Rewarding good behaviour is what makes it happen again and again. We can manipulate the environment to make it easier for our dogs to make good choices, giving us more opportunity to reward. Consistently rewarding these good choices results in long term behaviour patterns that fit perfectly into daily life with you.
But what about bad behaviour, you ask? Again, we can manipulate the environment to make naughty choices less likely to happen. And when that naughty behaviour isn’t happening, it isn’t being practiced and reinforced by outside forces, and does not become a part of your dog’s long term behaviour pattern.
For example, let’s say we have a dog who has taken a liking to chewing shoes. We can manipulate the environment by introducing a frozen stuffed Kong toy filled with the dog’s dinner and some extra tasty morsels. The dog will very likely be interested in chewing on this item over the shoe. This activity prevents them from chewing on the shoes (or hands, or the sofa!). It’s also very rewarding to de-stuff a Kong toy so the alternate behaviour of chewing a toy instead becomes heavily reinforced. We can further manipulate the environment and ensure all shoes are put away in the closet. This makes it impossible for the dog to engage in the shoe-chewing behaviour. The naughty behaviour is difficult to engage in while the desired behaviour is made easy!
Patience and Consistency are key in dog training. We must be patient when dealing with a different species as there is a large communication barrier there. Your dog isn’t trying to be naughty, they just don’t understand the rules yet. Be patient. Your training, guidance and rules must stay consistent. This will help with the communication between you and your dog. Think of our example of the shoe chewing dog. The shoes must always be put away and there must always be a better (and easier) choice the dog can make. Over time, this becomes the set behaviour pattern. If we get lazy and inconsistent though, we teach the dog that sometimes the only option for the chewing instinct is a shoe. The behaviour stays.
Improve your dog’s behaviour by helping them make good decisions in each situation. Reward the behaviour you prefer. Consider a dog who jumps on people. If your dog jumps up on you to say hello, ask yourself how you would prefer them to greet you? A sit is a lovely way to say hi, you can start to teach your dog that when they come up to you they need to sit. As your dog approaches you, ask for the Sit. If they sit for you, wonderful! Give them some pets and praise or a cookie or two. If they miss the Sit cue and jump up, stay calm and turn your back for a moment. Ask again. Soon your dog will discover that the Sit works great but the jump doesn’t give them the attention they’re looking for. Teaching an alternate behaviour is a great way to improve your dog’s behaviour!
Your ultimate goal in dog training is to build a beautiful companionship with your dog that is based on trust. Training should be enjoyable for you both! Have fun together, be patient with each other and enjoy the riches of a life with a well trained and happy dog!
Drae Fitchett Baker, CBCC-KA has been training dogs professionally since 2008. She lives in Calgary with her partner, Ryan, their two cats, Presley and Cash, and of course their two dogs, Slugs and Diego. In addition to working with animals, Drae spends her time gardening, cooking, reading, watching soccer and sings with her grandmother in a choir.