Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 2

Okay, so on the list I gave you in my last post the first one is not really applicable to dogs.  Dogs don’t act in a passive aggressive way.  I know some people will argue with me.  I myself had a little dog that would pee under my chair every time I sat at my computer.  And when she did, I stopped computing, and took her outside (which she loved) and then cleaned up the mess.

So why did she do it?  Well, what was the result?  A trip outside!  My attention!  She won the jackpot.  So the next time she saw me engrossed in working on the computer and wanted me to refocus, she did what worked:  Peed on the floor under my chair.

So the lesson here is to pay attention to what you are reinforcing.  In order to do that, you must begin to see reinforcement from your dog’s perspective.  Just because you THINK your dog should like something does not mean he does.  And if he doesn’t like something, it is not reinforcing.

Let’s look at what is important to a dog.  First, and most obvious, sustenance.  Most dogs are highly motivated by food, especially stuff like boiled chicken or freeze dried salmon.  With dogs, the stinkier the food, the more they seem to like it.  Food’s an easy one for us to control.  We can very easily give it when they are doing what we like, and withhold it when they do something we don’t like.  Easy.

Attention is also important to your dog.  Your attention is worth a huge premium.  So be careful where you give it, and how you give it.  Dogs don’t always recognize negative attention as negative.  Especially if that’s all they get.  So carefully use your attention when you see a behavior you like, and withhold it (unless it’s dangerous to dog or human) when he does something you don’t like.  I’m talking about more than just praise.  I am talking about a look, a touch, a word.  Anything that tells your dog you are paying attention.

Toys and games are also reinforcing to most dogs.  Find the ones your dogs like, and use them as tools to increase behaviors.  Any behavior you reinforce will increase.  Behaviors that are not reinforced in any way will very likely go away.  Why would the dog waste precious energy on something that achieved nothing?  Dogs are pretty ingenious that way.  They don’t waste energy on things that don’t pay off.

So, summary:  Reinforce stuff you like.  Don’t reinforce stuff you don’t like.  You will see your dog begin to make better choices in his behavior.

About Dawn Gardner, CPDT-KA

I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), an administrator of the Modern Dog Group, and a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). I am also a freelance writer for dog related publications. I have been training dogs since 1997, promoting force-free, science based training methods, instructing group classes and providing private in-home dog training. I have worked extensively with dogs with behavioral issues, including those suffering from anxiety, aggression and other stress related disorders. I have dedicates much of my free time to rehabilitating and re-homing shelter dogs with a variety of rescue organizations. As part of my passion for advocating science based dog training methods, I have had the privilege to lecture at Virginia Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2014 I returned to Arkansas after 12 years in rural North Carolina, where Happy Hound Pet Services began in 2007. I live in Rudy, Arkansas, with my nine dogs and occasional foster dogs.
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