What are you really teaching your dog??

First it's important to remember to ask yourself, "what behaviors am I reinforcing with my dog?"

what_are_you_really_teaching_your_dog.jpgCommon examples of problem behaviors I see owners teach are scratching at doors, jumping up on people, or pulling while on leash walks.

Say your dog wants to go outside and lets you know this by scratching at your door.  You get up and open the door so he can go out.  You have just taught him that scratching at the door opens the door.  Now, anytime he wants in or out he scratches at your door.  After awhile you aren't so sure you like all the scratches and paw prints on your door but, when you open it, he stops doing it.  Sometimes you might be busy and don't respond to him quickly enough.  He decides to get your attention by jumping and barking at your door, which definitely gets your attention.  Now how to change the behavior you originally taught?

I advise clients to go to the door and ask the dog to sit before the door is opened.  If the dog doesn't sit, the door doesn't open.  A non-compliance consequence would result in walking away from the door.  Now, every time the dog wants in or out he must sit in order to get the door to open.  Pawing, jumping, or barking no longer is rewarded, only the polite behavior is.

We get the new puppy or dog. They enjoy being pet so they jump up to elicit attention.  When they jump up, we pet.  We have just reinforced that jumping gets you things you want.  Instead, we wait for the dog to sit by us, then we pet.  If he jumps up, we can ignore or turn and walk away.

With puppies and adolescent dogs, another popular trick is "high 5" or shake to shake their hand, that equates to a positive reaction from us for paw(ing).  Our not being clear is confusing to young dogs.  Why can I paw for a treat but not for attention?  

Our dog starts to pull when he is on a walk.  He just wants to say hi to the neighbors, we think once he gets to them he will stop pulling.  This might work until he sees the next neighbor, or dog, or squirrel etc.  We have rewarded the pulling by following the dog to where he wants to go.  Now we are actually going to have more of it!  A consequence could be stopping when he pulls or turning and going the opposite way of where he is insisting to go.  I always wait for the dog to let up on the pulling of the leash by backing up or turning their head to look back at me.  Then I would reward that behavior, loosening the leash by moving forward again.

So always ask yourself, what am I teaching my dog?  Remember that it's always easier to shape the positive behaviors than go back and change already established behaviors.  Originally training dogs that "4 on the floor" gets you lots of things you want goes a long way on shaping those better behaviors.

Nan Long
Canine Connections Dog Training

Posted by mk1200

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