Does your dog jump on furniture (that is supposed to be “off limits”), jump on people or bark at you when they want to play fetch? Or maybe your dog does another behavior that was cute when they were a puppy but you now find annoying?
Often times these unwanted behaviors occur when people inadvertently reinforce the behavior. Because the reinforcement is usually unconscious, people don’t understand why their behavior is happening.
Before we look at a few specific behaviors, let’s review how dogs (and people) learn. First, it is important to realize that all behavior has a consequence. The consequence occurs immediately after the behavior and can be negative or positive. A negative consequence is something that the dog does not like and it will typically stop the behavior from happening again (if a dog dislikes water and falls into a pool, will be less likely to go near the pool in the future). A positive consequence is something that the dog enjoys or likes (this is why we give yummy treats when we are training). Secondly, we need to understand that behaviors have a cue or trigger that precedes the behavior. For example, a person knocks on the door which triggers a dog to bark.
Now that you understand how cues and consequences affect behavior, let’s look at how a behavior may be inadvertently reinforced. If your puppy or newly adopted dog jumps up on you and you “push” them down, your dog could misinterpret the “push” as petting and attention (attention can be a powerful positive consequence). By “pushing” your dog down, you may actually be rewarding your dog for jumping. If your dog barks at you when he wants attention and you give him any kind of attention (eye contact, throwing a ball/toy or talking to him), you are creating a positive consequence.
If you want to change the behavior, it is important that you recognize what triggers the behavior so you can predict when it will happen.
If your dog jumps on you any time you walk in the front door, you can be prepared and either change the consequence (maybe ignore your dog when he jumps) or you can teach the dog a new behavior(like sit) when you walk in the door. If your dog barks at you anytime you sit at your computer, you can change the consequence (ignore the barking) or you can redirect your dog by giving him a stuffed Kong or food dispensing toy BEFORE you get on the computer so your dog’s need for play/ attention is met by eating from the food toy.
We are always interacting with our dogs, but sometimes we are “training” them without knowing it. If a behavior is getting out of hand, take a look at what the trigger is and what the consequence is.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as a handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West. Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State.
She is a "Registered Veterinary Technician," a "Certified Professional Dog Trainer" (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers" and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Shannon's dog training philosophy revolves around force-free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal. Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training.