You’ve tried everything to change your dog’s “bad behavior,” such as pulling on the leash or jumping up on houseguests. Nothing seems to work and you may have concluded the dog doesn’t respect you…or perhaps just doesn’t get it.
While interrupting bad behavior can effectively stop an event in action, it doesn’t teach your dog an alternative, preferred behavior for next time.
For example, if you bump your knee into your Lab’s chest when he joyfully jumps on guests entering your home, the dog might learn not to jump. After all, a knee in the chest doesn’t feel good. But — this action gives no information on how your dog should act. If my wife kneed my chest every time I arrived home and kissed her, I would naturally ask, “Well, what do you want me to do?”
Since dogs can’t communicate like that, desired actions must be conveyed another way.
Positive Reinforcement Works
Positive reinforcement training shows dogs what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t (like jumping on visitors). They can be encouraged to run to another room to snatch a toy when guests arrive, or perhaps sit instead of jump when they want attention.
Continually using an action like kneeing a dog can erode the human-animal bond – a common outcome of punishment. That’s because the dog, happy to see people, is confused. At best, she won’t greet people with such enthusiasm. At worst, she may respond aggressively. And who can blame her?
With positive reinforcement, dogs modify behavior, and catch on quickly.
The moment your pup succeeds at a desired task or behavior, offer a special, tasty treat you use only for this purpose. The treat should not only excite your pup, but also be fairly easy for you to deliver and for the puppy to eat. The key is instant gratification. A great treat I recommend is Vita Bone Chewy Sticks. They’re soft, aromatic and tasty, and are easily broken into bite-sized bits ideal for training.
Remember, as you offer the treat, provide repeated praise in an upbeat, happy voice. Immediately afterward, it’s a great idea to play with your pup for a time, as this provides additional positive reinforcement.
Finding a Trainer
Not everyone has the time or inclination to train or re-train a dog. The good news is, there is plenty of qualified help. I strongly support any pet parent who seeks help in properly training their dog, whether just for basic tips or to modify undesirable behavior(s).
An online search of your area will provide numerous options in training, as well as reviews by people who have used the trainers and companies listed. The following resources are also great for helping choose a qualified trainer who really fits your and your dog’s needs. Each site has a ‘Finder’ for trainers in your area.
- Victoria Stillwell: positively.com
- Karen Pryor: karenpryoracademy.com
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants: iaabc.org
When you’re ready to begin, if you’ll be participating in a group session, I recommend auditing the class first. If you see wagging tails and smiling faces, they’re probably using positive reinforcement. Dogs learn best this way, and the learning isfun — for both of you.
Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), reaches more pet owners than any other pet journalist in America as a newspaper columnist, radio host, blogger, television expert and author of "Good Dog." He is also an avid animal advocate and expert in positive training.