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So you have your mind open, your Skills on auto-pilot, but you are still looking for the path to some better Behavior in your precious pooch under certain circumstances, yes?

Welcome to the most fun and exciting part of the SIMPLE System — Behavior!

I am totally biased here. Behavior is the reason I became a trainer. Frankly, anyone can teach rote physical Skills like Sits and Downs, but Behavior — ooolala, it is a delicious dish I could  consume endlessly (and have done so over nearly two decades — yum). There are sooo many nuances and different situations; every time I’ve solved a particularly vexing problem it was like I had won the lottery!

Sorry, off track. 

Despite my endless fascination over the nuances, etc., I have found there are some basics anyone can apply to create acceptable Behavior and/or deal with unacceptable Behavior. Just as in teaching a Skill, if you master these SIMPLE steps, you will create the happy, well-behaved canine citizen we all wish for. (Time to remind you I said SIMPLE, not easy. Keep that mind open!)

Basic Steps to Teach Behavior

The best time to start creating “good” Behavior is the moment your dog steps through your front door. But you can do it anytime; just realize that the longer you allow other Behaviors to cloud your message, the longer it will take to clean that up so your dog will understand what you want and reliably make the proper choice. 

Common-sense thought to keep in mind whenever you are dealing with Behavior: Your dog will always choose to do things that benefit him somehow. Isn’t that what we humans do all the time? If it gets us something we want, we do it! Clearly showing your dog the way to get what he wants (ie Behaving) is the key to getting what you want (ie that “well-behaved” dog).

Figure 4.1 shows you how to do that. Let’s dig in!

Reward appropriate responses. Unless your dog is an absolute maniac (if so, contact a professional now), she is Behaving properly the majority of the time without being told to do so. Yet we usually ignore all this “good” Behavior she is constantly choosing and only pipe up when it goes sideways. Wrong energy distribution, people! You should be drowning your dog in praise/rewards during these times so she knows you like what she’s doing, so she will choose to keep doing it. Open your pie hole and dish! Food usually not needed but can be used to jackpot when they do something truly awesome without being asked.

Prevent inappropriate responses. The first time you see something go sideways, do not treat it as a one-off. Interrupt quickly and quietly — no yelling, or NOs/Bad dogs, just remove/separate and take note. Then put steps/procedures in place so it can never, and I mean never, happen again. I don’t care if it’s a jump, a snap or paws on the table. You want them to have zero chance to turn that into a habit. See ^^ for more.

Reward proper Attitude. The way your dog feels toward any situation is what creates the Action she takes. You want her to feel great — calm, confident, relaxed — in as many different situations as possible. That is the dog that will make good choices in most cases. A dog you can trust. A safe dog. So whenever you see that Attitude, drown in praise. 

Important side note: If you are stressed, irritated, frustrated by your dog’s Behavior, you need to change your Attitude first. Dog mirrors person! (For more, see “The Solution(s)” chapter of my book I’ve Never Had a Dog like This!)

Teach new behavior. Sometimes, just rewarding proper Attitude is enough to change your dog’s Behavior — ie when your dog’s feeling about the situation changes, the Action she takes in response to the situation changes. Boom and done! Other times, they need a little more help in understanding what Action to attach to that new Attitude. Here is where a Skill can help tremendously, since Skills are fun. The feel-good Attitude plus a fun Skill will soon have your dog thinking nothing but good thoughts about the situation she is in and Behaving like a champ.

Reward heavily. Should be obvious, but this stuff is new and hard. Old habits are hard to break, and new habits need to be reinforced over and over to stick. Practice makes as perfect  as possible. Being told you’re doing a great job never gets old, does it? So make it your business to be a constant stream of “atta-dog!” in some form — praise, petting, food, toys, snuggles, car rides, backyard romps, etc., etc., etc. We all like to be appreciated!

BOOM! There you are — the SIMPLEST teaching system with the greatest chance for success and happiness for both you and your precious ones, whoever they may be. Peace.

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^^ There are more ways than I can count to prevent, from gates/crates to adding a leash/tether to putting things away to constant monitoring to avoidance. There are also many ways to properly interrupt a sideways Behavior, and they all involve being calm and quiet. I call them Low Energy Interrupters (LEIs), the common factor being that they stop the Behavior without giving it a lot of attention (which is a powerful reinforcer). One of my favorites is the Simple Walk Away, which you can use for virtually any problem Behavior that you can attach a leash to. It is a thing of beauty when done properly because it gets you and your dog out of trouble without making the problem worse. For more, see my dogpogblog post: The beauty of simplicity: How the leashed walk away can be the gateway to solving tons of Behavior problems

All of the above should be considered temporary measures that help you replace the unacceptable Behavior with an acceptable  one. The less your dog does the old thing, the more quickly it fades away.

