Archives for posts with tag: reinforcement

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.

All righty, time for the magic!

I assume if you are reading this that you have done your prep work outlined in the previous post — dump your stories; open your mind; watch, listen and learn from your dog; accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE.

If you haven’t: What are you doing here? Stop being impatient! Get back to Part Two and DO THE PREP WORK. Now!

Are they gone? Okay! Welcome to the rest of you. Congrats on doing the prep work that will set you up for success as we move into this first SIMPLE Sequence: How to Teach a Physical Skill.

In the old, outdated, creaky days of yore, these things would be called “obedience.” But since we are no longer desirous of bending our dogs to our will, but rather seeking partnership through proper communication, the more accurate label is Skill.

Physical Skills are all the standard actions most of us want to teach our dogs: Sit, Down, Come, Walk, Stay, Leave it, Drop it, etc. They are also the Tricks we like to teach them like Shake, Roll over, etc. There is NO DIFFERENCE in your dog’s mind between Skills and Tricks. Hence, there is no need to teach them differently. (We do though, which is why Tricks are usually more reliable than Skills. More on that here** if interested.)

Now, important clarification coming: Skills are not at all the same as Behavior (ie how your dog thinks about/feels about/reacts to a particular situation).

If your dog is not Behaving acceptably, you might be able to control Behavior in the moment through requesting a Skill, but you will never permanently change Behavior with a Skill. (This is why, for example, a jumpy dog will “get down” but will never stay down. For more, see “WORDS MATTER: Knowing the difference between ‘behavior’ and ‘Behavior’ can mean the difference between frustration and success” (available as a blog post and as Appendix D: behavior vs. Behavior in my book I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This!)

Think of Skill as learning how to hit a tennis ball, and Behavior as how you play the game.

This post is about teaching basic Skills. The next post will address Behavior.

Basic Physical Skills: Four Simple Steps

Think you know this one already? Bet you don’t!

Review Figure 3.1. See that second step there, “Mark”? That is usually not included in standard teaching. It should be, because it is the gold in that sequence! 

Also, notice that initially there is no word attached to the Skill (eg Sit). Waaah? Why?

Because it’s the fastest way to teach it, that’s why!

Let’s break it down: 

You Create the Skill, without a word attached to it, using any of the methods listed. Most can be achieved through luring (see treat, follow treat). Note there is nothing approaching force described here! 

The Mark tells the dog what he just did that you loved — and that he will get a Reward for — so he doesn’t have to guess! It is applied at the precise moment the dog does that thing — butt or belly touches floor, takes one step toward you, walks beside you one step, etc. When the Skill happens, the Mark happens!

(I highly highly highly recommend using a one-syllable verbal Mark you can say quickly and happily. Examples: Yes, Yay, Bam, Nice, Wow. Smile when you say it! It’s the start of the party, after all!)

The Reward(s) come after the Skill is Marked. Reward in at least two ways at first: Food and Praise/Toy/Pet. Always Food at first — it seals the deal at the highest level! Imagine getting $100 every time you sat down. How eager would you be to sit? 

Finally, once you’ve told your dog to do that, you have to tell him when to stop doing that. So Release him from the Skill. Then do it again — another chance for a party!

Once you both are on auto-pilot with the sequence, then you can label the Skill with a word, phrase, hand signal etc.

Remember: This will go much faster if you think of every Skill you teach as a Trick. In other words, have fun with it! The more fun you both have, the more reliable the Skills will become — for both of you.

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**Tricks are usually taught with lots of fun. We laugh; lots of food is generally shared, if mistakes are made, oh well, try again, all part of the fun — Tricks and Parties go hand in hand! Is it any surprise that Tricks end up on auto-pilot, happily offered by your dog without being asked, because she is expecting something good might happen every time she does it? 

On the other hand, Skills are usually taught like orders — You will comply or else! No! Wrong! Bad dog! When Skills are given as orders, your dog is often unsure what will happen — will it be good or bad for her? When they don’t know what to expect, dogs are likely to hesitate or otherwise not respond properly. Then we get mad/stern, cementing in the dogs’ brains that hearing that word from us means bad things for them. That makes them even less willing to respond.

Teach everything as if it were a Trick. You will have a crazily responsive, happy dog!

Next/Final: Part Four — Teaching How to Behave

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

Warning: I am jumping onto my soapbox with both feet!!

If I were made queen for a day, one thing at the top of my to-do list — besides beheading any critics — would be to forbid anyone from ever establishing any routines for their dogs other than those for teaching a specific behavior.

I am on my soapbox today because I just spent a considerable amount of time with yet another client who is mystified as to why her new puppy, who was fine at first with going into the crate when she left, suddenly is freaking out about this process. She described to me the routine she carefully followed every time, right down to the puppy “lullabye” CD she put on for her, then asked if there was anything else she could do. Imagine her stunned silence when I said yes, definitely: Dump the routine. NOW!

