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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.

One of the more interesting things I get to do as a trainer is play around with trigger sequences.

A trigger sequence is the series of things that leads to a particular behavior. So for example when you want your dog to sit, the sequence that you would use to trigger that behavior might be saying the word “Sit” and holding one hand palm up in front of her. If you change the word or the hand signal, you may not get the behavior you want because you have altered the sequence.

Most sequences are more complicated than that, even if they don’t appear so. That sit sequence, for example, might also involve only the right hand, a certain tone, a tilt of the head, a lean forward. Not knowing that could cause one to fail in getting a sit and to frustrate thinking the dog is being “stubborn” because she is not following orders.

Proofing commands involves pulling apart that sequence, presenting one piece at a time, making sure that the dog will perform the desired behavior when only one trigger is available, say just the word “Sit” or just the hand signal. Though somewhat laborious, it is the way to best get a reliable response from your dog.

Trigger sequences are involved in all sorts of behaviors, from sits and downs to separation anxiety to barking at the door or pulling on the leash or snapping, etc.

What’s really cool and fun about them is discovering them (say when I test a rescue to see what commands he knows) and also experimenting with altering them. Sometimes you can stop a “bad” behavior immediately by disrupting the sequence, say removing or altering even one piece.

I have found this can happen a lot with barking. Which is good, because barking drives people crazy, so it’s nice to be able to sometimes get a quick change on something like that. I like to play with my tone. People love to yell at their dogs to knock it off, which typically only serves to escalate the barking. So I will try a “What’s that?” inquiry-type tone, or “Good job!” praise to see if the dog will be confused enough to look at me like “Huh?” or at least hesitate for a moment, long enough for me to get in there and redirect.

One example that’s fun to relate involves a Westie I worked with recently. Her barking at the front window was driving her owners nuts (and they had tried “everything”). While they were standing there, I prevented a barking frenzy as two people passed the house by simply saying “Who’s that? Good girl!” over and over while the people went by. The owners were literally gobsmacked, but all I did was change the trigger sequence. With a piece missing, it didn’t prompt her usual reaction. Was she “fixed?” Heavens, no. But it was a start.

So the next time your dog starts to do something you don’t like, see of you can figure out the trigger sequence, or at least one part of it, and try to mess up the sequence. Try to laugh instead of yelling! If it stops the behavior, remember to jump in with a boatload of rewards so you can cement that “good” behavior sequence in your dog’s brain. Easier said than done, I know…

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