My reminder to you…every moment of every day is a teaching and learning opportunity for you and your pet. Reinforcers are all around. They are that chance to go outside, to play ball, to clip on a leash, to greet a human, to chew or sniff. They are powerful tools in your behavior change toolbox because every time that you pair one of those valued life experiences with a behavior, you are adding value to that behavior…and you are giving your pet reason to do that behavior again, and again.
Alright, I’ve got to speak my mind this month. I have heard so many people and seen so many web sites talking about ‘taming’ birds.
Knowing what I know about behavior and being as compassionate as I am about other living beings, I hate that phrase. It makes me cringe actually because taming to me infers dominance and force. And dominance and force in no way helps build a relationship of trust and foster quality of life.
Let me share some excerpts of ‘taming’ tactics suggested on web sites.
“If you make a fist and bend your wrist as far as it will go, you’ll notice that the skin on the back of the fist becomes very tight. Bring your fist up to the bird very slowly, finding out where its striking range is….The Fist, brought slowly toward the bird’s beak, can be used to control the bird, move it away from you, hold it off and let it know that you are not about to be driven out of the territory.”
“If your bird is so aggressive that you cannot safely place your hand inside its cage, try wearing thick oven mitts on your hands. If your bird bites the mitt, gently push in towards his beak rather than pulling away. This will eventually teach him that no matter how hard he bites you, he cannot make your hand disappear.”
“You have to expect the bites and be prepared to take them if need be..reacting to those bites is just about the worst thing you can do. Once the bird discovers that his bites WILL NOT back you down..he will stop trying.”
Let me repeat that with a BIG question mark. “Once the bird discovers that his bites WILL NOT back you down…he will stop trying.” REALLY? Some months back I devoted an entire column dispelling the reasons people use for why parrots bite. I’ve pulled a paragraph from it below.
Why then do birds bite humans? Well, for one humans who get bit generally aren’t very good listeners when it comes to watching their bird’s body language. They don’t allow their bird to nonagressively warn them to back off. Instead they push the limit and they have their body parts where they shouldn’t be (that’d be too close to a bird’s beak when the bird doesn’t want you there). They teach their birds that nonaggressive body language just doesn’t work in communicating to aggressive, grouchy or dominant humans.
I used to get bit, and bit hard, by Dreyfuss until I began studying behavior with Susan Friedman, Ph.D. about 16+ years ago. Since then the only rare bites I have gotten have been when “I” have not paid attention to her body language.
My compassionate side shudders to think of that poor bird who has to come face to face with a person’s fist in order to learn how to be calm. In science, they call this ‘learned helplessness.’ It is when an animal is subjected to an aversive stimulus from which it cannot escape and it eventually stops trying because learns it is utterly helpless to change the situation. A great example of this is Jaycee Dugard, who stopped trying to escape her kidnapper, abuser and father to her children, after she realized it would do her no good to try.
Think about under what circumstances you are most eager to learn and you are most likely to succeed. Think about your favorite role model or teacher growing up or a favorite boss who inspires you to do your very best simply by believing in you and letting you learn from your own experiences.
That’s the type of person we need to be to our pets – a partner, friend and cheerleader, not a dictator and punisher. Instead of thinking about ‘taming’ your pet, think about setting your pet up for success. Your role should be to evoke joy in living, to make learning pure fun, and to make being with you the best choice ever because only good things come when you are around.
Many of us get annoyed when our dog jumps on us, whines, or nips at us for attention. Or when our dog impulsively dives to grab a shoe. We wish our dog could see an open door and not bolt through it. We get irritated when our dog barks, jumps and/or runs around when we take out a leash.
Here is the thing. Seeing something it wants and sitting near it unless or until told it can have it, is not something dogs inherently do, just as a young child taken to a candy store would more than likely not choose to sit in a chair and read a book. Unless, that is, that the dog has been taught that sitting near something it wants is what gets him the opportunity to have it; or the child has been taught that sitting in a chair in a candy store gets him/her a piece of candy or something else of value.