Are you ready to embrace the Siriusly SIMPLE System? Okay! Let’s do the prep work — not for your dog. For you.

To successfully use the Siriusly SIMPLE System, you must first commit to making these brain adjustments:

 – Dump your stories

 – Open your mind

 – Watch, listen and learn from your dog

 – Accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE

Hey, remember I said SIMPLE not easy! Here are some tips to accomplish each of these:

Dump your stories: Stories are the excuses we make for not giving our dogs the information they need to make a better choice. Stop making excuses! Every time, every single time your dog does something, and the words that come out of your mouth are along the lines of “Oh he’s just doing that because X,” immediately say, “Am I sure about that? How do I know that for sure? Could there be another explanation? What could that be?”

Open your mind: Admit that you -gasp- may not know everything there is to know about training a dog, and that possibly someone with more experience — say a progressive dog pro — might have some new information for you that could really help you out. That doesn’t involve things like yelling No or making up stories. Be willing to listen and try these new things.

Watch, listen and learn from your dog: I would bet my next paycheck (caught you! I’m retired) that you overlook and/or misinterpret about 90% of what your dog is trying to tell you. You think wagging tail always means happy dog. You think he looks “guilty” because he’s done something “bad.” You think when she is not reacting, that always means she is “fine.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Five cents, please.

Learn what you’re missing by picking up a dog body language sheet or book, or get my second book, I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! and check out “Body Language Basics” and “The 5-minute Spy.”

Accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE: Which would make you happier, if I shoved you into a chair OR I asked you to sit on it? Duh, right? Force bad, choice good, yes?

Time to apply that same thinking to dogs. See, if dogs are intimidated (yep, that’s the right word for what you do when forcing) into sitting with snapping fingers, firm/harsh tones, and butt pushing, he is much less likely to want to do that again because the experience was NO GOOD FOR HIM. 

If however, he is played with, treats flying, and every time his butt contacts the floor a party erupts, he is going to be thrilled to do that thing again because IT STARTED A PARTY. And who doesn’t love a party?

If he chooses not to do that thing, one of two things is going on: 1) He doesn’t yet understand what started the party OR 2) the party wasn’t big enough, or enough to his liking. (Think dry kibble versus steak. Peas versus donuts. You get the idea.)

I hope that, as you read these points, you start thinking this advice sounds familiar, though not for training dogs. It sounds like something that you would apply or are applying to kids, or heck just about anyone you’re trying to communicate properly with, perhaps to teach something but absolutely to live harmoniously with. Common sense for people, right? 

Cool! You already know how to do this! Now you just have to apply it to dogs.

Next: Part Three — SIMPLE Teaching Sequence for Basic Skills

Have you seen these ads telling you there is a SECRET to training? And that for $$ the keeper of the secret will share it with you? 

Well, I’m here to share the REAL SECRET to training — at no charge!

Why am I being so generous? I’m not, really. That’s because the secret is… there is no secret. There is, however, a big myth to bust about training, and it is this: That there is some hugely complicated system that trainers need to use and/or owners need to master in order to get their dogs “trained properly” or “behaving well.”

I’m here to toss the BS flag on that. Take that myth, launch it over the railing, and let it fall. Buh-bye.

Look, I know it’s tempting to deify someone who can do something you can’t — I have been called a dog whisperer, a magician, a genius, as if I’d solve som great mystery of the universe — but honestly, folks, it isn’t that mysterious or complicated. Once you pull the curtain back, you realize the basics of training are, well, pretty basic. 

The Siriusly SIMPLE System of Teaching a Dog Anything

After nearly two decades of dog work, I have reached the point of intolerance. For people. Who think they are properly addressing their dog challenges but actually are making them worse (one reason I wrote my first book, Reverse Dog Training, was to show parent/owner/guardians [POGs] that, to deal effectively with common problems, they needed to do literally the exact opposite of what they were doing).

When I hear people describing their dog training challenges, be it basic techniques or problem behaviors, I fight the urge to grab them, shake them, and scream STOP COMPLICATING IT!!! (See, intolerance. Which is why I’ve retired and taken up meditating. Is “Grrrrr” a good mantra?) 

Oh, the stories we tell about our dogs. These long, detailed soliloquies about what and why  and how. So heartfelt. And so massively unimportant, misdirected and often untrue.

