Are You Teaching Your Pet Unwanted Behaviors?

The other day I was working with a client whose dog had a ‘bad’ habit of pulling really hard on a leash to greet oncoming people. It is actually not an uncommon behavior problem that I get called upon to help with.

On that appointment, over the course of one hour with numerous short sessions, that same dog learned to stay at his owner’s side with a loose leash while I walked up to pet him. Much more work will be needed with different people in different settings but the learning process was begun.

How did that change occur so quickly?

Really, it comes down to where the value is for the animal. Whenever I see a dog or parrot or other animal doing something that is unacceptable, the first question I ask myself is – what is reinforcing that behavior? In other words, what purpose does that behavior serve for that animal because if a behavior did not help an animal get something of value, then the behavior would weaken.reinforcement for pets

Often what that means is that people, as their caretakers, can often be the cause of unwanted behaviors without even realizing it.

Dogs are incredible observers. They spend their waking hours watching and learning and figuring out the best way to get what they need and want.

I thought I’d share a few of the ways you may be ‘teaching’ unwanted behaviors without realizing it.

Ignoring your dog UNTIL he does a behavior you do not like. (I see this with human kids too.) When I was assisting with a class I saw a student standing with his dog sitting at his side. However, while his dog was doing exactly what that man wanted his dog to do, it was only when his dog got up and barked at the dog next to him that the man looked down to talk to his dog, tell his dog to sit and say ‘good girl.’  Here, that dog was learning *if* I sit down calmly, I get no attention but *if* I get up and bark, my owner talks to me and tells me what a good girl I am.

Could you be causing your dog or parrot's bad behavior? Cincinnati Certified Dog Trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, explains.Punishing GOOD behavior. If you call your dog to come when he is playing outside, and he promptly comes running but only to have you bring him inside so that you can leave, you will be teaching your dog *the fun stops* when I come when called.

Reinforcing unwanted behavior without realizing it. If you open the door when your dog is jumping on it, you are teaching your dog that jumping on the door gets it to open. If you put your dog’s leash on him while he is barking, jumping and whining, you have just taught him that barking, jumping and whining get the leash attached which then leads to an awesome walk.

I wanted to share this as another reminder that teaching occurs daily with every interaction. Training is not only about the formal sessions where you are teaching obedience or trick behaviors. It is about those every day moments where you catch those behaviors you want to see more of, and find a way to make those behaviors valuable to your pet; while making sure you do not give value to the unwanted behaviors – and even set the environment up so those unwanted behaviors do not occur in the first place.

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

 

 

Have A Jealous Or Stubborn Dog? Why I Can’t Help.

It happens SO often. When you ask pet owners about problems they are having with their pets, it boils down to their pet being dominant, jealous, dumb, stubborn, territorial, vicious, a pest, or just plain BAD.

Why labeling dog behavior with constructs does not help to solve dog behavior problems by Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KAWell, here’s the thing. When you tell me your dog is jealous, stubborn, or unmotivated I have absolutely no idea what it is that your dog is actually ‘doing’ that causes you to see him as jealous, stubborn or unmotivated. When you tell me your bird is dominant or vicious, a number of different pictures go through my head – none of which could describe how your bird is behaving.

Descriptor words like jealous or stubborn really serve no value when it comes to behavior modification. They are adjectives that are better known as constructs in the science world.

Susan Friedman, Ph.D., described it this way: “A construct is a kind of label that goes beyond a description of observed behaviors into the realm of hypothetical explanations for why an animal does what it does. While a construct may give a summary for a pattern of behavior, it serves as no help when it comes to developing a plan for changing the behavior with the most positive and least intrusive strategies.”

Dr. Friedman went on to teach say that “constructs are nothing more than concepts that can’t be tested; constructs provide us with excuses to blame or worse get rid of the animal; constructs increase the use of ineffective training strategies and strategies based on punishment; constructs give us a false understanding of the problem when we’ve only given it a name; constructs foster self-fulfilling prophecies because you get what you expect; and constructs end our search for actual causes we can do something about.”

Just the other day someone was complaining to me about problems she was having with her dog who became ‘jealous’ when she got a boyfriend. “Bob is a good dog. He’ll grow out of it,” was her response when I asked more questions.

Hmm. How about, instead of labeling her dog’s behaviors with constructs, that she asks herself the following questions instead: What does this label ‘look’ like in terms of actual, observable behavior? Under what conditions does the behavior occur? What is the immediate outcome the behavior produces for my dog?

