Who Is Training Whom?

My dad loves to share stories of Sam’s brilliance…and keen sense of hearing. The two buddies often travel together to the store. My dad says he can’t leave without Sam because Sam knows right away when dad is getting ready to leave and comes running to go with him, waggling his tail and holding a toy.

Who is training whom?Hmm. I thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at this. Remember, living beings learn by the consequences of a behavior and it is those consequences that predict the future rate of the behavior. For any behavior to continue and even strengthen, something in the environment is reinforcing it.

Let’s put our Applied Behavior Analysis hats on for a minute and do a functional assessment of the environment from each perspective. A functional assessment involves looking at the specific measurable
behavior within the context of its environment including the Antecedent (setting event for the behavior), the Behavior, and the Consequence of the behavior. In doing an assessment, always begin by writing down the Behavior we are analyzing, then fill in the A and C.

1. Focusing on my dad

A:         My dad announces he is going to the store

B:         Sam exhibits ‘wanna go’ behaviors (immediately perks up, runs to grab one of his toys     and then comes back to my dad with his whole body waggling

C:        Dad gets Sam’s leash and takes him to the car (there actually could be a second ABC here if I tightened this up)

Prediction:  When my dad announces that he is going to the store, Sam will exhibit his ‘wanna go’ behaviors more frequently to produce the outcome of getting to go to the car.

2.  Focusing on Sam

A:         Sam is laying on floor in the kitchen

B:         Dad announces his excursion

C:        Sam exhibits his ‘wanna go’ behaviors

Prediction: When Sam is laying on the kitchen floor, my dad will announce his excursion more to get Sam to exhibit his ‘wanna go’ behaviors

It looks to me like both Sam and my dad are doing a fabulous job of reinforcing the behavior of the other. They are great teachers. I taught them well.


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

A Different View On Dog Behavior

Someone shared with me the other day of her frustration she was having with her dog. It seems her dog has a favorite pillow in her bedroom she keeps on the ground and as soon as she goes in there with her dog, Fido lays on it.  She keeps yelling at her dog when Fido goes to his spot, and he does come off willingly but his behavior hasn’t stopped. It’s very frustrating for her.

tips for solving dog behavior problemsI thought I’d share some of what I shared with her, as it is pretty relatable if you change ‘pillow’ to any other object.

So, why doesn’t this women’s dog get the fact that she does not want him on her pillow? Why does he continue to choose to go there every time they go into the bedroom together despite the fact that he gets yelled at when he goes there?

My background is in learning to solve pet issues in the most positive, least intrusive ways by looking at it objectively, visibly, and measurably through the lens of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is a systematic approach to modifying behavior 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)?

So, to begin with this situation, we need to stop and look at things from her dog’s perspective. We know that behavior is simply a tool to get an animal a consequence of value to that animal, so, instead of becoming frustrated with Fido for just doing what works to get him something he wants, let’s think about what those consequences could be that are maintaining and strengthening the behavior of laying on the pillow (scientifically speaking, he is receiving positive reinforcement for this).

A few possible consequences could be sensory stimulation (the feeling of softness) or attention from Fido’s owner (when he lays on the pillow, she calls him to come off and sometimes may do something else with him that she thinks will divert his attention away from the pillow).

We also know that the antecedent to Fido’s getting on the pillow is his walking into his owner’s bedroom with her when the pillow is on the floor. But also, some other contributing factors (we call these distant antecedents) may be: Fido generally does not receive much attention during the day, the home has all hard floors with no other soft options on the floor. And additionally, we know that Fido does not go into that bedroom by himself.

The ABC analysis for this situation would be:

A (antecedent):  Proximity to pillow when owner is present
B (behavior):  Fido gets on pillow
C (consequence):  Owner’s attention, sensory stimulation

Prediction:  When the owner is present, Fido will get on the pillow more to get his owner’s attention and sensory stimulation.

When you break it down like this, it gives you a very different perspective on your pet’s ‘bad’ behavior.

Looking at that situation then, there are choices to make. Altering the consequence so that the learner is not getting reinforcement for the unwanted behavior is very important, but doing that alone does not help to teach the animal what it can do instead to get reinforcement.

Actually in this case, because it would be difficult to prevent reinforcement for the behavior once it is set into motion, a better solution would be to focus on the antecedents so as to prevent practice of that behavior (because practice with positive outcomes builds strong behavior).

