If you have a dog, there’s probably at least one thing your dog does that drives you nuts. He can chew on furniture or shoes, jump on visitors, or pull you down the street by a leash. Before you can change your dog’s behavior, you need to understand why your dog is behaving the way it is – and what you can do about it.
The answer to the question “why is my dog doing this?” is “Because it works.” Behavior is determined by consequences. If a dog does something that leads to a “good” or pleasant consequence, he’ll likely do it again. If the consequence is “bad” or uncomfortable, he’ll be less likely to try again. Manipulate the consequences and you can change the behavior.
Use this concept to your advantage
To reinforce good behavior:
- Pay your dog for a job well done! You can use food, play, petting and massage or anything else your dog enjoys working for. The better you pay, the more likely the dog will do it again!
- Practice with your dog by asking for good behavior before you give him anything—a meal, attention, going outside, a treat, some playtime, and anything else your dog wants.
To eliminate unwanted behavior:
- Manage the situation as best you can to prevent the behavior in the first place. Restrict access to trash cans, leash the dog while teaching proper greeting behavior, etc.
- Change the consequences of the behavior so that it no longer works. For example, ignore the dog when he’s begging instead of giving him any kind of attention, even to say “no”! Sometimes dogs “act up” to get attention – any kind of attention will do.
- Teach the dog an alternative behavior that works (e.g., sit to greet you instead of jumping up, or lie down on its mat instead of begging at the table).
In terms of science
“Reinforcement” is any consequence that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. “Positive reinforcement” refers to adding something desired (such as giving the dog a treat) that acts as reinforcement and makes the dog more likely to perform the behavior again.
“Punishment” is any consequence that reduces the likelihood of the behavior occurring again. “Negative punishment” refers to the omission of something desirable (e.g. removing social interaction or attention when a dog jumps up) with a resulting reduction in the likelihood that the behavior will occur again.
There’s also “Positive Punishment” (adding something undesirable, such as a physical “correction” to make a behavior less likely) and “Negative Reinforcement” (removing something undesirable, such as an electric shock). to reinforce a behavior). Truly dog-friendly trainers avoid these because they require precise timing, have undesirable side effects, and can be detrimental to the dog-owner relationship.
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