Many people bring me their dog to solve dog behaviour problems, some dog behaviour problems are simply just naughty (but annoying) behaviours that the dog is running often for its own self satisfaction or amusement. It is also common that the dog totally disregards the owners best attempts to stop these behaviours…
On observation of the relationship it fast becomes clear that the dog is being caught in the wrong so often, it can’t remember being in the right.
When trying to solve dog behaviour problems, do you ever catch your dog in the right?
The word “no” or “stop it” or the abrupt delivery of the dogs name has been used so much, the dog has become desensitised to it. Does this mean we need to create a new word that highlights the dogs mistakes?
This article is going to take me a while to cover so sit back and immerse yourself in the “right” concept.
There is a well known program the circles the globe called N.I.L.I.F, which stands for Nothing In Life Is Free. This program intends to help the dog’s owner stop rewarding their dog being inadvertently rewarded for undesirable behaviours or the dog demanding attention.
The problem I find at times is that when people stop giving their dog attention for undesirable behaviours, the program lacks a little guidance on “when to reward your dog“. This can end with people just “disconnecting” with their dog.
I don’t advise the NILIF program much these days, instead I opt for better management of the dog to eliminate rehearsal of the undesirable behaviours and other programs that are more pro active in which the dog and the owner can form a new relationship that is based around my C.T.R principles.
What is C.T.R?
Communication is one of most important elements of training a dog successfully in my opinion, whether you use reward based training, punishment or anything else, you need to be able to effectively and accurately communicate to your dog when it is doing the thing you want.
I find it highly important to communicate in a predictive way also. This means when I give my dog a cue, I want him to predict an outcome. For example I say to my dog come inside, he predicts he will first go to his crate and there may be a reward waiting there (this is from his puppy training days, he is 2.5 years old now).
He also assigns an energy level off the prediction, meaning he will be happy to go to the crate but he doesn’t go into full drive and tear through my house.
I use a NRM (No Reward Marker / Non reinforcement marker) to indicate to him that if he continues this behaviour he can predict loss of reward (-P).
Trust is highly important in a relationship between dog and handler and this has to work both ways. The dog has to trust that if he completes the exercise then he will get a reward based off his current reinforcement schedule or perhaps avoid a known punisher.
To take the jargon out of that, if you are in the “teaching phase” of the exercise and you are constantly rewarding the dog for success, don’t abruptly change that to not rewarding at all, and expect the same response. The dog must trust that each time it delivers the behaviour, you will deliver the reward.
The handler must trust the dog will not check out in training and run off, this may mean more foundation building before testing the dog in a distractive environment and as you transgress to the new environment, use a long line to limit the dogs options.
Trust runs deep between well trained dogs and their handlers and it shows. When there is no trust and the dog checks out, this often triggers the handler to lift their performance to regain attention. I see this looking like a bidding war between handler and distraction and getting into a bidding war over your dog is the start to the end of trust.
Every training method contains something rewarding, even when I have watched trainers that use pure compulsion to pressure a dog into performing, the absence or removal of that pressure sometimes IS rewarding to the dog.
The ways we can use rewards today are many, their power is directly proportional to the dogs drive and reward history though, meaning not all dogs are created equally and some dogs learn things they shouldn’t!
My Training in Drive program for competition or working dog teams aims to reward the dog in high drive, a higher state of arousal than many use. This often scares people or concerns them
that they will never achieve accuracy or precision, but it is far from true. See Dusty on the right in a very animated and perfect heel position.
I like this system as a higher value reward brings greater, durability, duration and reliability and makes use of the dogs genetics.
One of the most effective ways to break a dog behaviour problem that is in the habitual stage is to prevent rehearsal. Meaning stop letting the dog practice this behaviour, break the cycle. Practice of course makes permanent (not perfect).
If you want to make use of this article, and you have a dog that spends most of his or her time frustrating you with the same old undesirable behaviours, you are going to need to devise a management strategy that prevents the dog from successfully rehearsing that behaviour.
You might ask what that strategy may be?