“Everyone” had told her that routines are good for dogs. (Everyone except a trainer, I hope. Why does everyone think they are dog training experts just because they have a dog? I have a car, but I don’t for one moment think I am a mechanic. But I digress.)

I explained why I said it, then gave her suggestions about how to bust up the routine and work on what really needed to be done, which is to teach her pup to be okay by herself and to self-amuse so she is not dependent on interaction with a human all the time.

What’s wrong with routines?
There are many old beliefs that undermine your relationship with your dog, creating training challenges and missteps. The dominance myth takes the top prize — don’t get me started — but the second-place award in my view goes to the benign-sounding, but truly insidious and slyly damaging, “routines.”

What’s wrong with routines, you ask? After all, humans love routines. We take great comfort in our rituals, plus they help us to remember stuff, like locking our doors and not leaving our coffee cup on the roof of our cars.

But, to state the obvious, dogs are not humans. And they do not see routines the same way we do. For example, you may be shocked to learn routines are a huge contributing factor to separation anxiety. Here’s why:

Human thinks: I’ll do everything in the same order so my dog knows what to expect in the morning, so he’ll be okay with my leaving.

Dog thinks: Oh no, he’s doing all those things that end up with him leaving me! No, no! Don’t go!! I can’t take it!!

When you create a routine, the dog knows exactly what is going to happen. If he doesn’t like what happens, he is going to have a bad reaction to the routine. He doesn’t want you to leave, he wants to be with you. So with every step in the process, he gets more and more nervous. By the time you pick up your keys, he’s a basket case. Let the crate escape, peeing, pooping, chewing and curtain shredding begin!

This very same type of pattern, if used to teach a behavior like a sit/down or pottying outside, is how you get your dog to reliably respond when you ask him to do something: Just like he is sure you are leaving in the prior example — bad for him — he is sure a good thing will happen once his butt hits the floor or he pees in the back yard. The key difference is, once the pattern is established, we start to change it so we can progress — wean off treats, do behavior longer, ignore distractions, etc. In other words, this is not a routine but rather a progressive exercise. It changes, and the dog adjust to the changes, improving his response. In trainerspeak, this is called proofing or generalizing.

When you do the same things in the same way, your dog then expects that same pattern every time, along with the same result. Even when it’s a good thing — you pick up the leash, he’s going for a walk! — if the routine gets altered somehow, he will not handle it well. Put the leash back down without taking him out, and what happens? He might start pacing and panting, going over to the door and back to you as if to say Hey! Why aren’t we going? We always go when you pick up the leash!

(I cannot tell you how many clients tell me they have never used the leash for anything other than walks. I often ask them to leash up inside for work on specific issues, and it gets messy real quick because the dog lathers up when the routine is changed.)

Routines are rigid patterns that can create rigid dogs — they don’t bend, they break. They are incapable of flexibility, become beside themselves when presented with it, and can become quite insistent about returning to the usual pattern. A common example would be the dog who tells YOU when it’s time for dinner or for bed. A less-common example would be the dog who lays across your feet, and if you try to move, growls and snaps.

Create a ‘whatever’ dog who is calm and confident
Breaking up routines allows you to develop a “whatever” dog, the go-with-the-flow pup who adjusts to whatever is going on around him. (“Going with you? Staying home? Eating now? Eating later? Whatever!”) It’s actually a critical part of socialization, but one that is often missed by humans. Socialization is showing the dog the world so he is not afraid of it and knows how to act in it. A well-socialized dog is calmer, more confident, and very much a “whatever” dog.

This is so important that I am getting up on this soapbox and shouting, trying to get everyone’s attention: STOP WITH THE ROUTINES ALREADY!!! Your dog will be happier, and so will you.

So, to recap:

— Routines are BAD!

— Break up your routines to help your dog become a “whatever” dog.

— To teach specific behaviors, use progressive repetitions, slowly changing one detail at a time to help them generalize the behavior (e.g. Sit is the same no matter where I ask for it).

Need more help? Ask a professional — but be sure to ask them if they think routines are good or bad. If they say good, keep looking!

Ah, spring! 

As  the weather warms, and the spring flowers bloom, another less heralded spring event begins: the rush of panicked calls and emails I receive from dog POGs wondering what is up with their pooches.

They are terrible walkers; jumping all over everyone; charging fences; going after people, kids, dogs; destroying the back yard; barking nonstop; not listening; not coming. I could go on for days, but you get the idea.

