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Brian’s Bite-sized Behavior Bits

A Certified Dog Trainer (IACP-CDT) and member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, Brian Bergford has extensive experience as a Dog Behavior Specialist and is the owner of Altitude Dog Training. He also owns Uptown Dog in Longmont, Colorado, and functions as the Director of Training and Behavior for this center which provides Behavior- and Pack Work-driven daycare and boarding. Brian specializes in Pack Work, People Development, Basic through Advanced Training, and Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation.

September 2014 – Crime doesn’t pay, but it does pay to be a winner

Have you ever gotten a bit perturbed with a certain bad habit your dog has and asked yourself “Why on earth does my dog do this?!” I know that I have. The answer I always seem to arrive at is that it must have a payoff of some sort. My dog might find an activity like chewing on the banister rewarding because it releases angst. Why is she feeling this way? Perhaps she doesn’t have enough exercise. Or maybe she’s releasing tension brought on by major schedule changes in the family or maybe she’s just plain bored.

How does one go about fixing such a situation? The bottom line is I need to teach her that demolishing the banister doesn’t pay. If I catch her gnawing on one of the posts I need to diminish the satisfaction she derives from that activity. I could do that in a number of different ways: I could try catching her in the act and then clap my hands to startle her; I could have her go lie down in a different room; or I could spray her on the bum with a spray bottle while she’s committing the offense. I need to experiment to find something that is meaningful to her and makes her think it might not be worth her effort to dine at the Banister Buffet any longer.

On top of that, I really need to make sure that I make any necessary adjustments to the environment so that she has better alternatives. If she needs to spend more time out with me on walks, I can make that available to her to burn some excess energy. If I can modify my schedule so that it’s more predictable and less stressful, I will do that. If she’s bored and likes to chew, I’ll make sure she has some chew toys available. Every time I see her passing up the banister to go get a toy, I’m going to be her biggest cheerleader and make sure she knows how awesome I feel about that. It pays to be a winner is the message I want her to hear loud and clear, and I can communicate that in a number of ways: I can gently tell her “good girl” and pet her; I can ask her to bring me the toy so I can throw it for her or play tug with her; I can also walk over and give her a treat.

So think about how you can apply these principles to fix challenging behaviors you face with your own dog. Does she dash out the back door whenever you open it and nearly take you out in the process? Think about what she could do instead that you would consider a “winning” behavior. What if she waits when the door is opened? How many ways can you think of to make it pay for her to be a winner in this situation?

If she chooses to go bounding out into the back yard without an invitation, what are some things you could put in place to make sure it’s not as fun as she once thought it was? What if you began attaching a leash to her before you open the door so you can prevent her from rushing out? That’s going to be a bummer for her – and it should be, at least until you feel you can trust her to do the right thing again.

Remember: your dog only does things if she thinks there’s sufficient payoff. Once she perceives the mannerly route as rewarding and the disorderly path as riddled with problems, she’ll begin to choose the former.


Content Copyrighted 2014. Brian Bergford. All Rights Reserved.