As a dog trainer, one of the most common things we hear from people starts off with
“How can I stop my dog from……….?”
And then it’s often followed up with – jumping, barking, mouthing and biting, running away, chewing things etc.
Whilst it is important to be able to modify these behaviours to bring harmony to what can sometimes be a very stressed out household with what can feel like an out of control dog, there are some very important things to consider first.
Think about the conversation and relationship you have with your dog.
Does it sound a little like the following?
No Get down
NO!!! (with the finger point to emphasize your point)
This is where “pencils and paper” start to come into play.
In a world where our dogs have to learn the rules of the human household, the above “conversation” doesn’t really open up a world in which a dog can LEARN….
as there isn’t really any teaching occurring….
Think about how we teach young children….
If we give them some crayons or pencils, we don’t teach them what we want by saying the above examples…. ie: No not on the walls, not on the couch, not on the carpet, no not on the doors, Uh Uh etc
We give them their crayons, sit them at an appropriate table (Or floor) with a LARGE piece of paper and give them lots of praise as they unleash their inner Picasso. If they go to walk off with the crayon in hand, we might say, the crayons have to stay at the table, but we certainly spend more time encouraging the behaviour that we want.
After they have finished their work of art, we then pop it on the fridge and show it off to the world with academy award efforts from the entire family praising the child for their brilliance and talent…
This is highly reinforcing for the child and we know that reinforcement strengthens behaviour making it more likely to occur in the future. So this surely has to make us think, what if we were to embrace a similar approach to our dogs?
If we started to teach and show a dog what it is we WANT them to be doing and pulling out the academy award performance of reinforcement for when our dogs display the behaviours we like, we have to accept that reinforcing what we do want will make it more likely to occur in the future.
It’s during this teaching phase that reinforcing the dog is where your power lies. Don’t get caught up on the little things, that’s like telling a young child off for colouring outside the lines…who cares, it was still on the paper – Praise it, encourage it, be patient and then you have the ability to shape it into the paint by number masterpiece you want.
So let’s be the invokers of more YES in the world of our dogs and not the enforcers of NO.
Encourage your dog to be an overachiever and have them believe that sitting is the most amazing thing they can do, what if you encouraged the belief that them going outside when they are asked is the greatest talent a dog could ever possess.
Have some fun with your dog and focus more on what you want them to do, better yet if you can avoid them from ever learning or displaying the behaviour you don’t want in the first place, you will be well ahead of the game.
Gift your dog with the broadest vocabulary of behaviours, all the amazing things they can do to get your positive attention.
Heck I applaud my dog when he walks in the room most times, you may think that’s bonkers and that’s cool, but I tell you his recall is on point because I’m consciously creating an overachiever that loves to recall and therefore come towards me…..
So let’s teach our dogs what we want them to do and continue to reinforce it if you like it. They’re amazing creatures that can bring immeasurable joy to our lives if we just open the space of teaching what they CAN DO.