Watch What You Are Reinforcing

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I have some questions for you. Does your dog bring a toy back to you only to play keep-a-way as it gets within reaching distance? Does your dog back up from you when you reach down to snap a leash on its collar?

Are you teaching your dog behaviors you do not like?I see it happen so often. And when it does, I often see humans persisting in reaching out to grab hold of the collar or making lots of effort to take that valued object from their dog’s mouth.

It is so important for us to remember that our pet’s are constantly learning from us, what behaviors have value based upon the consequences those behaviors cause. Our own actions are giving our pets that important feedback. Without realizing you are doing it, you may be teaching your dog to hold onto its toy or quickly dart away from you after approaching because doing that is pretty fun. It gets its human to engage, to chase, to tug on the item.

The other day I was working with a dog (and its owner) who was moving backwards upon presentation of a leash; however, once clipped on, his tail wagged, he was alert, and he was focused on moving to the door. (I see this a lot and have worked through this a lot.) His body language told me this wasn’t a case of a dog avoiding wanting to go outside. Actually, we could only guess why he was backing away from the leash presentation but this we knew, that behavior was being repeated which told us it was being reinforced in some way. Within less that two minutes, however, that all shifted and he was walking in to me and sitting in front of me while I clipped on his harness.

Why the change? I focused on the behavior chain that I wanted to see, which was to move toward me and stand or sit calmly with his face forward while I clipped on the leash. This was accomplished through shaping. I marked (with YES) small approximations toward the final behavior. Those approximations included movements toward me, sitting in front of me, and keeping his head forward.

This is just a reminder that if your dog is doing something that you don’t like. Remember that, as a teacher, you’ve absolutely got the power to teach new behaviors by shifting your focus to what you want your pet to do instead…and making that ‘instead’ of value to your pet.


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

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