more difficult. Until the owner is consistent in managing the dog and the dog's environment, the dog will not learn the alternate behaviors.
Consequences for the problem behaviors
A proper consequence should impact the dog so that he decreases his desire to repeat the behavior, and compels him to give the wanted behavior. A consequence is designed to tell the dog that the behavior he just gave moves him farther from his reward.
Consistency in Dealing with Problem Behaviors
Dogs are happy, confident, and secure in their environment when the rules and expectations are consistent. When rules are changing and expectations of compliance are sometimes and not others, dogs become suspicious and untrusting of the owner. Allowing the dog on the couch when the owner is home alone, but not allowing the dog on the couch when company is visiting will confused the dog and make it very difficult to teach the dog he is not allowed on the couch. Consistency plays a crucial role when treating unwanted behaviors.
One of the most common problem behaviors I hear from my clients is jumping. A jumping dog can be embarrassing when guest are over and a dangerous behavior when kids are involved. Although this can be a problem for dogs of all ages, this is a common problem for small breed dogs and young large breeds. Jumping is not a natural dog behavior, so why do they do this? Jumping is a learned behavior that most owners don’t realize was taught by them. As humans it is very natural for us to be drawn and attracted to large round heads of puppies, large puppy eyes, and of course that puppy smell. We also like to show love and nurture the puppy by picking it up and holding the puppy close to our faces. As we do this, the puppy is getting familiar with our scent. The puppy is enjoying the smell of your skin, hair, and breath. Plus, the puppy is enjoying the warmth from our body, the touch from our hands, and all the attention. This is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is what you give when you want to increase the possibility of the behavior to repeat. We have a puppy enjoying the closeness to its owner and receiving positive reinforcement. As you notice the puppy is getting older (and much bigger for the large breeds) that “puppy attention” dies down but the dog has learned the positive effects of being close to people. Not being aware of its own growth your dog wants to get close to you and to do that, he starts jumping.
So how do we stop the jumping? Make sure NO ONE gives your dog attention for jumping. Most people like to hold a jumping dog down or pet the dog thinking it will calm the dog. The dog will take any kind of physical contact as a reward, along with eye contact and spoken words which will make the behavior stronger. Turn your back, look at the ceiling till all four paws are on the floor, then give lots of praise and attention.
If you do not like your dog’s behavior, change it for an alternative behavior. A good replacement for jumping is sitting. Ask your dog to sit, then lower yourself to the dog’s level for its praise and reward. Your dog will learn there is no need to jump for your attention. He simply needs to sit.
To teach sit, first have your dog in a standing position. Hold the treat between your thumb and index finger keeping your hand open with palm facing up. Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose. Slowly lift the treat above your dog’s head so your dog starts to look up. This should cause your dog to sit. Once the dog is in a full sit position say “Good” then “OK” to release. Another way is to capture the behavior at home. Always keep treats available. When you see your dog sit, reward and give praise. This will give the dog the idea that he or she is training you. When he or she sits, you give treats. There are different ways to use the capture technique. Use a room that will be boring to your dog, this will be a room like a bathroom or a laundry room. Take a chair with you (this could take some time in the beginning) and just wait. The dog will get bored and eventually sit. When that happens say “Good” and give reward. DO NOT USE THE WORD “SIT” UNLESS YOU ARE 100% POSSITIVE YOUR DOG WILL SIT. Repeating “sit sit sit” over again can make the word meaningless to the dog. Reward the dog first for its sits, and the dog will learn that sitting gets him a reward. The behavior then will increase. When this happens, you can start to apply the cue to the behavior.
The key to training is patients and timing. Be aware of what you are rewarding. Food, treats, touch, speaking and eye contact are all rewards to your dog. Reward all wanted behaviors and do not reward unwanted behaviors.
The Duties of a Leader
A training class never goes by without mentioning the importance of being your dogs leader. We all love our dogs and love to spoil them. However, when we spoil our dogs, we sometimes don't see the damage we are doing to our relationship with them and how it can cause unwanted behavior. Just like raising children, dogs need structure. Rules need to be established and enforced to maintain social order. The leader of the pack chooses who is in the pack, and what authority each member has or doesn't have.
Here are a few exercises to practice to show the dog who is the leader.
1. Eat First.
2 Go through doorways first.
3. Stay calm and in control.
4. Set the pace and the direction.
5. Do not let their personal space be invaded.
6. Say when play begins and when it ends.
7. Do not offer free treats.
8. Assume the higher ground (beds, couches, etc.)
9. Never change their direction or step over the dog.
10. Assign resting spots for other pack members.
By implementing these leadership exercises consistently on a daily basis, you will see a positive change in your dogs behavior.
When a dog continues to make mistakes during training it is important to know the reason why before you can address the issue.
