The Key is Teaching SKILLS not SUPPRESSION

  Posted on   by   No comments

It’s time you start thinking about your dog’s behavior as a rich, ever-changing, totally fluid, entity that relies on cognition, genes, and individual experiences within the environment. Do yourself a favor, if you have ever watched a tv show about dog behavior or heard people at your local dog park describing dog behavior… forget it. It is more likely hurting your understanding of animal behavior than it is helping it.

People expect behavior to be stagnant. Like they have this idea of an almost robotic creation of behaviors that should be as predictable as the changing of the seasons (which I don’t know how predictable that has become either these days). Behavior is so elastic and there are so many factors in each environment which influence the behavior of the individual animal. A dog has a different set of behaviors in the home as he does at the park as he does in the store (based on his age, breed and previous experiences or lack there of). I get tired of hearing people say “you have got to correct that behavior” or “she takes corrections well”. I think the average person is very bad at predicting their dog’s behavior and changing behavior they find undesirable. Let me help you get on the right track.

I see it all the time in dog class. People list all the behaviors they DON’T WANT but only a few dog owner’s will ever list behaviors they
DO WANT when they come to class. People tend to focus on suppressing behavior rather than teaching it. Some of this comes from our punitive society where we work so hard to avoid punishment every day. From speeding tickets to doing the bare minimum to not get fired, we rarely understand how to use reinforcement to change each other’s behavior.

If you are labeling and assessing a dog’s behavior you MUST account for the conditions of the environment that are causing the behavior. Once you begin to limit your desire to label the behavior or attach a personality trait to the behavior you can actually start to influence it. If you tell me a dog IS DOMINANT or IS AGGRESSIVE you have internalized the behavior to the dog and made it her destiny. If you simply observe and describe the behavior and say “she lunges at dogs baring her teeth when they walk past us on leash within 5 feet” now that is a motor pattern I can work with. We can create small successes and replicate that environment to work on it while we TEACH the dog what behaviors WE DO WANT, reward them heavily and repeat! I TEACH the dog what behaviors I DO WANT, reward them heavily and repeat! I TEACH the dog what behaviors I DO WANT, reward them heavily and repeat… get it.

Here’s your plan: Acquisition (of new skill), Repetition, Fluency and Generalization. That has to be part of the plan. If your training class or approach is that you will punish or correct the behavior when it happens, well guess what. You will not change that behavior. Sorry to say it, but that is a shitty plan. Dog reacts to a conditioned stimulus or has a conditioned emotional response, you react to the dog, dog is supposed to learn not to do it? Nope, that is not how behavior change works. You need a new plan.

NORMAL DOG BEHAVIOR INCLUDE: Barking, Biting, Digging, Jumping, Running, Chewing, Whining, Howling, Chasing small animals, Pulling against pressure… any of these sound like problems in your human environment?

You must let dog’s have space to be dogs. If you dog likes to pull the leash, get a harness that they can pull weight or pull you on skis, bike, skateboard, etc. (not for the faint of heart). If your dog likes to bite, play tug, set rules… make it fun. If your dog barks, teach him to speak on cue. When you create games and commands you also build stimulus control. Tell your dog when to do the behavior and put and ON Switch and and OFF switch. The more you focus on teaching skills (like speak, heel, sit, stay, etc.) the less time and energy you will waste trying to suppress canine behavior from happening and becoming a motor pattern that drives you crazy.

Remember what I always say,”Dogs Do What Works”, behavior that your dog finds rewarding will be repeated.