I wanted to give you an entire week to focus on the act of attention alone. This is because attention and the result of it will, without a doubt, shape the behavior of your dog.
The reason that attention will shape your dog’s behavior is because it is positive reinforcement in action. We already know that positive reinforcement is the most effective way to teach a dog anything at all, because it caters to his natural learning style.
A lot of people overlook the following fact though, to the detriment of their dog training;
Attention is positive reinforcement and negative attention works in exactly the same way as positive attention. Which means that whether you tell a dog that he is good or shout at him for being bad, when he carries out an act, you are still using positive reinforcement to make the act stronger. This is fact.
So if your dog has a behaviour problem such as jumping up or barking and you constantly tell him off for the behaviour then you are actually strengthening it. Were you aware of that?
Before you go any further here I would like you to take a moment and think about any little niggles or problems in the behaviour of your dog. Write them down in your journal or dog training log. Then next to them write down exactly how you react to the behaviour when it appears. You may be surprised.
Attention seeking behavior
Attention seeking behaviour can become a real problem. When the dog looks at you and barks, when he steals things and chews them up whilst you are trying to take them off him and when he jumps up constantly he is displaying attention seeking behaviour. This type of behaviour works for him if it gets your, or anyone in the family’s, attention.
Some of the more common behaviour types that we reward with a response are repeated again and again, take a look at them here. Even better, take a look at them and try to see them from the viewpoint of your dog;
When we tell a dog to be quiet we are actually rewarding the dog for the bark.
Pushing a dog away when he jumps up is a rewarding process, we are giving him physical and emotional attention.
We chase the dog around the park calling his name, he has our full attention and a great game too.
We may have been previously ignoring the dog and so he picks up something he shouldn’t have and we give him attention.
I could go on but I think you probably get the idea at this point.
What can I do about Bad Behavior?
I believe that dogs do not carry out bad behaviour at all, they simply do what we have inadvertently taught them to do by our responses. Fear not, even if you think your dog is out of control, for any learned behaviour can be unlearned and replaced by another.
The reward of attention is partly why I find the dominance and pack theory so distasteful, it blames the dog for what he has learned so far in his life, as dog caretakers we must take responsibility for the way the dogs in our homes act. For our dogs take their guidance from us, and us alone.
To change a behaviour we must simply make a shift in our own response to it. Then as the dog begins to realize that his actions are no longer being rewarded by attention we can quickly introduce another behaviour that we reward instead.
Adding another, more helpful behaviour is a vital part of changing an unhelpful one because it gives the dog’s brain something else to focus on. Let’s take a quick look at this in action.
I am going to use the example of a dog that jumps up, along with the reaction of a typical dog owner, the same rules of learning can apply to any type of behavior though.
The dog normally jumps up as his owner walks through the door. His owner is at the end of her tether with this act so continues to push the dog off and now the owner is covered in bruises.
From the Dog’s Eye View
The dog has always jumped up, he learned it as a puppy, and back then it was encouraged because he was much smaller and the act was far less intrusive. He knows his human is not happy with him jumping up because they seem to be angry when he does it.
Yet it used to make the human happy so the dog tries harder and harder to bring back that happy reaction, plus his human is touching him and speaking to him (albeit in a frustrated way) and the dog likes that, because he loves his person and, unless something in the owner’s response changes, the dog will continue to provoke that exact response by jumping up.
There are many dog training methods and ideas to deal with the dog that jumps up. Some are pretty terrifying and include aversion collars or even physical punishment, such as lifting a knee into the dog’s chest as he jumps.
After reading how the dog sees the behavior, in the section above, do you believe that he should be punished on top of his confusion? I don’t.
There is a far better way to deal with this behaviour, a way that the dog can learn from and it is just a case of restructuring your delivery of attention in order for the dog to understand what you expect.
It’s as simple as this;
1. Never, ever give attention to the dog that jumps up, don’t look at him, speak to him or touch him. Simply ignore him like he is not there.
2. Always give attention to a dog as all four of his feet are on the ground when he greets you. You can even click and treat the act of not jumping up. Yet the second his front feet leave the ground stop the attention.
3. Get into the habit of asking for a specific position on greeting, ask your dog to sit and treat him with a reward and attention for that position.
4. Soon your dog will learn that it is far more rewarding to sit or even stand when he greets you and that jumping up brings no attention at all.
5. The unhelpful act may get worse before it gets better, this is called an extinction burst but it means the behavior will soon improve dramatically so stand firm and do not relent with attention. When an extinction burst appears the dog’s behaviour is very close to becoming extinct.
A Project of Attention
Behavior modification, of any type of unhelpful behaviour, follows the same pattern;
1. Ignore the behaviour that you would like to see cease
2. Give attention and reward to the behaviour that you would like to encourage
3. Teach the dog something new in place of the previous unhelpful act
I would like you to choose a behaviour in your dog that you want to change. Then spend the week changing your own approach to it following the rules above. Then let us know how it goes, we look forward to hearing from you.
Remember to note everything in your dog training log. See you next week.
Wednesday 6th May 2015