Dogs are Superstitious


If you’re not careful, you can train a dog to think he needs to jump before being rewarded for not jumping or a dog that thinks he needs to pull the leash before being rewarded for not pulling. When training alternative behaviors, dogs may begin to think that they need to do the undesirable behavior and then the desirable behavior right after it in order to be rewarded. As an owner or trainer, you have to be careful to extinguish the undesirable behavior and incorporate the desired behavior without creating a behavior chain (two or more behaviors one after another).

Let’s use jumping as an example. When I first walk into a room with a jumping dog, I wait out the jumping and click and treat when the dog has four feet on the ground (after introducing the clicker). After just a few repetitions, it is likely the dog starts to think he has to jump and then stand to get the click to go off and get his treat. Unfortunately, that’s not what I want. Once I can see the dog has begun doing this, I begin to click and treat before the dog has the opportunity to jump again. After some more repetitions, this usually stops the habit of jumping and then standing to get a treat.

This goes for many other behaviors. If you aren’t careful, you can teach behavior chains and the dog becomes superstitious in that he thinks one behavior MUST come before the other behavior.

Does your dog do behavior chains that you accidentally taught?