The answers will help her determine clearly defined behavior-change targets, antecedent predictors that set the behavior in motion, and what consequences maintain or strengthen the behavior. For example, instead of saying, “My dog is jealous,”, she could say, “When I sit on the couch with my boyfriend (antecedent), Bob paws and bumps me (behavior) until I give her attention (consequence).”

Now I can see clearly what the behavior is that my friend wants to modify with an alternative behavior she wants to see more of instead. Now she can create a plan to make changes in the environment to set Bob up for success such as teaching Baxter a behavior that is put on cue, and that is given when she sits on the couch with company.

And in the end, everyone succeeds.

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

 

 

 

Way to Go Pete And Valerie!

Most of my blog is about dog training tips; however, I thought I’d share this post from Facebook about one of my clients. I am very proud of this boy (and his people)! I really wish I had taken a video from my first visit. They had just adopted him. He did not have an understanding of his bite strength and no tolerance for frustration. He was not aggressive meaning he would not growl, bite, lunge with intent to create distance, harm or protect, he simply was a dog who didn’t understand this concept of self control. I remember him being in the room and if ignored, grabbed your arm or your clothing and broke skin. Today this guy is one heck of a student. Clicker training and shaping him is so much fun. Sunday we worked on his laying down and staying with a knock on the door – something that was out of the question before. Seeing that learning process is just the coolest thing. Great job Valerie!

Pete is a Cincinnati Labrador Retriever who has learned a lot through in home dog training with Cincinnati Certified Dog Trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA.

 

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The Art of Teaching

I love this quote. When you think about teaching and training as inspiring discovery, it puts you into such a positive mindset. It is exciting. It is fun. It makes you smile. And, when you think this way, you have a much better chance of infecting your student with those same perspectives. Today, let’s build discovery!The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery...a quote to inspire you in dog training.

 

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Training A Puppy To Sit

When I visited this sweet little West Highland Terrier puppy over the weekend, she showed her excitement for greeting me by jumping on my legs and wagging her tail. And, as precious as she is and as glad as I was to see her This West Highland Terrier puppy learned to sit for a calm greeting instead of with punishment. Cincinnati Certified Dog Trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, explains.too, I stood very still and she actually sat pretty quickly. I’ll tell you what I did in a minute, but first…

Her human wanted to know, “Aren’t you going to tell her no?”

My answer to her was, “no.”

And here is why. Telling Maggy no would not have solved the problem. In fact, Maggy has more than likely been told no before and she continues to greet people as she knows how. Maggy isn’t wrong. She is simply a puppy who is reacting to the moment and doing what has gotten her something of value in the past. Jumping on people gets them to give her attention, to move and laugh and even make loud noises. For a little girl with a lot of energy to burn, those are pretty high value reinforcers for greeting people as she does. Not to mention the reinforcer of her own mental and physical stimulation.

If telling her ‘no’ and pushing her away has not stopped her excited greeting behaviors, then you are actually reinforcing her for those behaviors instead since the behaviors are strengthening. Oh my!

But on the other hand, if telling her ‘no’ actually had worked to lessen the likelihood of Maggy jumping on people, then here are some of the potential dangers of that kind of puppy training strategy with punishment. It does nothing to foster a love of learning. In fact, animals that are taught with aversive training will likely behave only to the level to avoid that negative consequence. It can create apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression in the learner. YOU can become associated with that aversive consequence. And, it does not teach the puppy what it is you want it to do instead.  Additionally, remember that young puppies are developing very quickly. Negative experiences they encounter during their sensitive period can have long term impact on their development as an adult dog.

What did I do instead?

As soon as Maggy sat down, I immediately said, “Yes!”, and gave her one treat after another. Then I moved and she followed, and sat in front of me. I told her that magic word and this time tossed a treat. She ran to the treat, then ran back…and SAT! We played this game for several minutes before taking a break to go outside. When she came inside, we switched it up. After saying, “Yes!,” I ran a few steps for her to chase me. Other times after saying, “Yes!”, I grabbed a toy and moved it around.

I could just hear Maggy saying to herself, “Wow, this is so cool! All I have to do is sit and I have the power to make people run, toys to move and treats to rain from the sky. I’m going to sit a lot!”

And that is the incredible thing about training with positive reinforcement (with consistency and good timing). You see very strong behavior frequencies because those behaviors are associated with great outcomes.

There was a gate separating the kitchen area where Maggy was and the dining area. After going to get something, when I returned, there was Maggy wiggling her little body on the other side of the gate. She jumped a few times and then you could see her thinking, “OH, I’ve got this figured out. If I sit, I can make Lisa step over the gate!!

What a brilliant girl!  She sat and I tossed a treat behind her and then stepped over the gate.