What do I mean by stories? A sample:

 – He’s doing X because he is mad/sad/vengeful/stubborn

 – She knows this, she’s just not doing it

 – He does X because he was abused/X happened before we got him. (Even though I got him as a puppy and he’s five now.)

 – She’s okay, it just takes her awhile to warm up to you.

 – He was abandoned as a puppy and been in 12 homes so that’s why he’s eating my couch.

 – She’s aggressing because she’s protecting me.

These stories are our attempts to analyze and/or rationalize what we see. And look, I loooove to analyze behavior; it is one of the funnest things about training. But when POGs are faced with a training challenge, this is what I tell them: We can analyze it to death, or we can take care of it. Wouldn’t you rather be done with it? (If your answer is not emphatically YES, then I suggest therapy.)

The clean, clear unshakeable basics

Fact: Everything a dog does benefits him/her somehow. 

So, if you teach them something and clearly identify the benefit, the dogs will do that thing most of the time. 

The way to do that is incredibly simple.

Want to teach your dog something? Follow 4 basic steps.

Want to change your dog’s behavior (ie “fix” something)? Follow 5 basic steps.

That’s it. No psychoanalysis, no angst, no drama. Simplicity.

Are there nuances? Sure. Every dog is different, so some tweaking is inevitable. But THE BASIC STEPS DON’T CHANGE. If you want to establish an unbreakable, effective communication system with your dogs that can take you practically anywhere you want to go with them, burn these fundamentals into your brain. 

Will your dog do everything right, every time? Of course not! Will you? Ha! What you will do is get moving in the right direction as quickly as possible, with less frustration and confusion and much much more DogJoy! Along the way, you will do massively more good stuff than bad, and everyone will be happier faster.

Are there dogs that these basic steps don’t work for? Yes. Exceedingly rare, but yes. Usually they have a medical issue. But for healthy dogs with working brains, I have never seen a failure. In the dogs, that is. Humans are another matter entirely.

SIMPLE doesn’t mean easy

Are you now wondering why you haven’t heard this from other trainers and animal professionals? Me too. I have my theories.

First, I must include my standard disclosure: My brain works differently from most other humans. I have been told this often, and I have noticed it myself. When the machine works differently, unusual things are produced. So there’s that. 

Beyond that: There are many trainers who unfortunately are stuck in old-school thinking land, where they learned a way to do things years ago and it brought them success so they just kept using it. Unfortunately, the stuff they are using, perhaps on your dog right now, is outrageously outdated. Rooted in misunderstanding, like the dog knows right from wrong (she doesn’t). Or that she’s being stubborn. Or that you have to be tough with dogs and show them who’s boss. Trainers have stories they need to let go of too!

Even wonderful, progressive, up-to-date trainers have stories. They might lean more toward overanalyzing (every dog is sooooooooo different we have to come up with a different plan for each). I used to think that too. Give me a progressive trainer to work with any day, but these complicated storylines can really monkey up the works and slow the teaching to a crawl. Well-meaning, but in the end, not as useful as it could be.

Give up your stories, and you can start writing your dog’s tale of success!

It is SO SIMPLE. However, I must caution, SIMPLE does not mean EASY. (I was an English major; I choose my words carefully.)

Because these stories are deeply rooted, often passed down through family and shared by peer groups. And assumed to be proven, true, fact. So they are very hard to give up!

Here’s a fact that may help: Everything we believe about dog training right this second is based on theories, which we strive to prove through experiments and research. Thank heavens for science! It has finally confirmed a lot of the theories progressive trainers have supported for years, and it has also disproved a lot of the long-held beliefs of others. (See pack behavior, dominance, aversive training, for example.) Your stories, in many if not most cases, come under the heading of disproved long-held beliefs.

“But but but!” I hear you sputtering. “X worked with old Sparky. It didn’t hurt him and he stopped doing X. So it was the right thing to do.”

Oops, another story emerges. Sure, intimidation tactics work on a lot of dogs (though not as many as you might think, and certainly not in the way you think). A leash jerk, a sharp NO, a light smack on the butt, may well get your dog to stop what he is doing, or do something he doesn’t want to do. I would argue that instead of fixing one problem you simply added another, one connected to fear and distrust. If I shove you into a chair, sure, I got you to sit down, but what else has happened? In both cases, the end does not justify the means.

There are other, so much better means. Let go your stories, open your mind. Your dog will love you for it.

Oh, I forgot! I do have one more secret for you: This stuff works for any being, furry or not, with a working brain. 

Ready? Let’s go!! See Part two: First SIMPLE Steps

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