Brainstorming, some possible ideas for solutions (using the most positive, least intrusive strategies) include:

1. Moving the pillow to a higher surface
2. Getting a plushy dog bed or other soft area and building great value for Fido to go there instead
3. Have high value puzzle toys or other activity available in the bedroom that Fido will want to engage in
4. Teach Fido to do other behaviors than laying on the pillow, when in the bedroom

To build value for the last three ideas, I’d remove or move the pillow while teaching and building huge value for the wanted habits so that over time, those behaviors are the ones Fido will choose to do.

When you modify behavior in this way, you are also enriching your dog’s life and strengthening your relationship with it. Those are two great reasons to see things differently.

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Training People Is Like Training Dogs

Did you know you can train people just like you can train dogs and parrots?

What is so awesome about learning how to train non-human animals with scientifically sounds positive reinforcement based strategies is that this kind of teaching applies to ALL living beings…including people. I loved this segment on The Meredith Vieira Show this morning where psychologist Wendy Walsh talks about using Applied Behavior Analysis to train husbands.

Please click here to watch the segment.

Training people as you train dogs and parrots was the topic of the Meredith Vieira Show

Effectiveness Is Not Enough In Animal Training

I was one of more than 500 trainers from across the globe who convened on Dearborn, Michigan in March for the Karen Pryer Clicker Training Expo. It was a phenomenal opportunity to learn from some of the best trainers and behaviorists whose focus is on modifying behavior in the most positive way. What also made the weekend special for me was the chance to see my very first teacher and long time mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman (who pioneered the use of Applied Behavior Science to the care and training of captive and companion animals). Susan is who opened my floodgate to behavior science and got me hooked on it.

In one of her lectures, ‘Effectiveness Is Not Enough’, Susan reminded us to make a habit of two things: to HELP or at least to DO NO HARM.

Ask yourself…

When a dog snarls at youth on skateboards and is held down while they continue to skateboard in small circles around him until he stops reacting, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

When a dog struggles to escape a comb held close to his face and is restrained at the scruff while combing his muzzle until he stops resisting, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

When a dog lunges, growls and barks while on leash while another dog is around and is restrained until he stops those behaviors, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

What do all of these approaches have in common?

In each of these circumstances, the frequency and/or intensity of a behavior is decreased in order to remove or get distance from an aversive stimulus that is added to the environment. Scientifically this is called positive punishment.

Does this work to change behavior? Unfortunately, it does, and every time it does the teacher is reinforced for using it.

Susan has reminded me time again the cost of using this approach.

Sure, you may have changed behavior but punishment can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression, and escape/avoidance. Punishment does not serve to ‘teach’ the animal what you want him to do instead and most certainly does not teach the teacher how to help the animal succeed. It requires escalating intensity to maintain suppression. It is actually a double negative in that it both it is a big withdrawal from the positive reinforcement bank while also being highly aversive. AND, for all of this, the teacher can become associated with those aversives.

In fact, in several of the cases above what has happened is called ‘learned helplessness’ as a result of flooding. Flooding is a form of training in which the animal is exposed to an aversive stimulus with no possibility of escape until the stimulus no longer arouses anxiety or fear. But can you imagine the level of anxiety and discomfort it causes the animal in the process? It is either sink or swim basically. In many cases flooding only serves to make the animal more anxious and forces it to adopt different coping mechanisms to ensure safety and survival.

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

Watch this video where Ceasar Millan teaches a dog to ‘calm down’. Specifically at about 3:14 into the video you will see an example of flooding. Watch the body language of the little dog he is working with. Sure, that little guy is not lunging and barking any longer after being held back but does he look like a dog who has learned a positive association with being near to the golden retriever or is this a case of learned helplessness? (What is that little dog’s tail, face, and body doing?)

Susan teaches a Humane Hierarchy when it comes to behavior change strategies. As much as possible, animals should be empowered to use their behavior to control significant events in their life. Read more: Dr. Susan Friedman: What’s Wrong with this Picture

The Humane Hierarchy is a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive with Level 1 being the most socially acceptable and giving the animal the highest amount of control. “The overwhelming majority of behavior problems can be prevented or resolved with one or more strategies represented in Levels 1 to 4,” she wrote in a paper.