Puppies are such little sponges for learning. There is so much you can teach them in the context of fun. Why even begin down that journey of using aversives?

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

 

 

To Change Your Pet’s Behavior, Try Changing The Environment

One of the greatest gifts that behavior science has given me is the incredible ability to modify behaviors in the least intrusive, most positive way. Often times I can set myself and my pets up for success simply by rearranging the Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, explains how arranging the environment can help to solve many dog and bird pet behavior problems.environment to make the wanted behavior easier than the unwanted behavior.

Sound confusing? It is really not.

 The ABC’s

I write a lot about the ABCs of behavior. It is the foundation from which I analyze what my pet is doing and what in the environment is influencing his learning.

Applied Behavior Analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior problems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value? What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.

I’m going to focus on the A (antecedent) in this article. It’s important to note that antecedents do not cause behavior. However, they do serve as a sign to the animal that when A is there, that if the animal does a certain behavior, then there will be a consequence.

The implications of understanding this are huge. Here are some ways I can use antecedent arrangement as an effective, non-intrusive and positive way of setting my pets up for success:

parrot enrichmentKnowing that my bird, Chester (he passed away), was an incessant chewer who could easily destroy furniture (and did a long time ago), I changed the setting of his environment and provided him parrot enrichment activities. I made play stations on the floor to keep him mentally and physically stimulated if he got on the floor. I also weakened his motivation for coming off his cage by giving him lots to chew on inside and outside his cage.

To eliminate any possibility of my bird, Barnaby, from chewing on the window shade near his play cage, I moved the cage away a couple additional inches.

To prevent a puppy from grabbing onto my sweater, I can avoid wearing loose sweaters around that puppy or I can have a toy in my hand and make the toy very exciting or I can avoid sitting or laying on the ground near the puppy.

To prevent our dog, Sam, from barking at neighbors’ dogs, I can avoid leaving him outside by himself and unattended for long periods of time. (and also give him enrichment toys and more exercise…but that is another article)

Next time your pet is doing something you do not like, ask yourself, “Can I rearrange the environment somehow to prevent that behavior from occurring in the first place?”

Your answer may be the difference between your calling your pet ‘brilliant’ and calling him ‘stubborn.’ And I’d prefer brilliance any day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reminder About Teaching Reliable Recall

On teaching your dog a reliable recall.
Just as a reminder…our dogs live in the moment. They are constantly making decisions based upon where the value is for them. If you haven’t spent the time teaching your dog that coming to you when you call, will result in a positive outcome, why would your dog ‘choose’ to come vs doing something else?
 
Always begin teaching that recall word in an environment with minimal distractions, and only use it when you can guarantee success.  Using positive reinforcement to train your dog will build strong value for behaviors. And guard that word like it is gold. Take care to not follow it with an aversive (from your dog’s perspective).
A reminder about teaching your dog a reliable recall.
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A Simple Solution to Dog Problems

Sharing a lesson from the field:

Antecedent Arrangement, or management, and how it can help dog owners solve dog barking out the window problemsThe other day, at an appointment with a new dog training client, one of the problems she had mentioned was how her puppy – a terrier mix – would bark A LOT at squirrels Ellie saw out this one window in the living room. If you have a dog prone to this behavior, then you more than likely can empathize with my client. You probably never knew you had so many active animals outside until you brought a dog into your life. You may even look forward to evening darkness when finally, you have some quiet.

Think about it from that dog’s perspective. Having to be on alert all day, watching out for those critters who could be scampering through the trees at any moment can make you pretty tense. And then, just when you are able to relax, well, there goes another squirrel!

Anytime you are working to modify behavior, it is really important to manage the environment so that your pet does not get practice of that unwanted behavior. The scientific term for this antecedent arrangement, which refers to arranging the environment so that whatever is serving to set that behavior into motion is, well, not available; or so that your pet has less motivation to do that behavior.

In terms of the humane hierarchy, a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive, antecedent arrangement is a high #2 on that list, just below ‘addressing medical, nutritional and physical environment variables’.

And, there are many times where antecedent arrangement is enough to modify the behavior. I give examples in this blog post.

Ellie is yet another example. I just got off the phone with my client who told me she followed my recommendation to eliminate Ellie’s access to that window; and she has seen a dramatic change in her dog this past week. In addition to the lack of barking, Ellie has been better able to focus on other things and she is overall very much calmer. I can’t wait to go back for our second appointment.

This is my challenge to you: when your pet is exhibiting a behavior you do not like, an important question to ask yourself as your begin the journey of behavior modification is this, “What I can I do right away to make a change in the environment so that behavior won’t be set into motion because every behavior that gets practiced, gets reinforced.”