While choices in life are always made based on where the value is at that particular moment in time, impulsivity is the tendency to act without thinking for instant gratification. I may eat that chocolate cake sitting in front of me because it is there and it is REALLY tempting even though I know I am trying to lose weight. I may buy that expensive dress because it looked great on me in the store even though I have no immediate place to wear it and it is more than my budget would allow. I am willing to bet that all of us have made impulsive decisions at one time or another.
Dogs are the same way. In the moment, a dog may see a shoe on the floor and put it in its mouth, may see a leash and bark and run in circles, or may be excited to see its humans and will jump on them. The list can go on.
Here is the thing to always remember (I know, I keep repeating myself), while impulsivity may affect that split second decision, experience is what teaches the learner to repeat and strengthen a behavior or to modify and weaken its occurrence.
When we share our homes with pets, it is so important for us to realize we have a lot to do with the behaviors we see in our non-human companions. We need to be aware of our pet’s needs for physical and mental stimulation.
We also need to be aware that with every interaction of every waking moment, it is the consequences of behavior that determine the future rate of that behavior.
So, think about how you can incorporate this into your everyday life to live with a pet that makes more human acceptable choices. In another post, I wrote about a basic exercise for teaching self control – teaching your dog that the choice of going after food in your hand makes the opportunity go away but the choice of backing up from your hand gets the food. Think about how that exercise is expanded to other everyday life.
- The choice of barking in a crate gets humans to walk away or ignore him but the choice of sitting quietly gets the crate door to open.
- The choice of sitting at a door that opens gets him the opportunity to go outside but the choice to make a move toward the door makes the door close.
- The choice of dropping a toy at his owner’s feet gets him a tasty treat or a game of tug or something else but the choice of running away from his owner with the toy or keeping the toy in his mouth gets the owner to ignore him.
- The choice of walking by your side gets your dog the opportunity to receive a tasty treat or the opportunity to go sniff flowers or a hydrant with you but the choice of pulling at the end of the leash makes you stop forward movement.
- The choice of barking and pushing over you gets you to stay seated and keeps the car door closed but the choice of sitting in the car seat gets the door to open.
What can you add to this list?
At the same time, think about how you can add greater value to the acceptable behaviors your dog does so that he will choose to do those behaviors more often. Or what behaviors do you need to teach your dog that can help him to succeed in that circumstance? If you want your dog to choose to lay in his bed instead of bumping you while you are working at your sink, how can you make that choice more valuable for your dog (while ignoring the behavior of bumping you)? If you want your dog to lay down with relaxed muscles when you stop playing, how can you build value for your dog to lay down with relaxed muscles?
Can I be of further help to you and your pet? Please contact me!
I get asked a lot when I talk to people about focusing on what they want their pets to do, “But what do I do to tell my pet NO when he is doing something I don’t like?”
Here is the thing about that question. First of all, while your dog may or may not momentarily stop what it is doing when you are saying NO, if you are needing to continue to use that word, then it is not solving your problem.
There are many reasons why I do not like using that word. Those reasons include that while NO may stop the unwanted behavior in the moment, it does not give your pet any information on what you would like for him to do instead. Additionally, using aversives has the potential for creating apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression – and you will become associated with those aversives. As the bad behavior police officer, you may also end of teaching your dog that it should not do the unwanted behavior in front of you. NO also doesn’t do much for fostering a love of learning.
Another thing to keep in mind is that constantly, living beings are making choices based upon where the value is for them. If the behavior serves to get the animal something of value (to the animal) – meaning the behavior is followed by something the animal values – then you will see more of that behavior. Researcher Edward Thorndike named that relationship between behavior and its consequences the Law of Effect; and it states that the strength of a behavior depends on its past effects on the environment. (Paul Chance: Learning & Behavior, fifth edition)
So, if the reinforcement for doing the behavior outweighs the negative of your punishment, your pet will continue to do the unwanted behavior…just possibly when you have got your back turned or are in another room.
