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Help! My dog won't stop...

Three Effective Strategies for Problem Behaviors

1. The Sacred Treat

The term “Sacred Treat” came about as a result of a successful strategy. A client family with 3 dogs was looking for a way to train their adolescent dog to come inside when it was time for bed. Because all of the family members had to report to their jobs fairly early in the morning, staying up late was not a good option.

It was summer, the evenings were cool, the yard had beautiful soft grass to lie on…why would a dog want to go inside?

Calling the dog wasn’t working. In fact, when we call a dog over and over and nothing is happening, we are really setting a precedent for more of the same. Anything that is practiced or repeated gets stronger, so the rehearsal of calling=not coming over and over just becomes the norm. Remember the old saying, “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you always got”.

In the case of our young dog wanting to stay outside in the cool summer evening, we had to find something that made it worthwhile for him to come inside. Enter the Sacred Treat!

Cheese was this dog’s favorite thing. In order for cheese to become “sacred” it had to appear ONLY at the strategic moment when he entered the house at bedtime. When the family implemented this strategy it did not take long for the dog to make a strong association between coming in at bedtime and getting his favorite treat in the world. The family was consistent and did not give the dog any cheese at other times. They also did not call and call, but used some restraint and patience to allow the dog to discover the new routine. In two weeks the dog was coming in quickly each night for his sacred treat and the frustration for the family was in the rear view mirror.

2. Management

Sometimes a simple change in the environment will fix a behavioral issue. A classic example of this would be hiding something many dogs find irresistible: TRASH. Many dogs are drawn to trash like a moth to a flame. That doesn’t make them a bad dog, it means they are pretty normal. Dogs are, by nature, scavengers. What better way to scavenge, than through something right in your immediate environment?

Putting the trash under the sink, behind a closed pantry door, or getting a locking trash container can change your life!

Another management miracle is locking or eliminating dog doors. While it might seem nice for your dog to be able to go in and out as he pleases, this practice often results in excessive barking and digging in the yard. By eliminating the ability to come and go unhindered and unattended, these problem behaviors often disappear.

3. Competing Behavior

A Competing Behavior is one that serves the same function as another behavior. For instance, when a dog jumps on people, the function or goal is to gain attention and interaction with the human. Just the contact of the paws actually reinforces the jumping because physical contact is an interaction and often leads to more interaction. Pushing the dog away and correcting the dog are also interactions that reinforce the jumping!

A competing behavior such as sitting to greet, must be highly reinforced and meet the same function or goal of the jumping behavior, which is interaction with the human.

Teaching the dog this new way of doing things can be tricky if the dog was not taught sitting as a default greeting when very young. However, old dogs, young dogs, all dogs can learn new tricks!

There are many ways to teach desirable behaviors that serve as replacements or competing behaviors for less desirable ones. Not all techniques work with every dog. There are trainers who would argue this point, but just as there isn’t one way to reach a human learner, there is not one single way to reach a canine learner.

Most annoying dog behaviors can be addressed through implementing The Sacred Treat, Management, or Competing Behavior. However, there are varying levels of severity with problem behaviors. A qualified trainer will work to discover the strategies and techniques that are best suited for the individual dog as well provide the support needed to implement the training plan.

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