I run Behaviour Consults in which I study the dog, the owner, the problem and the goal and devise each strategy based on the individual case, there (in my opinion) is no truly effective “one size fits all” program.
So if your stumped for ideas, you can come see me, see a behaviourist near you or perhaps we can resolve this on the phone, but I can’t list down something that will work for you, as I don’t know you or your dog or your goal/s.
Once you have come up with a way to prevent rehearsal of the undesirable behaviour, don’t fall into the trap of calling the dog “fixed“. Here is an example of a dog that goes through a “cycle” of good and bad behaviours over many years.
Your dog see’s you coming down the hall way in the morning, he grabs your shoe, sock or underwear and shoots off around the house with it in his mouth.
You pursue this dog and after a number of unsuccessful attempts, trap the dog and force the dog to hand over your belongings.
He does this every day (rehearses the behaviour) because: –
- It gets your attention (which he finds rewarding).
- It is exciting to be [part of the game (which he finds rewarding)
- It is what he has found exciting many times before (so the behaviour is now a habit).
So you read this article and create a solution, perhaps you prevent access to your bedroom, don’t leave your things on the floor etc. So you have successfully stopped rehearsal and this behaviour will no longer be being rewarded.
You’re happy, but is your dog?
He probably didn’t develop this habit because he has a shoe, sock or underwear fetish, more likely he wanted to interact or engage with you. Your effective management solution means he has lost that benefit, so be prepared that if you don’t teach him a way to actually engage with you, he will come up with a plan of his own. You are likely not to enjoy this one any better than the last.
So management is a detour sign, not a stop sign.
The most annoying part of detour signs…
When I am driving and I see a detour sign, I instantly get annoyed, why? Because I had a route to success and that route has worked before and when I am sent off my path down a detour, I often find that there are no more detour signs? They got me away from the main road successfully but now they don’t care if I am lost!
If you think about management of a dog as a detour, then you will need to be fair and provide an alternate route to success, or face the dogs frustration.
Frustration is a great drive building tool, so if you have blocked your dogs route to success, he will become frustrated, then when he comes up with a new route of his own, he will be in a higher drive so this new route isn’t as easily detoured from.
This is where this article comes in!
Catch your dog doing RIGHT!
You have put up your detour sign saying no access, you must turn right. When your dog turns right, reward!
You will have a dog that is glad he found that detour sign!
I want to put you and your naughty dog to the test! I will even give you a few choices of what challenge to take and what to do if it goes wrong, it will take a but a few minutes per day, for up to 7 days.
But be warned, your dog will be into you a lot more by the end, want to be your dog’s hero? Take the challenge!
Here it is, you have 2 options to choose from.
Place a dog mat even a towel inside your house laid out on the floor, leave it there and don’t let your dog see it yet.
Bring your dog into this room, perhaps the lounge room and point at this mat / towel etc. As soon as your dog has anything at all to do with it, and this means looks at it, smells it, gets on it etc, throw 5 treats onto the mat. One after the other, one per second for 5 seconds.
As soon as your dog is finished eating, walk off and put your dog somewhere else, go back and pick up the mat or towel and don’t let your dog have free access to it.
Sometime later the same day or the next day, do the same as above. Mat down, then go and get your dog.
As you walk into the room on session number 3, observe your dogs behaviour, does your dog recognise the mat? Regardless do the same again, reward when the dog has any reaction at all.
You want to repeat this a few times until when your dog see’s this mat, he thinks he is going to get treats, 5 of them.
When you recognise that your dog is triggering off the mat, it is time to raise the criteria. This means you want your dog to do more than what he did last time.
Here is how, your dog walks into the room and see’s the mat, he thinks “OMG I am gonna get treats!”
He gets excited, you stand there.
You don’t give him treats, you don’t do anything until he “offers” you something more. The (reward) pressure is now on your dog to lift the game.
Your dog will do 1 of 3 things.
1. Walk off. That’s fine, don’t start “performing“, instead pick up the mat and walk off, put treats away. Try again at dinner time.
2. He will repeatedly do what he did the first time, so looks at it, touches it etc. That’s also fine, when the reward doesn’t come, this will spawn frustration, the dog will “shape/offer” something.
