Teaching Impulse Control

teaching dog impulse controlMany 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

 

 

Tips For Teaching Your Dog Calm Greetings

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.

Dog training tips for stopping a dog from jumping on people by Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBCI 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:

  1. Set the environment up so as to prevent our pet from practicing (and building a reinforcement history for) the unwanted behavior while
  2. Teaching and building huge value for an alternative and acceptable behavior we would rather our pets do and
  3. 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!

How To Stop Your Dog From Jumping On People

(my Hyde Park Living column)

I was talking with a friend the other day about a very large ten month old puppy she was visiting. dog training tip about stopping dog from jumping on peopleThe minute Linda walked into the house 60 pounds of pure love was on top of her. A habit that was started months earlier when little Henry was a small, cute bundle of fur has now become a mass force that greets friends with one leap after another. Unfortunately, the sheer force of large dog is enough to knock down many people.

Henry’s owner’s response to his behavior was to yell ‘Get down’ over and over. And Henry’s response to being yelled at was simply to ignore the words and continue doing what she was doing.

The reinforcement Henry gets from jumping – humans shrieking, arms flailing, bodies moving, attention – was clearly more valuable to him than the value of doing anything else to get her owner to stop yelling.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Here is the very important thing for you to remember. Animals are going to keep doing behaviors that they have learned from past experience get them something of value. At this point, Henry has absolutely no reason (from his standpoint) to change the way he greets humans. After all, it’s pretty fun to watch how jumping gets humans to move and shriek.

What is a dog owner to do? Once you understand the basic science behind repeated behavior, then it is time to begin thinking not in terms of simply stopping the jumping behavior but in terms of what you would like your dog to do INSTEAD of jumping. Your dog is excited to see such friendly faces. He just needs to learn how humans like to be appropriately greeted. It was not something he was born knowing.

Here are a few options of skills you can teach your dog that will help him AND you succeed in this situation: sit, down, go to your mat, have all four feet on the ground, impulse control.

Those skills should be taught using positive reinforcement strategies separate from around the door. They should be given great value for your dog to do. At the same time, it’s important to prevent as much as possible continued practice of the jumping behavior you do not like because your dog has such a long history of reinforcement from jumping.

Once your dog has learned those alternative behaviors, then you have given him something else he can do to get him the same value or greater that he would receive from jumping on people. Then you can begin to ask him to sit or lay down or go to his mat, and teach him that he holds all the cards in this situation. *If* he sits or lays down or goes to his mat, *only then* will great people walk in; and *only* if he can remain in that position will human give him attention. While teaching this, you have also got to teach the contingency that *if* he gets up, the human goes out of range. *If* he was close enough and jumps, *then* the person needs to become a tree (stand completely still and not have any eye contact with him) so as to not accidentally reinforce the jumping behavior.

Always keep in mind that your dog does not do things to intentionally be ‘bad’. He is simply doing what works to get his needs met and get him something of value. As his owner, caregiver and teacher, it is up to you to teach him how he can get those needs met in acceptable ways.

And while you are doing it, remember to have fun. Learning and teaching are two powerful words that can do so much to strengthen relationships.

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