Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
More than anything, we humans just want out dogs’ unwanted behavior (i.e. “bad” behavior) to stop. Barking. Make it stop. Biting. Make it stop. Jumping, running, digging, you name it. We want it to stop.
So, how do we make things stop? One way is punishment. Technically speaking, punishment is anything we apply or take away that decreases a behavior. We humans love punishment, because it often has instant results (though, often not very lasting results). See: The Allure of Punishment.
The trouble with punishment is that the standards are quite high if we want to see any long-term effects.
- We have to punish at a level that is sufficiently crummy for the dog. He either loses some very desirable privilege of gets some level of painful nastiness (and most of us don’t really want to hurt our dog).
- We have to punish in a timely manner, like the moment the bad behavior occurs. We humans are notoriously bad at timing.
- We have to punish every occurrence of the bad behavior. Every one. No exceptions.
If we don’t met the three criteria above, then punishment will fail.
Fortunately there is an easier way to end bad behavior without having to jump thorough all the difficult hoops of punishment. We can, without much hassle, teach our dogs what we want him to do. This is a proactive approach to training. What behavior do we want our dog to perform instead of the unwanted (bad) behavior?
There are technical terms for this. One of them is Differential Reinforcement of an Alternate Behavior (DRA). But, I like to simply call it giving our dog a landing spot. Don’t do that. Do this instead.
Here’s more good news. Most alternate behaviors (replacement for the bad stuff) are very easy to teach. It’s simple stuff like stand, sit, and lie down – things our dogs do anyway. I came up with this short list of unwanted behavior and simple solutions to fix them below. It’s a short list but it gives you an idea of how this works.
- Stop jumping on guests becomes stand with all four paws on the ground. Reinforce with food and petting.
- Stop biting guests becomes go lie down over there on your bed or mat. Reinforce with food (keeping guests away from the mat or bed is also reinforcing).
- Stop pulling on leash becomes walk beside me and check in every once in a while with a glance up. Reinforce with food and praise.
- Stop barking out the front windows of the house becomes come when called and hang out here with me. Reinforce with food, praise, play, etc. (Limiting access to the front windows also helps).
If a behavior problem seems too complicated for you to figure out, certainly bring in a qualified positive reinforcement trainer or behavior consultant to help you come up with an alternate behavior (or series of alternate behaviors). But, for the most part, this is pretty straight forward. Take your focus off the stuff you don’t want your dog to do Put your mind and your energy into what you want him to do instead.
In other words, teach your dog to do something.
Michael Baugh Teaches dog training in Houston Texas. He specializes in dogs with problem behavior including aggression.