Process Not Contest is How You Change a Dog’s Behavior

Picture of an Obstinate Looking PugAccepting change, especially those things forcing us to act against our nature, is one of the more frustrating parts of life. Even for those of us whose minds possess the flexibility of a Yoga Master, a Jersey Wall must frequently be placed to reroute our reaction and bring about change.

When it comes to our dogs, the process can be even more difficult. Being strangers in a strange land who do not grok our native tongue, they don’t see a need in the first place, let alone understand the reasoning behind it. Now, combine our own natural resistance to change with frustration and anger, and the process of changing our dog’s behavior escalates from cooperation to contest.

The onus is on us (yes I went there) to understand what needs a particular behavior serves in our dogs and come up with a training solution to affect a change in behavior.

Where a behavior serves a vital need, like mental and physical stimulation, we must invest the time, thought, and energy needed to make sure that those needs are being met. Behaviors like destructive chewing, incessant barking, and hyperactivity often fall into this category.

Reactionary behaviors, like losing it when another dog walks past, noise phobias, and fearfulness, call for counter conditioning strategies: Changing the way the dog feels about the triggers for the behavior through making good things happen at safe distances (levels); coupled with a very gradual increase in exposure in the absence of a reaction.

Jumping for attention, running out the door, among other behaviors, are what I like to refer to as attention or pleasure seeking behaviors. Often, employing the Premack Principle (grandma’s rule) works for changing these things. Essentially, this is “Eat your vegetables before you can have dessert.” Requiring the dog to sit before getting your attention or making them set and wait until you release (verbally) them to go out and open door are two examples of this.

The next time you find yourself becoming frustrated with your dog’s behavior ask yourself who are you frustrated at; the dog for not being clairvoyant, or yourself for not making the time to change the behavior properly in the first place?

Remember that affecting change in our dog’s behavior is not that different from the mental gymnastics we must practice in order to accept the inevitable. We need reasons we understand, a plan to succeed, and practiced repetition to succeed.