Key Steps To Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors (Inspired by Gary Wilkes)

Most dogs show a handful of behaviors that we would like to reduce or eliminate.  Jumping, mouthing, excessive barking, or the countless other things that our pets do are not only annoying and rude to us or our guests, but they can also be quite dangerous.

When it comes to stopping unwanted behaviors there are a few things we must keep in mind.  Following these rules will ensure that we are connecting the consequence with the correct behavior and reducing the likelihood of the dog repeating the behavior over and over again.

1.) Identify the Behavior:

Any time that we are going to be stopping an unwanted behavior the first thing that we need to do is identify the behavior.  We use the word “NO” to do this.  There are few reasons why this is important.

First is that our “NO” marker ties the consequence to the behavior.  If we have successfully marked the behavior with “NO” the second that the dog does it, we are able to deliver a correction even if the dog has already stopped the unwanted behavior.

The second reason is what we refer to as “Latency”.  This means that you do not need to correct the behavior immediately.  You just have to have a marker that IDENTIFIES the behavior immediately.  In Pavlov’s studies he has shown this to be true up to 30 minutes after identifying the behavior.

The final reason is so we can avoid creating direct associations with training tools.  By Verbally marking the unwanted behavior with a “NO” before delivering our correction We avoid the dog just listening because the remote collar is on.  The dog is able to directly associate the correction with coming from us and not a specific piece of training equipment.  Without identifying the behavior BEFORE correcting it we are simply dropping land mines and hoping that the dog is making a connection to the BEHAVIOR and not just the TOOL.

2.) Consistency:

This is arguably the most important aspect of stopping unwanted behaviors.  Everyone has heard the old saying “if you give them an inch, they will take a mile”.  This couldn’t ring more true to our dogs behaviors.  Correcting jumping 50% of the time and allowing or ignoring it the other 50% will do nothing but confuse the dog and leave them guessing “Maybe I can get away with it this time?”.  This makes it unfair to the dog as well as ruins your chances of creating a lasting inhibition.

I have seen owners completely stop jumping in 3 days and have it never come back and I have seen owners struggle with these things for months on end.  Every time the result is due to consistency.  To sum it up:  If you say “NO” you MUST deliver a correction every time.

3.) Ensure that the Correction is Highly Motivating to the Dog (or Intolerable):

For obedience training or general household management, our remote collar is set to a motivating but not highly aversive level.  Trying to use this lower “communicative” level to stop problematic behaviors has a similar effect to poking the bear.  It may temporarily interrupt the dog from rehearsing it but will do no good in leaving a lasting effect the next time the dog considers trying the behavior.  Occasionally it can just irritate the dog and further escalate their behavior.

When trying to stop behavioral issues we typically will set the remote collar much higher.  By ensuring that the correction will be “Intolerable” we greatly increase our chances of eliminating the behavior in less time.  If we successfully pair an intolerable consequence with a specific behavior we will be able to create lasting inhibitions.

4.) The Correction Must be Unavoidable:

We are big fans of using remote collars for stopping unwanted behaviors because it ensures that the dog can’t avoid the correction.  There is no need to chase the dog around the room to grab a leash or use any other corrective device.

That being said, anyone that is training exclusively with leash and prong, or any other corrective tool must keep this one in mind.  If the dog can escape or run away before you deliver a correction you will not stop the behavior.  Set yourself up so that you can easily get to the dog to give a leash pop or any other correction when you are setting up these scenarios.

A Few Final Notes:

This is always a sensitive topic.  No one wants to “hurt” their dog or cause any distress.  It is important to understand that that is not the goal we are trying to accomplish.  “Motivating” and “Intolerable” does not always mean “painful”.  To some dogs a spritz of water to the face or a rolled up towel thrown in their direction is what one would consider “Intolerable”.

The other important things to note is that POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT ALONE WILL NOT STOP UNWANTED BEHAVIORS.  Nor will teaching an alternative behavior.  Most behavioral issues that dogs show are self reinforcing, meaning that the act of doing the behavior is positive reinforcement alone to your dog.  The act of digging in the yard or jumping up on guests feels good to the dog.  Why would they stop those behaviors unless they had a good enough reason to do so?  Creating a negative association with these behaviors through proper punishment WILL successfully stop and inhibit the behavior.

Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to having a much more behaved and well mannered dog.

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