The levels include:

Level 1: Distant Antecedents – address medical, nutritional and physical environment variables.

Level 2: Immediate Antecedents – redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the behavior.Dr. Susan Friedman's Humane Hierarchy in animal training

Level 3: Positive Reinforcement – contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur, which is more reinforcing than the problem behavior.

Level 4: Differential Reinforcement of an Alternative Behavior – reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.

Level 5:

  1. Negative Punishment – contingently withdraw a positive reinforcer to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
  2. Negative Reinforcement – contingently withdraw an aversive antecedent stimulus to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur.
  3. Extinction – permanently remove the maintaining reiforcer to suppress the behavior or reduce it to baseline levels.

Level 6: Positive Punishment – contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.

Learn more about antecedent arrangement and using it by clicking here.

Learn more about differential reinforcement, by clicking here.


When I train dogs and other animals, I always work to empower them, by teaching them that making a wanted behavior choice will result in a positive consequence. What is an example of how you modified your pet’s behavior in a positive way? I’d love to hear.


Dog Training Tips To Prevent Thanksgiving Begging

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is around the corner. It is my favorite holiday because it is the one time of year when my whole family is together.

I think it is our family dog, Sam’s, favorite holiday too – for the extra attention AND the leftovers.

There was a time when Sam was our super beggar during the Thanksgiving meal if we did not keep him away from the table. It got me thinking that there are a lot of other families who probably have skilled beggars living in their homes, especially during this meal.

dog training tips to prevent Thanksgiving beggingI thought I’d share a few dog training tips for Thanksgiving if you live with a dog beggar.

First of all, remember that if a behavior is reoccurring it is doing that because the behavior serves to get your dog something of value…in this case, the most probably reinforcer is tasty food and human attention. If you can reliably predict this scenario will play out in your home, the time to begin planning for a solution is now (actually before now, but if you really work on it between now and Thanksgiving, you’ll go a long way).

Let’s put our behavior analysis hat on to see what is going on in the environment to set the occasion for that begging. The antecedent (what occurs just before the behavior to set the occasion for the behavior) is ‘guests sitting at the table with unbelievably savory food on dishes in front of them.’ The behavior is your dog bumping or scratching guests in their seats. (We’ll call this ‘begging.’) The consequence is that eventually your dog may get either attention or turkey or jackpot – BOTH!

How can we change the environment to set your dog up for success? If you know in advance that this is highly predictable behavior, one solution is using antecedent strategies to give less value to the begging. Some ideas? Satiate your dog BEFORE you sit down by feeding him in advance, redirect his attention by giving him a tasty steak bone to chew on or a foraging toy that will keep his attention for awhile, take him for a long walk or run prior to the meal to increase the value of resting behavior, have him stay in a crate (that you have previously taught him to associate it as a positive resting place) with one of those toys, or separate him from the table with a baby gate.

Another option involves positive training. Remember, this needs to be done IN ADVANCE of your Thanksgiving Day meal. Teach your dog an acceptable, alternative behavior to pawing and scratching people that will have reinforcing consequences. Remember, as his teacher, his ability to learn is dependent on your reliability (and EVERYONE in your household) to quickly reinforce the behavior you want to see – and every time he does the behavior in the beginning.

Begin by teaching the alternative behavior (like sitting or laying down) and get it reliably on cue. Once on cue you can begin teaching him to hold that behavior for longer durations before delivering reinforcement. Then, you can cue him to do the behavior before you sit down at the table and heavily reinforce it. You can teach him to sit or lay down in a bed or on a mat as an alternative. (Please click here to read tips on teaching sit/down/stay.) Gradually then you can teach him to sit or lay down with more distance from you, then adding in teaching him the duration for his stay. And then add the difficulty of higher value food on your table.

If at any time he gets up and bets, you can simply push your plates into the center of the table and turn your back. Then wait until or cue him to sit or lay down and holds that position for 5 to 10 seconds before reinforcing him for that.


Dogs are pretty smart. If ‘you’ teach him that begging only gets people to turn away and push food aside but sitting or laying down gets a nifty treat, guess which choice he’ll make?

