Welcome to Mars

dog on mars

dog on marsIn the 21st Century, we’ve got all sorts of gadgets and odd things in our homes, we drive cars instead of walk, and we’re always in a rush to be somewhere. The world our dogs live in today is so far from natural we might as well call it Mars.

We also communicate with verbal words and tone. We use a vast variety of facial expressions to communicate our moods. Dogs must learn about how we communicate by observing without any guidance. Then, they are supposed to read our minds to know what we believe is acceptable behavior. If they do something wrong, we yell at them, throw them outside, or do something worse.

Does that really seem fair?

Positive reinforcement training forces the human to pay attention when the dog is doing something right. When it is NOT barking, NOT chewing shoes, NOT jumping, instead of doing the opposite. It demands a more conscious effort on the part of the human which makes sense because we are the ones who bring them into our world to begin with. Yelling “No!” might stop the behavior at the moment, but it definitely doesn’t teach the dog what to do instead. Let’s go over some common scenarios I come across with my clients:

  • Jumping – By far, jumping is the #1 problem most dog owners experience. Jumping can come about for many reasons so lets discuss how to stop it. If jumping is a problem you’d like to fix, from this moment on, do not speak or look at your dog when they jump. Doing this will remove any possible reinforcers (something that will increase the frequency of the behavior in the future) you might be giving without even knowing. Dogs learn by consequence, if you reward their behavior in anyway, they will repeat that behavior because they got something out of it. Even yelling “no!” or “off!” is giving them access to some possible reinforcers: your attention, eye contact, big reaction from you, etc. Second, click and treat when the dog is NOT jumping for at least 3 seconds (in other words, the criteria is having four feet on the ground). After some repetitions of these two steps, your dog is sure to rethink their strategy for getting your attention! Here’s a video:

  • Bolting Out the Front Door – This is a major problem behavior for many people and is a possible death sentence for a dog who does this. Teaching your dog how to not pass a certain boundary might save their life some day. Check out this video for details but imagine your door way as the boundary instead of the curb:

Be patient with your dog and do your best to set them up to do things correctly. Use preventative measures to stop unwanted behaviors from starting.