You may also be following your word ‘NO’ with a redirection to a different behavior that has a history of reinforcement, and so you are inadvertently reinforcing the unwanted behavior.
Let’s also think about the teaching perspective from a human standpoint. Let’s say you are doing a task at work, and your boss reprimands you, simply telling NO, throughout the day. Does that feedback tell you what you need to do better to earn your boss’ praise? Over time with enough NOs, do you think your performance will continue to break down or will you be more motivated to succeed? I can tell you from first hand experience, I have both worked for people who have been on the look out to find faults and for people who have been on the look out to find strengths. For the first kind of supervisor, somehow, things continue to keep going wrong but in situations where I’ve worked for the later kind of supervisor, I have excelled.
So, what is a pet owner to do when a pet’s behavior is not acceptable?
First of all, step back from the situation for a moment, catch your breath and instead of blaming your pet for it simply doing what works in the moment to get its needs met, ask yourself what YOU can do differently to help your pet succeed.
Since, each practice of a behavior is highly likely to be building that behavior’s reinforcement history (and we know that behaviors that are reinforced are repeated), ask yourself what you can do to set up the environment so that your pet doesn’t have an opportunity to practice the unwanted behavior.
Think about what needs or wants that behavior helps your pet to meet, and behaviors you can teach (with a high rate of reinforcement) that will help your pet to get its needs and wants met in acceptable ways. Then teach those behaviors that will help your pet to succeed in your world. And remember, that while you are teaching those behaviors, to think about what management or arrangement of the environment should be in place to prevent the unwanted behavior from occurring.
And, have a plan for if that unwanted behavior should occur, how you will avoid giving value to that behavior.
Do you have problems with your dog ignoring you or running the other way when you call? I wanted to share some thoughts on that. Please keep in mind there are many reasons why your dog’s recall breaks down, this is just one thought. Please click here to read more.
Can I be of more help to you and your pet? Please contact me!
Our dog, Sam, and I were looking for something to do on a gloomy day, and so I taught him to unroll a towel using shaping and clicker training, just for the fun of it. I video taped it to give you some thought in working with your own dog. There are so many benefits to teaching novel behaviors, or teaching any behavior in a positive way. Just some of the benefits include: success can build both your pet and your self confidence, it builds value for listening and being around you, is exercise for your dog, increases your dog’s (and your) problem solving skills, and more.
A pre-requisite to teaching this behavior is teaching nose targeting. Please click here to read how to teach that.
Can I be of help to you and your pet? Please contact me!
Can you relate to the photo? Over and over my mom tells Sam to go away when she sits on the sofa at night and he looks at her this way, but he knows better. If he persists, eventually she will get up and get him a chew toy.
Sam, like all our pets, is no dummy. He knows his behavior can get him a consequence he wants. No matter how many times I talk to my mom about it, she will continue her pattern…and as a result, so will Sam.
If she REALLY wanted to solve this, some ideas include:
She could use management, like keeping him in the kitchen behind a gate, when she wants to sit on the couch at night.
‘Before’ Sam begins his staring behavior, she could give him a longer lasting chew toy that he values. When he is focused on something else, he is not focusing on staring at my mom.
‘Before’ she sits down on the couch, she could play some games with him or engage him in training which would cause him to value resting more and staring at her less when she sits on the couch.
She could teach Sam to do another behavior when she sits on the couch like laying in his bed.
AND, while doing these things, if Sam should still sit in front of her and stare, she should stand up, be a tree and ignore him….giving no value at all to the unwanted behavior.
Remember, our pets are always making decisions based on where the value is for them. By making the wanted choice, the most valued choice for our pet, they will choose to do the wanted behavior. And that is good for everyone!
Can I be of help to you and your pet? Please contact me!
Jumping on people is a common greeting of many dogs, but, while perfectly normal for a dog, most humans would prefer their pet keep all four paws on the floor. And especially if those paws belong to a dog or puppy that is going to grow to over 100 pounds.