Now, for another issue. If you have a dog who is competing with our Sam for the title, World Champion Counter-Surfer, remember, often times the feat is carried out when your back is turned. (We know this from experience.) The simplest solution is eliminating access to the reinforcement that maintains the behavior. In other words, always be cognizant of being sure that tasty food is kept far enough from the counter edge that your dog can not reach it.


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

Solving A Dog Chewing Problem With Positive Reinforcement

The other day, I was sitting in the home of a friend as she was telling me about one of the issues they are having with their dog. “He chews on things he shouldn’t be chewing on like furniture,” she said.

Her otherwise loveable joy of her life was sitting at my feet at the time raising his face as I scratched beneath it. But I stopped scratching and when I did, he began looking around. Before long he found his way to a table leg and proceeded to put his mouth around it.

I asked for some of his toys, and among them was a chew toy. Mary put the toy on the ground. His attention was immediately diverted and he spent the rest of our conversation laying down, completely engaged in his new activity. The leg of that table was of no more interest to him.

So what was the lesson here?

Well, it is important to understand the function of behavior and know that all behavior occurs for a reason – and that reason is to get a consequence. If the behavior is reoccurring and even strengthening, then we know that the consequence (what occurs immediately after the behavior) is of value to the animal (positive reinforcement). When given a choice, animals will chose to do what gets them the consequence of the greatest value.

And, in this situation, when Mary’s dog was without attention and activity options, he chose to chew on the table leg. A guess is that chewing on it gave him as a consequence of sensory stimulation and intermittent attention. (Please click here to read more about intermittent reinforcement.) My predication would be that if all things remain the same, that he will continue to choose to seek out that table leg or another household object when he is without sensory stimulation or attention.dog training - solving a dog behavior problem with positive reinforcement

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.

So, after looking at the behavior in the context of its environment, how can you solve it in the most positive way?

Well, once you have an understanding of what is giving that behavior value to the animal (what is reinforcing that behavior), then you can devise a plan that

a) involves modifying the environment whenever possible so as to not set the occasion for that behavior to occur in the first place (because we know that practice builds fluency)
b) plan for modifying the consequences of that unwanted behavior so as to not give that behavior value in the happenstance that it should occur
c) teach the animal new, acceptable behaviors that will result in the animal getting the same amount or greater value consequence as the behavior you do not want to see.

What are some ideas for solving this particular behavior issue?

Overall, Mary can increase her dog’s environmental and behavioral enrichment through a combination of exercise, activity games and toys, and training. Mary can limit access to the ‘off limits’ furniture and/or paint it with Bitter Apple or a similar product, plan ahead to involve her dog in physical activity before having guests over or before sitting down to watch tv so as to temporarily reduce the value of chewing furniture, teach her dog an alternative behavior like settling (laying down) and ask her dog to do that behavior before visiting with guests or watching tv, provide her dog with activity and enrichment toys before times when her dog is most likely to chew.

Is your pet doing something you do not like? My challenge to you is this: Instead of punishing and blaming the animal, look at the behavior in terms of why that behavior is important to your pet. Then, teach him what he can do instead to get just as valuable a consequence.

Is Your Dog REALLY A Guilty Dog?

Time and time again I see pictures and videos posted online of the guilty dog who knows he did something really bad. That naughty boy’s face quickly goes viral, probably because so many dog owners can relate.

guilty dogAnd every time I see one of those images, it reminds me that I want to write about it to give people a better understanding but I just had not gotten around to it….until now.

What I know about behavior

I’ve been learning about and practicing behavior science and applied behavior analysis for more than 13 years after Dr. Susan Friedman first introduced me to it and sparked my passion for wanting to know more.

Behavior, Susan has taught me, is simply an animal’s tool to get a consequence. Behavior helps an animal to get something of value (a reinforcing consequence) or to move away from something aversive (a punishing consequence). Behavior is measurable and observable. It is something the animal ‘does’ NOT something the animal ‘is’. (Chewing an old shoe is a behavior. Being a naughty dog is NOT a behavior but a label or construct.)

Operant learning occurs when a relationship is formed between that behavior and its consequence. The behavior either continues and becomes stronger because it gets the animal a consequence of value, or the behavior decreases because its consequence is aversive to the animal. Thorndike gave the name for this relationship the law of effect, meaning the behavior’s strength that you see today is because of the consequences of that behavior in the past.

