Just QUIT!

Chloe sittingBy definition, positive reinforcement is rewarding a behavior to increase it’s frequency.  So how does a positive reinforcement trainer (R+) address unwanted behavior without resorting to punishment?  It’s easier than you think!

The first thing you have to do is find out what reward the dog is already getting from the unwanted behavior.  Dogs don’t have complicated agendas, so we can often figure this out fairly easily.  For example, if your dog is jumping up on you, it is simply his attempt to get your attention. Dogs, like children, will take negative attention if they can’t get positive attention, so any attention you show to your dog when he is jumping is rewarding the behavior.  Behaviors that are rewarded get stronger, so the behavior gets increasingly worse.

You may have heard other, more devious reasons, for the jumping behavior.  Let me assure you, your dog does not have an agenda, and is not trying to take over the world.  In fact, you (or whomever raised your dog as a pup) may have inadvertently trained your dog to perform this behavior by picking him up whenever he jumped on them.  I mean, who can resist that cute little round ball of clumsy puppy cuteness? He jumps on you, you pick him up and cuddle him.  And then he grows up to be 80 pounds, and the jumping isn’t so much fun anymore. So now how do we make it stop?

The first thing is to take the reward OFF of the unwanted behavior. If your dog jumps on you to get attention, then that is the last thing you want to give him.  Don’t look at him, talk to him, or acknowledge him in any way while his paws are on you. The behavior has just lost it’s reward.

Next (and this is where the positive reinforcement really shines) you teach your dog a new behavior to replace the one you don’t like, and you choose a behavior that is not compatible (cannot be done simultaneously) with the unwanted behavior. For jumping, I typically use sit. Your dog cannot jump and sit at the same time, so if the rewards happen with sit, but don’t happen with jumping, your dog will choose to sit.

Learned behaviors are not unlearned overnight. And like a child who is used to getting his way and is suddenly told “No”, the behavior, like the demands of the child, will get more intense before it goes away.  Don’t give in.  Be consistent, and you will find that your dog walks up to you and sits in front of you, asking politely for your attention.

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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