Possible causes for a dog to make mistakes more than 10% of the time:
1. The exercise may be too difficult for the dog. It is important to set your dog up to succeed. Keep it simple and clear. If not, the dog can become frustrated and/or uninterested.
2. More practice may be needed. It is possible the dog has not had enough shaping or being guided correctly into the behavior with a food lure.
3. It is possible the dog is not motivated enough to respond. This usually happens when the dog gets what he wants for free outside of training.
4. Your signals may be unclear to the dog
5. Check your surroundings, there could be too many distractions too soon for the dog.
When the dog give the correct behavior approximately 90% of the time, you can be confident that your dog is ready for the next training level.
If you have a dog, then you have probably heard of "socialization". It is often told to owners of dogs with bad manners that the bad behavior is due to lack of socialization. For a term that is so often used, there are still few people who understand how to properly socialize and how critical it is to preventing dog bites.
To properly socialize a dog, you will need to desensitize him to whatever things he will encounter in life. Proper socialization requires positive exposure in multiple environments and a variety of situations. Never push a dog into any situation. You want to go at the dogs pace to keep it positive.
An under-socialized dog may overreact to common things, such as strangers, other dogs, cars, strange noises, etc.
Another word for socialization is "desensitization". To desensitize a dog is by helping the dog make positive associations in small increments. It is important not to overwhelm the dog and over-expose him to new things. Forcing and overwhelming a dog can cause a negative reaction and make the dog fearful and aggressive.
An example of proper socialization is to bring the puppy to a group class and only exposing her to friendly dogs (with distance) that she feels comfortable with. When the puppy is calm, the owner gives the puppy treats and praise. If the puppy becomes agitated, the owner moves the puppy further back till the puppy is calm again. Each week the owner needs to bring the puppy closer (within the puppy's comfort) keeping it positive for the puppy.
The key to effective socialization is to keep the entire process as positive as possible for the dog. When your dog makes a positive association with new experiences, he is less likely to develop fear or aggression, reducing the changes of an unwanted bite.
You are ready to move to the next stage (automation) when the dog anticipates the action and completes the down before you complete the lure.
Second Stage: Automation
In the automation stage, the dog learns to automatically give a specific behavior without being lured.
An example would be to say "down" before you start to lure your dog into position. The dog will learn to anticipate that the word "down" is followed by the lure and start to go down when he hears "down".
When the dog responds to the cue correctly 90% of the time, you are ready to move forward to the next stage.
Third Stage: Generalization
The generalization stage is when the dog learns that the response should be the same if the cue is given in a different way, by a different person, or in a different environment.
When the dog has a 90% success rate for Down in the family room, with his traditional trainer, it is a good time to generalize the behavior so that he doesn't only respond to specific circumstances.
When the dog responds to the cue correctly 90% of the time in a variety of situations, you are ready to move forward to the maintenance stage.
Fourth Stage: Maintenance
When your dog reaches the maintenance stage, you feel confident that he has complete understanding of the request. To maintain behaviors, it is sometimes required to go back to the beginning when the dog makes a mistake. This means to go back a few steps and make it easier for the dog. This will give you the chance to reinforce the correct response before it deteriorates further.
An example of maintenance is when your dog has been successful with his down stays for weeks. But when your friend comes to visit, your dog breaks his stay and runs and jumps on your friend. You will need to go back to the basics and build a stronger foundation.
5 minute sessions, 3 times a day.
Three five minute sessions for a total of fifteen minutes a day will help you maintain good progress with your dog. Consistency is key for good dog training, and is more beneficial than long duration training sessions,
A conditioned reinforcement can be a bell, whistle, clicker, or a vocal "good". It can take five minutes for a dog to learn a treat is coming after the conditioned reinforcement. When you see your dog automatically respond to his conditioned reinforcement, he has learned the association. The conditioned reinforcement makes it easy to communicate to your dog when you mark the correct response.
Shape a Behavior
Once your dog discovers a behavior brings a reward, he will repeat that behavior more frequently. At this level, you can start to shape the behavior by choosing to reward a behavior that is closer to the behavior goal. Take each step by step slowly. The dog will need to guess what behavior you want and you need to tell him "that's correct" by giving the conditioned reinforcement and reward. Keep the behavior happening, but in small doses ask for more.
One simple way to train your dog is by capturing the behavior. This is only possible if your dog has been conditionally reinforced. You simply catch your dog doing the behavior or wait till your dog does the behavior and give him the conditioned reinforcement.
Training Dogs of the Sea
Recently, my husband and I took a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Being the animal behavior/training geek that I am, I took as many videos as possible to bring home. So many people gather around these exhibits amazed by how these trainers can be so close with these animal and how these beautiful creatures have so much respect for their handlers. Truth is, their training techniques are no different then the positive reinforcement training techniques we use to train our own dogs.