Important to understanding how learning occurs are two terms: Contiguity and Contingency. Contiguity refers to the closeness in time between the behavior and its consequence while Contingency refers to the degree of correlation between the behavior and its consequence (*if* I do this behavior, *the* this is the consequence that will follow). The less time there is between the behavior and its consequence, the quicker and easier the animal can build that relationship.

This is why clickers or verbal markers like ‘yes’ are so effective because they are immediate feedback to the animal that the very specific behavior occurring when the click is made is what is getting him the consequence of something valuable.

Important to the understanding of the ‘guilty’ look on your dog’s face after much time has passed between the ‘naughty’ behavior and the time when you walked in is that the two C’s of behavior apply to both positive AND negative consequences.

I do not advocate for punishment because there are so many negative ramifications of it. Among them: punishment only serves to stop the behavior – not to teach what behavior you’d like you puppy to do instead; punishment actually is two aversives – the onset of a punishing stimulus and the removal of the reinforcer that has maintained the behavior; punishment does not teach the caregiver how to teach new skills but it does serve to reinforce the caregiver increasing the likelihood that the teacher will use negative strategies in the future. Additionally, by using punishing strategies you are teaching your dog to associate negative consequences with being near you. (Please see my post on punishment here.)

However, I need to point out that even for punishment to work, it would need to occur immediately after the behavior in order for the animal to build that association in his mind that *if* I do this, *then* this happens.

What do I know about dogs?

Well, among what I know is that they have a need to be physically and mentally stimulated. Some more than others. And chewing on a smelly shoe can get a puppy or dog numerous positive consequences – among them sensory and mental stimulation.

So, by the time you walk in much later, is your dog really showing submissive body language because he knows he did something ‘bad’ (from your perspective) or because he associates you with punishing him?

In the case of Denver the Guilty Dog, the Youtube video that went viral, is the dog really feeling ‘guilty’ or is he licking his lips, moving his head away from the package and blinking his eyes (calming signals in dog body language that they use to avoid conflict) because his owner is holding a plastic bag too close for comfort? Is Denver holding his head down and then showing his teeth because he is really guilty or he is trying to avoid conflict?

Research tells all

Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., a term assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College and the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know did some research into this very subject and wrote about it in Psychology Today.

In her research, owners confronted guilty and innocent dogs of eating a forbidden treat. She found one clear result: “The ‘look’ happened most when dogs saw scolding, questioning or angry owners, whether the dog was guilty or not. Later work replicated this finding. And separate research has found that owners are right only 50 percent of the time — the equivalent of random chance — when asked to guess, by looking at their dogs, if the dogs had transgressed in their absence” (She wrote in the Washington Post).

In her Psychology Today article, Dr. Horowitz shared, “What this shows is that the guilty look, our index for assuming a dog knows when he’s done something wrong, is actually prompted most as a response to the behavior of the human. Whether actually scolding a dog–using a deep, chastising tone of voice, approaching with a wagging finger and an angry face–or in preparation to scolding, the owners’ behavior is recognizable to dogs. To avoid being punished, they act submissively, non-threateningly, as they might with a larger, more forceful playmate.”

The responsibility is on us

When we take animals into our homes, we need to recognize their needs for mental and physical exercise. We can either provide them with appropriate choices for getting their needs met or we need to understand that they will find their own choices…and we may not be happy with what they come up with.

The really great thing here is that not only will we be setting our pets up for success by giving them good choices, we will be strengthening our relationship with our pets as they come to associate us as the giver of those good things.

I don’t know about you but I would much rather have my dog greet me with a wagging tail than with his tail between his legs, his head lowered, and his ears plastered back.

Please see my video below on providing choices for my Timneh African Grey, Barnaby.

Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik on Google+

How Do You Practice Positive Reinforcement?

quote about inspiration

The ultimate test of understanding positive reinforcement principles is not how we practice it with the animals in our care but how we practice it with one another.
– Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.

Using Antecedent Arrangement In Solving Pet Problems

solving dog and pet behavior problemWhen it comes to modifying a pet’s behavior, my focus is always on the most positive least intrusive solution. I look at what is happening in the environment to set that specific behavior into motion in the first place, what the consequences are to that specific behavior that are maintaining or even strengthening it, and what can be changed both in the environment and in terms of skills that can be taught to set that animal up for success.