3. The dog offers or shapes something new, instantly reward with the 5 treats.
When you have number 3, raise the criteria every time you do this for a week. Ignore every behaviour you don’t like, instantly reward every behaviour you do. Your dog needs to figure out the puzzle, the puzzle is that “behaviours you like pay, behaviours you don’t’ don’t.“
Throughout the week, relocate the mat to different locations around your house and yard
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it is to get your dog to see the mat and run to it and sit or down on the mat.
Random acts of RIGHT!
Prepare yourself with a treat pouch, fill it with nice treats, something special, wear this pouch all day. The first time your dog tries to mug you for the treats in the pouch, give your dog one, and one only. Then walk away.
The rest of this day, observe your dogs behaviour throughout the day, any and EVERY time your dog makes eye contact with you, do exactly as follows.
- Say YES or even click a clicker.
- Wait at least one second (not more than 3) and then reach into your pouch and give your dog 1, 2 or 3 treats.
- Then walk off and do something else, basically disengage.
- Wait for the next time your dog offer to make eye contact and repeat.
- Practice this randomly throughout day one, try do this at home where you won’t be competing against too many other options.
Day 2 starts the same way but when you see your dog “expecting” this game, just like in option 1, you need to raise the criteria.
You can do this 2 ways from here: –
1. When your dog makes eye contact, instead of marking instantly “yes”, wait 2 full seconds, then mark “yes” or click.
Intermittently throughout the day build a little more duration but don’t go too far, up to 5 seconds is loads.
Your dog may get frustrated faster than 2 seconds, if your dog looks away, step backwards away from your dog to re engage. When your dog re engages, mark yes and reward.
If your dog escalates and jumps at you or on you, turn your head away.
2. When your dog makes eye contact, turn your body 90 degrees to the right or left, like you have taken your eyes away and your dog must move to make eye contact again.
When your dog does, instant yes and begin treating.
Make it a game, don’t be the boss, the alpha or that person, be the fun person in this game.
As the week progresses, raise, alter or at least vary the criteria in the option you have chosen, keep your dog guessing by being unpredictable!
At the end of the week, assess the changes in your dogs behaviour, does your dog run to the mat now eagerly awaiting your inspection and payment?
Does your dog have solid eye contact now that is hard to break?
Does your dog offer these behaviours?
My guess is that you and your dog will have changed considerably!
What does all this mean?
- It means your dog IS trainable
- It means you can be fun when training
- It means if you can train this, you can probably train anything given enough time and strategy.
- It means your naughty dog isn’t as naughty any more, why?
Because now it has desirable behaviours to get you to engage with him or her, rather than undesirable behaviours. You either have a dog that you can send to his mat or that ignores distraction because you have his or her eye contact.
When it isn’t working…
- Never in this game become frustrated, remember failure to do what you require means the dog doesn’t get his reward, it is probably harder on him or her than it is or should be on you.
- If you have a dog with very strong reward value for food, you will likely have fast success. If you don’t then you might get some more interest by playing the first games at dinner time, getting the treats from the dogs bowl perhaps.
- Use high value treats, the fat perhaps from last night’s BBQ steak, cut into 1 cm x 1 cm cubes. Avoid kibble or dried treats for now.
- Make sure there is nothing better the dog would rather be doing on option.
- Take longer, some dogs need some more time, some trainers do too.
Outside of this challenge, try and catch your dog in the right, sure there may be 100 things your dog does that annoy you or you just wish he didn’t do them, and you may only see one thing you like about your dog, but if you want the good to outweigh the bad, you will have to start weighing that good behaviour down with rewards!
To start you off, here is a video of my dog Venom, he was upstairs with me and I needed to go downstairs to my office, he heads off in front of me but comes to a closed door.
If I had to go down there I would have to battle past him to access the door, but instead, I have taught him to open doors and his behaviour helps me out, I pay!
He does a thousand small things like this per day and whilst they make me smile, if I pay him, I will surely see them another day.
The above are extremely simple, yet perhaps effective little tricks that can make a difference to the relationship you have with your dog.