Quick fixes in Dog Training!

August 16, 2015

One of the problems that seem to arise in dog training is the speed at which people want their dogs trained. Many owners (not all) expect a quick fix; to hand a dog over to a trainer, or take a dog to a few classes and in doing so expect the dog to be immediately obedient or their behaviour problems eliminated. When this doesn't happen some people will resort to methods that are less kind in a hope to accelerate training. 

Using punishment and stimulus the dog doesn't like will stop behaviours. Hitting a dog every time a dog growls will stop it from growling, shouting at a dog every time he chews an object he shouldn't may make him less inclined to do this again in the future. The problem with using this technique is that you may be stopping a behaviour in that moment but you haven't addressed the underlying problem, which in fact could give rise to more issues later on.






                                                                    (Logan and Paddington after a positive training session)


Take for example the above scenario of a dog growling, furthermore he is sat on his bed growling at a child. The owner then hits the dog, after all he does not want his dog growling at children, it is unacceptable. After several repetitions the dog stops growling. Problem solved? No. This is because the owner has invested no time in trying to work out the cause of the behaviour; is it the presence of the child that is causing the growling, does the dog not like people approaching his bed, did the child grab the dog in a way that hurt him? In the above scenario the dog has learned not to growl and so cannot warn anyone when a situation is becoming too stressful for him and now instead of growling he might snap or even bite.

If however the owner decided to tackle the problem in a positive way he would help solve the underlying issue, he might work on desensitising the dog to children so they no longer seem scary, or would turn people approaching the dog on his bed into a positive experience, and he should also work with the child to ensure they recognise when a dog is starting to have enough, and to educate them as to how they should act around a treat and dog.

The problem with punishment is it does nothing for the dog in the long term, it works in that moment. A dog that is punished for counter surfing will still counter surf when the owner isn’t around, a dog that is punished for chewing will just choose another behaviour to use up his energy, such as digging. It is important to look at the whole picture, assess why the dog is carrying out the behaviour, remove the motivation for it and then redirect the dog to a more appropriate behaviour. It is hard work and requires patience, which puts some people off!

An example I am going to use is a dog that jumps up when someone comes through the front door. For many people the fix is either to push the dog off, shout at it or even to knee the dog in the chest. The most common reason that a dog jumps up is because he wants attention - someone has entered the house and he wants them to say hello! So by pushing the dog off (you’ve touched him), or even by shouting at it (you’ve acknowledged him) you are providing it with the attention that he craves, even if you consider it to be a punishment. The reinforcement in this situation is attention. So rather than punishing a dog and him coming up with another rude greeting behaviour, you are first going to remove the reinforcement. The dog is now no longer to receive any attention when he is jumping up, no touching, no looking and no shouting/talking, simply turn around when the dog jumps up. Then you are going to use the same reinforcement; attention when the dog is performing a behaviour that you would like him to use instead of jumping up. This could be just having all four feet on the floor or sitting down for example. When the dog stops jumping up and is performing the desired behaviour he can receive his fuss. If he starts jumping up again, the attention stops.


If you want to change your dog’s behaviour for the long term you need to put in the hard work, there are no quick fixes. You get out what you put in.



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