Reduce Frustration By Changing Your Focus

At an appointment the other day, we were going to go outside to begin working on leash skills. And, as my client picked up the leash, her dog’s arousal quickly rose as he began jumping on her and biting her arms. Frustrated, she told him, “NO!” and tried pushing him down all to no avail. He continued to grab her sleeves.

dog training tips for solving behavior problem by Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KAThis had been her mode of trying to stop his unwanted behavior in the past…and it was not working. There are many potential reasons for that.

Past experience has probably taught her dog that the leash coming out means valued time exploring the sights and smells of the neighborhood was going to follow. That can be a pretty exciting event in the day of a dog. The thought of that event can understandably cause a dog’s heartrate and activity to increase in anticipation. A human’s movement, attention and loud voice can even heighten that arousal response in the dog. And, if that human then clips on the leash while the dog is exhibiting that set of behaviors, the dog is actually learning that biting, jumping, and pushing get the opportunity to go for a walk. After all, that is what typically happens.

Even if a loud reprimand did work to stop the unwanted behaviors, at least momentarily, the problem with that approach is the handler is not giving the dog enough feedback to help that dog succeed in the future – meaning, the dog is not being taught a different, more human acceptable set of behaviors to get the same result…which is having that leash attached. Other potential problems are the dog will come to associate its handler with that aversive, the dog may shut down and begin showing avoidance behaviors, or even the dog may begin showing some aggression.

Going back to this particular situation, I had my client put the least out of sight and then asked her what behaviors she would like to see in her dog when the leash comes out. Her answer – to sit and look at her while she clipped the leash (and in this case other collar) to her dog’s neck. OK, now THAT is something we can teach her dog.

So, next time she asked her dog to sit before taking out the leash. If he got up and jumped on her, the leash went away. Then after a pause, she started again. And this time he remained seated. She was able to then teach him in small successive steps (this is known as shaping) to remain seated when the leash was shown, then as the leash was presented closer and closer and ultimately clicked on his neck. The process took a couple minutes to teach and we were out the door for more lessons.

When you change your focus from simply stopping behavior to teaching your dog what you would rather see him do, not only will you be solving problems, you will be strengthening your relationship.

Training: On Solving Pet Behavior Problems In Positive Ways

(NOTE: This is one of my Hyde Park Living columns.)

Have you ever tried to stop an unwanted pet behavior by simply ignoring it? If it is a behavior that is really difficult to ignore, like a bird’s scream or a dog’s whining, you very well may be among the statistic who complains of Ignoring a problem pet behavior isn't enoughthat problem not going away, but instead intensifying.

Why? What happened?

Well, here is the thing. Screaming and whining are both behaviors that our pets do more of because they have learned that those behaviors cause a positive consequence – human attention. This is called operant learning.

When you then withhold the consequence that reinforces a behavior, the immediate effect is often an abrupt increase in the behavior. Scientifically this is an ‘extinction burst’ and it gives the impression that the behavior problem has worsened. *If* you can effectively continue to withhold that positive consequence, then you would see a steady and fairly rapid decline in the behavior.

However, that is pretty challenging to do when your pet’s behavior is one that is just plain difficult to ignore. And, when you give in and offer attention for the heightened intensity, guess what you have just taught your pet to do *if* he sees your attention as valuable?

Or, you may give in *sometimes*. Sometimes being the key word. An intermittent reinforcement schedule, as it is scientifically referred, causes very strong behaviors because that unpredictability causes resilience. To effective change a pet behavior, it is good to use a combination approach.Think about why humans get so addicted to slot machines.

So, what is a better approach? To effectively modify pet behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way, it’s good to use a combination approach.

  1.  Ignore the unwanted behavior. Period. If your dog is pushing your knee or whining to get your attention, it is best to get up without any eye contact and simply turn away or leave the room.
  2. Differential reinforcement. While you are ignoring the unwanted behavior, reinforce either an alternative behavior (one that takes the place of the unwanted behavior) or an incompatible behavior ( one that cannot be physically done at the same time as an unwanted behavior – laying on a mat is incompatible with bumping your knee)
  3. Thoughtfully arrange the environment. If you do not want your dog to bump you when you sit on the couch when you watch tv, some solutions can be putting him in another room or tiring him out with exercise prior to your favorite show so that resting is his more valuable choice.

The best part about solving your problem in this way?  You are making learning fun. You are strengthening your relationships with your pet. You are setting yourself and your pet up for success.


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


Solving Dog Digging Problems In Backyard

What a beautiful time of year. I love so much about spring time, and especially being outdoors in the sunshine. Dogs love being outside in this weather too. A back yard to a dog can be like an amusement park to a child…with all of the wonderful smells, colors and textures; fast moving critters to chase; passers-by who may stop and say hello; oh, and of course, great opportunities to DIG!

stopping or preventing your dog from digging in your yardDoes your dog love to dig in the backyard?  It is a fairly common complaint of dog owners who want their gardens and grass left intact.

So, what is a dog caregiver and home owner to do? Well, first of all, you need to understand that to Fido, he really isn’t doing anything wrong. In fact, digging is a perfectly natural activity, especially for terriers. To punish him from digging altogether is just not fair – not to mention all of the negative ramifications that come with that type of behavior stopping. A much better approach is to set your dog up for success by managing the environment so as to prevent the unwanted behavior in the first place while teaching your dog what you would like him to do instead; and ensuring that the incompatible behavior will get him equal or greater value reinforcement than the unwanted ‘digging in inappropriate areas’ behavior.

First things first. Let’s talk about preventing unwanted practice of the behavior or antecedent arrangement. When you are away from home, simply, your dog should be inside. Outside, you may want to protect your garden with a barrier like a fence or chicken wire; and make sure your yard is fenced in. But let’s dig deeper and put our behavior analysis hats on and look at the behavior from your dog’s perspective and the function that behavior serves for your dog.

 Ask yourself, “What is going on in my dog’s environment to set that digging behavior in motion?”

You may find yourself answering any number of ways that could include…my dog had access to my garden, my dog was in the hot sun and needed to make a place to cool down, my dog needed to burn off energy, my dog was bored, my dog was anxious being in the yard by himself.

Your answer will more than likely include more than one of these choices – or a choice I hadn’t listed.

Once you see your answers on paper, you can create a behavior modification plan that is enriching for your dog. Think about what skills and activities you can teach your dog to do instead of the behavior you do not want him to do or how you can rearrange your yard so that the option of in appropriate behavior isn’t even available.

Always make sure that you are in the yard with your dog because If you are outside with your eyes on your dog, you can redirect his attention to those activities *before* he begins to dig (before he even walks over to his digging spot).

Antecedent arrangements can include giving your dog lots of opportunities for mental and physical stimulation – lots of exercise. Provide your dog with a cool resting place in the summer and warmth in the winter (with plenty of water). Teach your dog the value of settling down. Teach your dog how to appropriately entertain himself outside by teaching him to become a recreational chewer with great chew toys and other foraging toys. Play with your dog.

Another option is to build a digging pit and teach your dog it is to use it by making it over-the-top fun. If your dog is digging to stay cool, place it in a shaded area. When you are building it, sand for digging is better than soil. You can bury all kinds of neat things in there for your dog to uncover like a cow’s femur, treats, chew toys, or balls.

And remember to have fun with it because if you are having fun, your dog will too.

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