They weren’t doing this before, you cry. Why is this happening? 
Ah, spring. Or rather: Uh…spring. 
I live in Northern Ohio. We have winter here, and this year like many other places, we had a fairly nasty one. So we tended to stay in, hibernating, seeing and doing less, hunkering down, waiting for…spring!! Then we burst from our house-caves, raced to the garden centers, parks, ball fields and all that other outdoor stuff we haven’t been able to get to for months. And many of us took our dogs with us. More fun with a dog along, right?
Maybe. See, we happily adjust to the new circumstances, but many dogs don’t. If your dog is new to you, or a puppy, she may have never seen all these places, activities, people before. And she doesn’t know what to make of it. And you did not tell her what it is and what to do with it because you didn’t realize she doesn’t get it. It’s outside! She’s been outside! It’s all great, isn’t it??
I walk my dog Tawny every day, 365, unless it is life-threatening to one of us or she doesn’t want to go. In the winter, I see absolutely no one else. Fine with me. Not in a mood to be neighborly in 10 degrees and a wind-whipped snow storm. Come spring, the fair-weather walkers come out, and Tawny and I have to review our exercises for how to act around other dogs (she is scared of them and gets defensive), while working to avoid as many bad walkers as possible (defined as person casually holding leash loop, usually on phone, and dog yee-hawing all over the place. Danger, Will Robinson!).
In plain terms, most people stop socializing their dogs during the winter (and other times too) and think the dog will be just fine when they pick it up again months later. But think of it this way, if your dog is less than a year old, most of his life has been spent isolated in a house. How would he know what to do in a park, in a crowd of people, around other dogs, around screaming kids, around a ball game, when squirrels and birds are racing around? Same thing for an older dog who has been with you for less than a year. 
They don’t know!! And we, instead of realizing and helping, freak out. Many thankfully call a DogLife Skills Instructor/trainer for help, but many more try to deal with it, mishandle it and make it worse. Suddenly, they have That Dog. They are mystified as to how it happened.
That’s how, people! The solution is proper exposure. The well-socialized dog is the one that has experienced the environment, understands it’s not a threat, and knows how to act when she’s in it. Happy news: It’s never too late, so get going! You want to be outside anyway, right? Fix the problem, and you will enjoy it much more.
Want to know more about dealing with bad reactions? Visit my store http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/ and look for the DogLife Skills Guide “Fear and Overreaction!”

At a client’s house recently, working with her adorable nine-month-old, 95-pound puppy.

She mentioned that, after early success following my instructions, her dog was once again bothering/chasing their cat. “What’s going on?” she asked with exasperation.

Diagnosing time! Here’s roughly how it went (my questions, her answers):

Happening in specific places/situations? No, random.
Cat starting any of it? Possibly, somewhat.
Pup runs up and what happens? Bugs, starts pawing, cat doesn’t leave but starts hissing.
What do you do? Yell and charge over there.
Is that effective? No.
How much are you telling pup she’s wonderful when she exists peacefully with/doesn’t bother the cat? Not at all. I thought that was fixed.

Ah. There it is.

I titled my book Reverse Dog Training for a very good reason: because I believe most people, when faced with a behavior problem, don’t just do the wrong thing, they do the exact opposite of what they should to solve the problem.

This client is further proof of my point. The kickers here are:

– She had already been given the right thing to do, had used it, and it had worked beautifully. The cat was left completely alone.
– After a brief period of success, she stopped using the mark/reward system completely. Dog was “fixed” in her view. (Wished she had told me this!)
– The dog, no longer getting the attention reward she was getting used to for ignoring the cat, slides back into the old habit of going after the cat, which she knows will get the desired results (yelling is attention).
– Everyone is back doing the same thing, and getting the same bad result. And she is wondering what went wrong?

Good/bad of marking
What is wonderful about a mark/reward system is it can work really fast. This can also be a bad thing if you don’t realize that to keep it working, you have to keep doing it (albeit slowly scale back on how often, aka progressing) and permanently change YOUR habits.

When something works immediately, it is thrilling to the owner/POG and makes us trainers/DLSIs look like geniuses. But we — or at least I — always caution that the problem is not gone. We have started the process of eliminating it. It is “fixed for now.”

How to ‘fix forever’
To get “fixed forever,” you have to continue to follow the instructions you were given, slowly varying the exercises and making your dog aware that s/he should do this same thing no matter the circumstances (“proofing” and “generalizing” are the words trainers use).

Put simply, a new habit usually will not erase and replace an old habit in a matter of days or even weeks. And I would contend the longer the old habit (problem behavior) has been in place, the longer it will take to get a reliable new-habit response.

Instant success may be fun — heck, it IS fun! — but long-term success is sooooo satisfying. Well worth the extra work.

If you need help expanding your exercises to get your dog “forever fixed,” see my e-booklet Next Steps! How to Progress Beyond Treats.

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