In scientific terms, I use applied behavior analysis. Applied behavior analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior antecedent arrangement to prevent parrot screamingproblems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a bird biting or a dog barking) and the related environmental context that signals and reinforces it. We ask, “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)?“

But for the purposes of this specific post, I want to focus on the problem behavior prevention piece – or antecedent arrangement. This is very important because practice with any behavior builds confidence and fluidity.

When I look at modifying an unwanted behavior with a pet in the most positive way, I look at what function that behavior served to the animal and what skills that animal needs to learn to solve the problem. While teaching a pet those skills (replacement behavior) that can give the pet equal to or more reinforcing value than the unwanted behavior, managing the environment so as to not give the pet opportunities for reinforcement of the unwanted behavior is going to help both of us succeed and succeed much quicker.

And, when I talk about changing behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way, there are many times where careful management of the environment so as to not set that behavior into motion in the first place is all that is needed.

For example, if I know that my using a hair dryer is an antecedent for my bird’s screaming, then I can give him something to occupy his attention before turning on my hair dryer, or I can simply use my hair dryer in another part of my house. If I know that my dog is going to be over the top with excitement when company comes over, I can take my dog for a long walk first to lessen the value of over the top behaviors.

My challenge to you is this – when you think about your pet’s annoying behaviors, think about what is occurring in the environment to set those behaviors into motion. Are there simple changes you can make to prevent that chain from occurring?


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

Solving Mouthing Problem Of Great Pyrenees Puppy

I was asked this question by Karie, and I thought I’d write a post to answer her so that she and others can learn from it.

Karie’s question:

I have a 22 week old Great Pyrenees, had him since he was 4 weeks old. When we pet him, at any time, he tries to put our arm in his giant mouth. He never bites down. I am getting conflicting answers on Great Pyreneeswhat this is. One person says playing and affection and another says he is trying to show he is dominant. He does that, A LOT in other ways, which we are trying to break him of. What is your POV on this? Thanks!!!

My answer:

Hi Karie,

Thank you for your question. Firstly, I want to say, if your puppy is mouthing you without putting force into it, he is showing great bite inhibition skills. Bite inhibition refers to an animal learning to moderate the strength of its bite, a very important factor in the socialization of pets, and particularly with working breeds like your Great Pyrenees. Congratulations in teaching that skill.

Remember, puppies were not born knowing the rules of humans and they rely on us as their caregivers to teach them the behaviors that are acceptable to us. Their success is a measurement of our ability to teach them with clear, honest, two-way communication.

Behavior for all animals is simply a tool to produce consequences. Either the behavior moves an animal toward something positive or the behavior gives distance to something negative. If a behavior is continuing and even strengthening, then it is being reinforced by something in its environment. This type of learning is referred to as operant learning, as the consequences of the behavior determine the future rate of the behavior. The key to modifying behavior in the most positive and least intrusive way is to first understand what consequence to the behavior is serving to reinforce it and what is happening in the environment immediately before the behavior that is serving to set the behavior in motion (this setting event is called an antecedent).

While Great Pyrenees were bred as working dogs to guard sheep and goats and thus we know have instinctual behavior tendencies, operant learning is occurring with our pets every moment of every day that they are alive.

Your question is a fairly common one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get into our pet’s minds and really know what they are thinking?

Labels, however, really do not help us to problem solve in the most positive/least intrusive way. My first teacher of Applied Behavior Analysis, Dr. Susan Friedman, taught me that some of the reasons why include: labels are really just concepts that cannot be tested, they may give us an unclear understanding of the problem, they tend to foster self-fulfilling prophecies (you get what you expect), and they tend to end our search for an actual cause – which is what we CAN do something about. (For more on labeling, please see this blog post.

So, back to your issue about your puppy mouthing you. Since we know that all behavior occurs to produce a consequence, we know that, if your puppy is continuing to mouth you, then that behavior is being reinforced by you. To solve problem behaviors in the most positive, least intrusive way, I like to use a three-pronged approach that I describe here.

I have tips on teaching bite inhibition  in my blog. Please click here to read that post.

For additional help setting your puppy and yourself up for success including teaching wanted behaviors while working to prevent unwanted behaviors, I recommend seeking the help of a trainer who uses positive reinforcement strategies.

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