5 Reasons To Teach Your Dog Tricks

Five Reasons To Teach Your Dog Trick Behaviors

If you think teaching your dog novel behaviors is a waste of time, I encourage you to think again. I have five reasons why you may want to spend a few minutes to train some different behaviors.

They can be used as reinforcers. When taught with a high rate of reinforcement, the behavior itself becomes a reinforcer as it has over time come to be associated with a valued consequence. You can add value to loose leash walking if, after your dog walks by your side so many steps, that you suddenly tell him to grab a ball, run around a pole, or jump.

They build value for paying attention to you. It makes life more unpredictable. If you ask your dog to sit for everything he wants in life, then that sit just becomes automatic. There is really no need for your dog to have to pay attention. If on the other hand, your dog can not predict that you may ask for a bow, a turn, a jump OR a sit, in order to have the opportunity to do or get something he values, then he had better be alert and focused or that opportunity will be gone.

They create better teachers and students. The more you practice teaching with success, the better you will become at teaching; and the more your dog practices learning from you in positive ways; the better your dog will become at being learning.

They strengthen relationships. The more experience your dog has with associating you with positive outcomes, the more your dog will want to be around you. And, the more success that you have in training and the more fun that you have together, the more that you will want to do with your dog as well.

The learning process is great exercise. It is tough work to have to use your brain and your body to problem solve and figure things out.

 

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Why Teach Go To A Mat

This week seems to be my week for mat work. Twice already I have been working with clients to begin the process of teaching their dog that a mat is a pretty awesome place to hang out and relax, as it is the place where valued stuff happens.

Teaching your dog to settle on a mat can help solve numerous dog training problems.The reason for training these two dogs to go to and settle on their mats is similar and different at the same time. One, a large lab, barks and jumps on guests upon their arrival. The other is a small dog who spends time sporadically during the day at his human’s work where he can hear people walking down the hall, car doors opening and closing, voices, telephones, and guests who walk in; and any or all of those stimuli can cause him to bark and run in circles.

In each of these cases, just saying ‘No’ to the dog, and with the lab, also trying to push him down or away, was not solving the problem. It is frustrating for those who live with dogs.  Why do dogs continue to do things that so clearly are not acceptable behaviors to their human companions?

What gets things of value will be repeated.

One thing is for sure, dogs are not behaving simply to annoy their people. They are simply animals who are doing behaviors that cause valued consequences – from their standpoint. A dog who jumps on visitors may be reinforced by humans that give attention, make noises, move in ways that appear to be play; and also by the dog’s own release of energy. There are many potential reinforcers for dogs who bark at noises and stimulus depending on their reason for barking. It could be that from a dog’s point of view, barking gets distance from a stimulus, gets attention or food, gets good people to walk in, is a release of energy, etc.

Here is the tricky part. This reinforcement need not occur after every incident of the behavior to maintain the behavior. In fact, intermittent reinforcement is the culprit of just about every (if not all) unwanted behavior that continues. It creates gamblers in learners, and lean reinforcement schedules cause great addicts. In other words, if there is a 1/500 chance that barking will cause a door to open with good people to walk through or get you attention or cause scary things to move away, then the dog will keep trying what works.

This is why, in order to solve problems in the most positive and least intrusive way, a component of your plan needs to be arranging the environment so as to prevent practice of the unwanted behavior. Another component is teaching your dog alternative and/or incompatible behaviors (a replacement behavior) that will get your dog a valued consequence. In doing this, with many repetitions, your dog will come to do the replacement behavior more because THAT behavior is associated with great outcomes.

And this is where the mat comes in. A dog cannot settle on a mat that is a distance from the door AND bark and jump on people at the same time, so we are spending time first teaching this dog to go to his mat, then settling on it, then working up to being able to stay with distractions, and then calm greetings. These skills are being worked on separate from the door before adding the door and real visitors into the mix.

As for the other dog, in just the first lesson there was a marked difference in his behavior in a short period. When he was sitting or laying down on his mat, he was already paying less attention to the noises than when he was walking around the office. When he did alert to a noise, I began teaching them to give him a treat ‘before’ he got up and began barking. Over time, with enough repetitions of good things (treats) happening after hearing a noise, he will come to have a different emotional response as well. (This is called classical conditioning.) Breaks to go outside and play are also part of his day. (Just part of what we are working on.)

The lesson here is that, when you are frustrated with not being able to stop that unwanted behavior, try thinking about it differently. If you don’t like what your pet is doing, then what would you like for your pet to do instead? Now that you can teach!

 

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

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