A Tip For Solving Dog And Pet Behavior Problems

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I have heard the story so very often. “I want my dog to stop jumping on people.” “I want dog to stop chewing on my shoe.” “I want my bird to stop screaming.”

differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior in dog trainingIt is a natural tendency for many when they are frustrated to think only in terms of stopping it. The problem is that thought process often leads to solutions that involve some sort of aversive stimulus to try and put an end to the irritating behavior. And there are so many negative ramifications that can result for your pet AND your relationship with your pet. Please read my post about my thoughts on punishment.

Here is the thing. All behavior occurs for a reason, and that reason is to produce a consequence. If the consequence is something of value to the animal then the behavior will reoccur and even strengthen. If the consequence does not have value then the behavior will decrease in frequency and even extinguish.

What we have to realize then is that, if our pet is jumping up, chewing a shoe or screaming, it is because that behavior has a positive outcome for the animal. Simply ignoring or punishing the behavior won’t serve to teach the animal what you’d rather it do instead.

To solve a dog or other pet behavior problem in the most positive, least intrusive way, a great strategy is DRI or differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior.  (Note that there are other types of differential reinforcement strategies, for this post my focus is on incompatible behaviors.)

DRI is a systematic process of reinforcing a wanted behavior that can not be done simultaneously with the unwanted behavior while also completely and totally ignoring the unwanted behavior.

For example, an incompatible behavior to jumping up is sitting or laying down; and an incompatible behavior to screaming is talking in words.

I learned from Dr. Susan Friedman that an important consideration in identifying replacement behaviors is the function of the unwanted behavior for the animal.  “If we select replacement behaviors carefully, we can teach our pets to communicate their needs in acceptable ways while preserving the valid function of these behaviors at the same time,” she said.

The strategy is most effective if the incompatible behavior produces a consequence of at least the same value, if not more, for the animal; and if the incompatible behavior is something the animal already knows.


Can I be of further help to you and your pet? Please contact me!

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