A call I get regularly starts with, “I just want him to stop…” and then begins a list of behaviors. When I ask, for each behavior, what the family has tried to remedy the situation, they tell me they have tried “everything.” When I ask them to share what specifically they tried it boils down to they are trying to stop or punish a behavior and generally they tried 10 things a few times instead of sticking with an answer a bit longer term to see if it works. I am assuming there are some in our audience here who have the same issues, so I am going to give you a look behind the curtain to what dog trainers and behavior pros do. Ready??
Let’s say you and I are having a heated conversation. In the process, I turn away my head, then I roll my eyes, then warn you by saying, “I am going to punch you in the nose,” then I punch you in the nose. You have really, great info, right?!?!?(I don’t punch people in the nose except in this example.) So, now know that all those things happen before I punch you in the nose, you have information that can stop my behavior.
The behavior you want to stop is the punch in the nose. So what behavior(s) happen prior to the nose punch? Well, a verbal warning and two stress signals happened prior to the verbal warning. Changing what the punched does at the presentation of any of those signals would likely stop them from being punched. So, if when I said, “I am going to punch you,” you chose to stop and ask how you could help or, even better, expressed gratitude that I was warning you that changes everything too. If you changed what you were doing earlier in the process, then you are even further from even getting a big warning OR a nose punch…. Because you paid attention to the other in the conversation and monitored for stress.
Let’s try some dog examples:
A puppy is playing fetch. The handler throws the toy, the puppy goes and gets it, jumps around, shakes it vigorously, then drops the toy, and when the handler picks up the toy the puppy and throws the toy and the game begins again. After several repetitions, when the handler picks up the toy, the puppy redirects to the handler’s slipper and won’t let go.
Examples of how we might work with the puppy are:
1) End the game prior to the repetition that the behavior shift happens. So, let’s say he redirects on repetition 4, I may say end the game with a toss of the toy for repetition three then walk away before the pup gets back… that way arousal gets managed and the pup doesn’t escalate. Over time, try adding in one repetition at a time and build on success.
2) Play with two toys. The moment your pup starts shaking the toy or jumping around draw attention to the toy you have. Immediately after the puppy drops the toy he has, throw the one you have.
3) Teach the puppy to release the toy then lie down, perhaps on a mat that is a small distance away. This allows the handler to stay out of the redirected mouth zone. This option requires a bit more training skill.
4) Teach the puppy to “drop” separately and build up to getting him to release no matter what with just the word drop. **If anyone wants instruction on this, let me know at email@example.com and I will send you a video from a great trainer in England who teaches you the whole process. It’s fantastic!
Here’s another example:
Customer is trying to get the dog from the house to the car to go to the vet. Handler picks up the leash and the dog races around barking and jumping. Handler wrestles the leash onto the dog’s collar. Dog pulls to the door and then all the way to the car to go for a ride. Dog is barking at everything along the way in the car.
A lot happens in this scenario. There are a lot of behaviors that lead up to the pulling and barking. For this scenario, my recommendation would be to start with building the behavior you want. Dogs are all about learning sequences, that is, they pick up, notice and attach meaning to patterns in our behavior. So, I would recommend picking up the leash and if the dog dances around, put the leash down. Repeat until when the leash is lifted the dog remains relaxed. Then add attaching the leash to the dog. I wait for the dog to relax and offer sitting or lying down before I try to attach the leash. If the dog starts to get up, I stop and go sit down and wait until the dog settles again and repeat doing so until the dog stays relaxed while I attach the leash. Then I let the dog walk around dragging the leash. When the dog relaxes, I take the leash off and we start over… again, and again and again, until it’s not big deal. Now comes the more frustrating part… because the closer we get to the actual CAR RIDE OF AWESOMENESS the more your dog’s brain is likely to turn to blue cheese. Once we can get the leash on and off with brains still in the skull, then we start moving with the dog on the leash and even waiting at the door, jiggling the doorknob, opening and closing the door, walking to and fro through the door, then walking on a loose leash to the car, get in, get out again, etc. on and on until we are able to over and over again do the entire routine with a dog who’s brain is collected. Happy is awesome. Jacked up over-aroused is not.
Now all of this will get an “aw, man, that’ll never work” and it’s because we want it fixed yesterday. Similarly, I want to eat salad one week and suddenly be the size 6 I long for… but alas, Rome was not built in a day. Working 2-3 short (10 min sessions)make HUGE progress in no time… and if you add treats to help focus the dog, it goes even faster. Often, I have a dog doing the entire routine in less than a day working a few minutes at a time. When we intervene early we can accomplish big learning and big change in very short amounts of time. Now… if only that was true for dieting.
Tina M. Spring
Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an online course.