Often we accidently train our dogs to do things that we didn’t really want them to. This is generally caused by our lack of knowledge and understanding of how dogs learn and the basic principle of the way behaviours in our dogs are reinforced. Some simple examples are jumping up on people, begging for food and whining for attention. If this sounds familiar, all is not lost and it is possible to eliminate the undesirable. However be warned, it will take patience and commitment to the task in order to be successful.
If you are trying to eliminate annoying behaviours such as begging then a method known as “extinction training” is a useful technique. Extinction training basically means that if you ignore it, it will go away. Begging (commonly performed by your dog while you’re consuming your dinner) is often started by a member of the family innocently giving the family dog a left over piece of food from their plate. In a very short period of time the dog learns to sit by you at every meal time expecting to receive a treat.
The basic concept is that once you commit to ignoring your dog while he’s begging for food he will eventually give up and go away. This is often dependant on how long the feeding at the table has been going on. However one of the most important aspects to be aware of while using extinction training is that an “extinction burst” can often occur during the process. Even though the dog appears to have initially given up they may reappear with whining and even barking in an attempt to get their way. If you give in and reward the dog when this happens you will find that the behaviour is made worse as all you’ve effectively done is taught your dog that if at first he doesn’t succeed, keep on trying! So the moral of the story is stay strong and above all, be patient.
Another way to fix unwanted behaviours is to replace them with something more suitable. A classic example is changing jumping up on people to sitting and waiting nicely for a pat. Jumping up is very easy to inadvertently reward. It normally starts when your dog is a puppy. Puppies get over excited and jump up and are then immediately rewarded by the attention that you give. No one minds a cute puppy jumping all over them. However when puppy grows up it can become annoying and unpleasant, especially if puppy has grown into a big dog.
To discourage jumping up, when the dog goes to do so, simply turn you back to them. This way the dog gets no reinforcement from you. Remember that reinforcement to your dog can be as simple as you telling them to get down. Once the dog has stopped jumping up immediately turn back to face him and reinforce with a tasty treat while all four of your dog’s paws are on the ground. If the dog goes to jump up again when you turn to face them, turn your back on them again until the jumping up stops. Make sure you reward the dog only when that happens.
Once again, consistency is the key. Every time you forget or someone else in your house forgets and rewards the dog for jumping up you are making it very hard for the dog to understand that you want him to stop doing it. Make sure if you decide to try one of the above techniques that everyone in your house is committed to achieving the end result no matter how long it may take.