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Practicing in a Controlled Environment

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Practice Makes Perfect

Have I ever mentioned that there is no magic wand or pill in dog training?  Managing and correcting dog behavior is all about consequences and rewards.  Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding.   Dogs avoid behaviors that are not rewarding.  Dogs avoid behaviors associated with pleasant things disappearing.

Many common complaints about dog behavior include: jumping up, not coming when called, excessive barking, begging at the table, stealing items, and not releasing items.  These are all normal dog behaviors, it’s just that we humans don’t like them.  The trick to stopping these behaviors is to set ourselves up for success by controlling the environment as much as possible.  For example, we would not teach “leave it” by waiting for the dog to get into antifreeze.  We would not practice recall in the middle of a busy strip mall parking lot.

Here are some ideas for setting up scenarios to practice managing undesirable behaviors

 *The tools:  Have your tools handy to prevent undesirable behavior.  Leashes, fences, and long leashes can help prevent running away and jumping up on people.

* The players:  Everyone involved needs to know the role they play in the scene.  Handlers need to hold on to leashes to prevent jumping.  The “jumpees”  may need to step away.

* The setup:  The environment for the scene needs to be setup so that there are rewards for desirable behavior and that pleasant things go away when undesirable behavior occurs.  Creativity helps in doing the setup.  Once a dog has learned the come cue (usually taught on leash), practicing recall in a boring but safe environment can be effective.  Cue the behavior “come” from a short distance.  If the dog responds, reward generously.  If the dog doesn’t respond, walk away.  The dog will learn that coming when called is usually in his best interest.

* Building the bank account:  With successful practice, your dog will associate good things with desirable behavior.  A dog can be rewarded generously every time he gives up an item, and ignored until he gives it up.  If the environment is controlled, the item to give up will be safe.  Build up the bank account by giving the item back once the dog releases it.  Practicing this behavior will set the dog up for success even when the environment is not in control.  With repeated success in safe environments, the day your dog picks up a sharp object on a walk, your dog will expect that by giving up the item, he will be rewarded generously, and may even get the item back.  With controlled practice sessions, the likelihood of compliance is greatly increased.

Remember that if you have no control over your environment, you will not be successful at controlling your dog’s behavior.


Written by dawnhanna

February 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

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