I know I do a lot of reminding about this but it bears repeating. Remember, dogs are like every other living being when it comes to behavior in that they are constantly learning from their environment what behaviors to repeat and strengthen, and what behaviors to lesson. They make their decisions based upon where the value is for them…and that value is all about the consequences of that particular behavior. If a behavior works to get them something THEY value, then they will continue to do it. If the behavior DOES NOT get them something of value, the frequency of that behavior is going to lessen.
Dogs that continue to jump on humans who walk through the door do so because they are being positively reinforced for that behavior…whether humans see it that way or not. Scientifically speaking, positive reinforcement (R+) is simply a consequence of behavior that is added to the environment that increases the frequency of the behavior. As humans we do not get to decide what constitutes that R+ for our pets, but we can be keen observers to figure out what is happening immediately after a behavior that is of value to our pet so that we can make changes to do three things:
- Set the environment up so as to prevent our pet from practicing (and building a reinforcement history for) the unwanted behavior while
- Teaching and building huge value for an alternative and acceptable behavior we would rather our pets do and
- In the case that our pet does practice the unwanted behavior, we pay careful attention to NOT give any value to that behavior.
Let’s go back to this jumping greeting behavior.
Some of the possible reinforcers for that behavior can be: attention, humans that move and make noise, and release of energy.
The problem that many who have tried to ignore the unwanted behavior have discovered is that a jumping dog – especially a big dog – is pretty difficult to ignore, and with little dogs…well, let’s just say humans are very good at reinforcing little dogs for this greeting. Another problem is that often times there are some people who do not mind a dog jumping while other people do not like it at all. One of the reasons why ‘problem’ behaviors become so strong is because they are intermittently reinforced, meaning sometimes the behavior gets the animal something of value and sometimes it doesn’t. Gambling is a pretty tough habit to kick and that is exactly what this creates. This is why that three step process is so important to solving any behavior issue.
So, how can you prevent your dog from practicing the excited greeting to begin with? Management is very important. With a Great Dane puppy (and her family) I am working with, there is a hallway to their large kitchen/family room space where the puppy stays when her family is away. A gate at that entrance way prevents access to humans which allows for practice of humans ignoring her, staying or moving to the other end of the hallway until she can remain seated. One week of practice of this and her greetings were very different.
Another client taught his dog to station in a bed at the far end of a room, then practiced this with people coming to the door with a high rate of reinforcement, and then was able to practice teaching his dog to walk by his side to greet new visitors (and taught visitors to have calm entrances). The goal would be to practice this with visitors moving more quickly as the dog can continue to succeed.
Always remember, your dog does not do behaviors to be stubborn or bad. Your dog simply does what works for him to get something of value and was not born understanding the wants of humans. It is up to you as its teacher, to teach the behaviors you want to see more. And while you are doing it, enjoy the process!
Can I be of help to you and your pet? Please contact me here!
When you share your home and your life with a dog, there are so many activities your will be doing together. One of those that is pretty much universal is walking together joined by a leash.
And one of the most common issues people have with their puppy and dog is walking with their dog or puppy on a leash, a loose leash that is.
I’ve addressed some of the reasons why that activity may break down. I thought I’d specifically write about tips for solving an issue of a dog or puppy who plants his feet (or rear end) down on the ground and will not budge, as I have seen this happen time and again. I will refer to this as ‘no-budge behavior’.
Before talking about the behavioral modifications, you may first want to consider if there is an underlying medical issue that is giving your dog reason to stop in his tracks – especially if this is a sudden behavior change. Watch your dog or puppy carefully to see if he is favoring one leg over another; or if he seems uncomfortable in any way. If you touch a spot on his body, including his legs, does he wince or growl? If so, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a physical or medical issue going on.