Any kind of animal training is going to start small. It is traditional for marine mammals to learn to follow a "target". Once the animal learns the rewards of touching the "target", they are motivated to follow the target. When the animal follows their "target" you can start to lure the animal and shape the behavior you want. For dogs, the "target" is traditionally the trainers hand.
It is key to take one step at a time. Next step? Find and touch the "target"
Then follow the "target".
Animals can learn to recognize different targets. This is how trainers teach their dogs to recognize numbers and/or colors.
To reduce anxiety and stress it is important for any animal to feel safe and confident in any situation. In this situation, the trainer uses "target" practice and shaping with her hand for the otter to open his mouth. Opening his mouth may seem like a small thing to ask and maybe not a big deal. But when it comes time for the vet checks and safety, the vet is going to need the otter to open his mouth without force.
Once the "target" has been mastered and the animal understands the rewards of following the "target" (shaping), the animal starts to make connections and associations with the movements of arms, hands and body. These become the hand signals. Hand signals are a clear way to communicate with any animal. It is very difficult for a trainer to tell a dolphin to jump. So they will give a hand signal and use the target to lead the animal to the wanted behavior.
Correcting a sea lion sounds like it would be difficult. But, when you work on a relationship built with trust, the animal is always motivated for that reward. So what do you do? This trainer gave her cue, the sea lion tried but the trainer knew he could do better. So no reward was given and she asked him again. When he gave the correct behavior, he received his reward.
This little otter is enjoying his lunch. Just like they would have to hunt in the wild, it is a great stimulation and mental work out for an animal to work for his or her food.
People are always so impressed with how well trained these animals are and think the job is done with some magic talent. It is just understanding simple basic animal behavior. It is because of marine mammal training that I have faith in positive reinforcement training. Imagine what would happen if these trainers used other methods such as shock collars, pinch collars, or choke chains on an otter or sea lion. Somehow I don't think they would get these beautiful animal to be motivated to respond in front of a crowd. Perfect behavior cannot be created over night. The main ingredient to train any animal is patience.
There have been major advances in the past 20 years for dog training. Unfortunately, punishment for unwanted behavior had become the norm and their wolf ancestry has been the blame for bad behavior. Dogs are often labeled as "too stubborn" to train. However, with positive reinforcement techniques, we set our dogs up to succeed and give them rewards for good choices. This helps a stubborn dog become more eager to learn and more motivated to build great relationships.
Positive reinforcement started in the 1930's with B.F. Skinner's scientific studies of Operant Conditioning. Hollywood animal trainers use this method of training because the animals become happy, dependable performers. The wildest undomesticated animals can learn and trust you when using positive reinforcement training. Instead of jerking and forcing an animal with a choke chain hoping the dog will eventually understand, you can shape and reward your dog to the appropriate wanted behaviors.
What positive reinforcement means is that the dog works to get the things he likes. The key to positive reinforcement is timing. To increase the likelihood that the dog will repeat a behavior is to reward the dog at the moment the dog performs the desirable behavior. Positive reinforcements have been scientifically proven to gain favorable results. We are more likely to perform better in our work when we expect a paycheck, a raise, a bonus, and/or a promotion. Just like us, dogs need motivation and reinforcement as well.
An example of positive reinforcement is giving your dog a treat the moment he sits.
Examples of positive reinforcers are:
By implementing positive reinforcement today, your dog will be on his way to becoming the well behaved dog you desire.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is rewarding good behavior with treats, praise, or life rewards (games, walks, car rides)
Anyone can do it.
When using positive reinforcement training techniques, anyone in your family can train the dog. With positive reinforcements, there is no need to use physical strength for leash corrections, or a strong tone of voice.
Clearer communication for the dog.
Consequences aren’t always clear to a dog. For example, punishing indoor accidents teaches your dog not to eliminate around you. On the other hand, rewarding outside potties will communicate clearly that good things happen when he eliminates outdoors.
Used for different behaviors
Positive reinforcement can be used to teach your dog new commands or to reinforce good behavior. For example, you can prevent bolting, jumping on people, or good meal-time manners, all with positive reinforcement training.
It's a mental workout.
Boredom can give rise to a lot of unwanted behavior, like digging, excessive barking, and chewing. A few short positive training sessions throughout the day will help your dog burn oﬀ a lot of that excess energy.
Once your dog realizes that training leads to the things he likes, your dog will begin to view training sessions as playtime. He will begin behaving in a desirable way in the hopes of getting his rewards, while you get to enjoy his antics.
Strengthens the bond with your dog.
Do you like being recognized for work you do well? So does your dog! While other training methods will teach your dog how to behave, positive reinforcement will also build trust, strengthening your relationship.
I am an ABC Certified Dog Trainer and owner of Furry Tail Dog Training.
Books I've read: