Sunday, 4 March 2012

How We Change Dog Behaviour

How We Change Dog Behaviour
Prevent rehearsal:  Managing situations so that unwanted behaviours cannot or do not occur. Each time the dog does the unwanted behaviour, the “pathway” in the brain to that behaviour gets used and something like “muscle memory” is established.  These things make the behaviour a more likely option the dog will turn to when presented with similar situations in the future.  Not all behaviours can be prevented completely, but recognising what triggers the unwanted behaviour will help you prevent that situation from occurring.

Train a substitute behaviour:  If the dog is not doing the undesirable behaviour, he is doing something else.  If he’s being quiet, he’s not barking.  If his feet are all on the floor, he’s not jumping.  When behaviour gets a reward (either from you, the environment or the dog himself) it will be repeated.  You need to be sure that it’s the desirable alternative that gets the reward and attention from you.  Think about what you want the dog TO DO rather than what you want to stop.  Try to get the dog to do the desired behaviour in place of the unwanted one.  Be sure to reward heavily for the desired behaviour, especially if the dog chooses that behaviour on his own.

Understand normal dog behaviour:  Often, a behaviour people don’t like is perfectly normal for a dog to do (or for the breed of dog to do.)  In some cases, such as chewing, it’s a behaviour the dog NEEDS to do.  By giving the dog an appropriate outlet for these natural behaviours, the dog will be much happier and more relaxed.  You can use these highly desired behaviours as a reward for when the dog does something you like.  If your puppy is chewing on furniture (then you have not taken appropriate steps for management/prevention) but you can ask the pup to sit and then reward that desired behaviour with a Kong he’s allowed to chew on.  Often supervision and redirecting the dog to an appropriate outlet is the best solution for natural dog behaviours.

Be consistent:  Dogs learn much faster when the rules remain the same.  If you sometimes got a pay cheque for going to work and sometimes got it for staying home, but the rules about which was which weren’t clear, you would have some stress and confusion.  People do this to their dogs all the time!  Jumping up is OK unless I’m wearing nice clothes or your feet are dirty.  Barking is ok unless the neighbours have been complaining or a sleeping baby is visiting.  Sometimes it’s ok to get on the sofa, sometimes it’s not.  The problem is compounded when more than one person routinely interacts with the dog.  Make sure all family members understand and apply the same rules.  Dogs are often willing to follow the rules when the rules are clear and consistent.

Nothing in Life is Free:  The “Nothing in life is Free” program, when implemented in a reasonable manner, can greatly help increase the odds of good behaviour.  When the dog learns that the way to get what he wants is by doing something you like, your dog will start doing what you like more often.  This program also helps teach the dog the concept of self-control.  If mugging you for food works, why should he sit politely during meals?  If pulling on the leash works, why should he try to keep the leash loose?  But, if the dog has to sit before he gets a treat and has to keep the leash loose before you are willing to move a single step, he has more reason to try self-control.  This program goes hand in hand with helping the dog toward an acceptable behaviour and then rewarding that behaviour with something the dog wants.

Look for the good:  We are a punishing species.  It is a proven fact that when a person uses punishment and it gets results, the use of punishment is more likely.  However, the same can be said of using rewarding methods.  If you are watching for behaviours you can reward (& you reward them) those behaviours will become more frequent. This works better than always looking for what the dog is doing wrong so you can yell or jerk on the leash.  The punishment method will cause a dog to hide the behaviour from you.  The reward method will cause the dog to bond with you because he wants to figure out what you want him to do (so he can get what he wants.)  For some complex behaviours, you might need to gradually “shape” the behaviour of the dog to get it closer and closer to the desired behaviour.  You can do this by timing your rewards in a way that keeps the dog trying and moving toward the desired behaviour.

Be active:  Most dogs do not get the exercise they require.  Many are overweight and bored out of their minds.  By keeping their mind and body active, the dog will have less time to get himself into trouble by creating his own fun but often troublesome games.
Don’t mix signals:  As humans, we communicate primarily with words.  Dogs, however, are best at reading non-verbal signals like body language and tone of voice.  We also tend to use our words in a confusing way- saying “down” when we mean “get off” and repeating the cue so fast it becomes a new cue (“sit, sit, sit”.)  Now the dog waits to hear “sit-sit-sit” before he responds. Our message and tone can be confusing too.  Saying “come here!” in a rough and growly voice does not indicate to the dog that going toward you will be safe.  Dog’s are masters at reading our body language.  Even subtle changes like breathing patterns and raised eye brows are often noticed by dogs.  Be aware of what you are saying with your tone and body to be sure it’s not confusing the dog.  If your dog is not correctly responding to what you ask, check to make sure your body language and tone aren’t asking for something different (or indicating a bad mood that could make the dog hesitant to respond.)

Train, train, train:  Dogs do not come with “good behaviour” naturally.  In fact, most behaviour that DOES come naturally to a dog is in direct contradiction with what we want.  By looking for and rewarding the desired behaviours, and redirecting unwanted behaviours into ones we can reward, you will be teaching your dog what you like and expect.  Just as with raising a small child, teaching dogs what will make you happy and what will upset you is a 24 hour/ 7 days a week job!  Dogs and children are always learning.  You need to make a decision to be sure they are learning what you want them to learn.

Love your dog:  It is very easy to get frustrated, when this happens, take a moment to take a deep breath, then assess the situation.  What can you do to prevent it? What should you have done to prevent it?  What alternative behaviour can you try to get the dog to do so you can reward it?  Is it a natural behaviour the dog needs an outlet for?  Is anyone else allowing the dog to practice the unwanted behaviour?  Can you use the situation to teach the dog self-control?  Does the dog need more exercise?  Would the dog be doing this behaviour if he was tired?  Are your desires being communicated clearly to the dog?  When you answer these questions, it is likely that you will have something to work with.  You’ll have behaviour (or more than one) you can watch for and reward.  You will understand how to prevent the unwanted and reward the good dog.

If you are unsure how this advice applies to your case please discuss this with your trainer:

Miranda Sasse                   07958522732

Jeff Sasse                                      07861121079

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