Additionally, take into consideration the outside temperature and the walking surface. Black surfaces can be extremely hot to a dog’s sensitive paws. Also keep in mind, dogs don’t sweat as humans do (much of their heat is released through their paws and panting). Certain dogs – especially those with short noses, thick coats and heavy muscle mass may be more sensitive to heat. And, some dog are more sensitive to the cold as well. Therefore, weather could be a reason for your dog’s unwillingness to walk with you. If weather may be the culprit, you may want to choose a different time a day, a different surface, give your dog more rest time (and bring plenty of water); or choose to find another activity that can give your dog an outlet for his mental and physical exercise needs. (which is a great idea even with walks)
And also, listen to your dog by watching his body language and paying attention to the surrounding environment. It could be that you are walking toward something that is aversive to your dog in some way (maybe he had a negative encounter with another dog or person in the past, in that area before – or a similar area, as an example). If that could be what is going on, then you may want to either avoid that situation or work with your dog to build a positive association with that environment instead.
These are some ways that I have worked through this issue with dogs and puppies.
Keep in mind, my focus is on using the most positive strategies for modifying behavior; and so, I focus on teaching wanted behaviors and building value for those behaviors while trying to avoid situations where my student will practice unwanted behaviors.
So begin by taking account of those situations when your dog or puppy is likely to stop cold in his tracks and not budge. What is the environment, the time of day, your dog or puppy’s previous activity been (maybe he is tired, for example)? Keep a record of this. Sometimes the most simple solution is modifying the environment (called antecedent arrangement) so as to not set that unwanted behavior into motion to begin with. And you definitely do not want your student to be practicing that no-budging behavior.
Practice building value for your dog or puppy walking next to you, following you, and paying attention to you off leash. Here is a link to a game for building value at being by your side. Watch for the criteria you are looking for, mark it with a click or verbal marker, and then give your student a reinforcer (I have used any combination of food, games, or the opportunity to chase me as reinforcers.)
Now, practice this with a leash attached to your student’s flat collar. If needed, you can begin this in a space free of danger of the leash snagging on something and let the leash drag on the ground – or you can hold the leash. If you are holding the leash, ensure that the leash is loose and there is not pressure on your student’s neck.
Practice walking and marking (with a verbal marker or clicker) when your student is walking with you where you want him to be (with a loose leash). Do this first in an environment that DOES NOT have the history associated with your dog or puppy’s no-budge behavior. You may want to begin by standing stationary and building value for your student being at your side, and then take a single step and continuing the process.
Gradually you can add more steps, continuing to mark and reinforce your student for walking on a loose leash. Since you will have kept a record of where and when the no-budge behaviors are likely to occur, you can pay special attention to practicing with a high rate of reinforcement BEFORE you get to that spot; and then walk away from the spot and continue to get closer and closer with each repetition. NOTE that you also should be watchful for any body language your student is using to indicate uneasiness and do not push your student beyond that comfort zone. If there is a fear or other reactivity issue, you may want to work with a trainer who uses positive strategies.
While I work to try to avoid the leash/neck pressure, there are times where it may happen and so teaching your student positive association with that – and to move toward the source of pressure instead of away is also a good idea. Similar to the collar grab game, practice a slight tug on the leash (not so much pressure as to cause discomfort) and follow that with a treat. Then practice waiting for your dog to shift his body weight toward the pressure, then making a small movement toward it, and more movement toward it. (This is called shaping.) Practice this numerous times through the day and you can gradually add a little more pressure.
What you do not want to do is continue to pull on your dog or puppy’s leash while he is practicing that no-budge behavior. When you are both pulling against each other, neither one of you is going to win; and there is the potential to inflict harm.
I can tell you that recently several puppies who had a history of the no-budge behavior, eagerly walked by my side after my spending time working through these steps.
And always remember – to have fun!
The other day I was overhearing a woman giving advice to another woman on her puppy’s naughty and very irritating behavior of biting at her ankles and pants when she walks. The advice was to yell at the puppy (take pants out of the puppy’s mouth) and tell the puppy to sit when it happens.
Hmm, here is the thing. Usually when I hear people talk about ‘trying’ to solve that behavior problem in that way, they keep having to yell at their puppy because the puppy does not stop doing the behavior.
Why? Well, remember, animals are always using behavior as a tool to get a consequence of value to them. If a behavior is reoccurring, then that behavior is working for the animal. In this case, the potential list of valued consequences for the puppy or dog could be among other things attention, mental and physical stimulation, or sensory stimulation (having pants in his mouth).
Generally speaking, although each dog is an individual, herding dogs are more genetically wired to do this but any dog or puppy can. Among the many dogs in which I have seen the nipping at ankles and pants behavior were a puppy vizsla, german shepherd, labradoodle, great dane, and just this past weekend, a puppy King Charles.
In each situation, I was able to stop the unwanted behavior by focusing on teaching the puppy more acceptable behavior choices instead.
Why isn’t punishment enough to stop behavior?
Before I write about what I did to modify behavior, I wanted to address why scolding a puppy for this (or any unacceptable behavior) is not your best solution. For one, if you have tried that in the past and your puppy is continuing the behavior (meaning, later on will go back to doing the unwanted behavior) then the yelling, attention and perhaps moving of your body may actually be of value to your puppy instead of an aversive. Or it could be that in the scheme of things, the nipping at your ankle is SO valuable to your puppy that it trumps any negative association with your yelling at him. Another possibility from my example above is that, if you have taught ‘sit’ as a behavior that gets your dog lots of positive reinforcement, then asking your dog to sit immediately after your yelling and removing his mouth from your pants, can become a reinforcer for nipping at your ankles.
On the other hand, if your yelling at him does work to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of your puppy’s unwanted behavior, then I’d have to ask, at what cost? It most certainly does not teach your pet what he should do instead. Just a few of the potential negative ramifications of using an aversive teaching strategy are that it can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression and escape/avoidance behaviors. Punishment requires escalating the intensity in order to maintain that suppression, and ultimately the teacher then becomes associated with those aversives.
Puppies, dogs, even birds and other animals did not join our lives inherently knowing what behaviors are and are not acceptable to their human companions. Those are things we need to teach them with fairness.
Solving nipping at ankles
Okay, so let’s look at how to solve the problem in the most positive way.
Firstly, with every behavior it is important to look for two things – what is happening in the environment to set the ankle/pant nipping behavior into motion in the first place and what is the immediate consequence of that behavior that is maintaining or even strengthening it. Then, think about what you can do to prevent practice of that behavior (and getting reinforcement for it) while also building value or teaching a different, more acceptable behavior with lots of positive reinforcement.
With each puppy it can be different. If your puppy is likely to go for your pants or shoes during play, make sure that you have acceptable toys in hand to direct your puppy to playing with them instead of focusing on human legs. I like to engage in constructive play with puppies meaning I am teaching behaviors and self control through play….for example, when they sit, then the toy moves. If you can’t be actively engaged with your puppy (but always you are actively supervising), then another alternative is an interactive toy that keeps his attention like a food puzzle toy. And if active supervision is not an option at that time, then the best place for your puppy is a confinement area like a crate or x-pen so as to prevent your puppy from engaging in unwanted behaviors.
If your puppy tends to grab your pant leg as you walk, think about what you want to do and focus on that, but before your puppy grabs your ankle (because with each practice of grabbing your ankle, your puppy is gaining a reinforcement opportunity for the unwanted behavior). I will slow down as much as needed for that particular puppy and will even begin with marking (with a verbal ‘yes’ or click) and reinforcing the puppy for standing at my side while I am stationary, and continue to mark and reinforce being at my side with his head up as I move. I’ll only gradually move quicker as the puppy tells me through his ability to continue to walk at my side with his head up, that he is learning the behavior I want to see. If at any time the puppy goes to bite my ankle, I become a tree so as to avoid giving any reinforcement for the unwanted behavior; and then, I adjust my plan to go slower so as to help the puppy succeed.
My challenge to you is this: Instead of thinking in terms of what your pet is doing that is bad from your perspective, think about what that behavior is getting him and what you can teach him to do instead. And, as always, have fun!