Does your dog dig holes in the back yard? Does he inappropriately greet people by jumping up on them? Have you ever been on a casual walk with your mutt and when you least expect it, you’re taken off of your feet in the opposite direction? These and many other undesirable behaviors are very easy to fix. All you need is a good motivator/reward for your dog, patience, and consistency.
The very first step in training your dog to stop pulling on leash, jumping, digging, barking, etc is to know your dog. What motivates him the best and most consistently? Does he love food? Use treats. Does he love to play ball all day? Use a tennis ball. Keep in mind that if what you plan to use is too high value that your dog can’t focus on the direction that you are trying to give him then you may need to use something of lesser value. Did you try to use hot dogs, but your dog couldn’t focus? Try using his kibble as a treat instead of putting it in his bowl at meal time. Did you try using a toy with a squeaker, but it was just too exciting? Try something a little less stimulating that your dog also will work for. Once you have decided on the best reward for your dog, you can move onto the next step.
In order to curb problem behaviors it is best if your dog already has the basics under his belt. Sit, down, stay, and a solid recall are all very important behaviors that every dog should know. These fundamental commands can all potentially save your dog’s life in a sticky situation. Here, we will discuss how to use these commands to alter problem behaviors that your dog may practice regularly. The first step is to decide on an alternative behavior for your dog. If your dog jumps on people while greeting, the obvious alternative is to have your dog sit politely. The main ingredient here will be prevention. Many dogs practice undesirable behaviors because they have been inadvertently reinforced for jumping, barking, etc. What is your reaction when your dog jumps up? Do you push or pull him off? To your dog, that is reinforcement. Your job to change this behavior is to prevent your dog from practicing it at all. Using your previously chosen reward, get your dog’s attention and have him sit. Reward him for this. Only once your dog is sitting will you allow people to greet him. If he gets up-start over. If you have to body block him to prevent him from jumping up-do it. Body blocking is where you place your body in front of your dog to gain his attention back and to interrupt the behavior that you are attempting to change. You aren’t touching your dog, you are only using the pressure of your body, like a border collie does while herding sheep, to move him.
Consistency will be key. Dogs do what works for them. So, if jumping up on people stops working and they are not getting attention or reinforcement of any kind for it, the behavior will eventually extinguish. Are you wondering how to translate this to other problematic behaviors? It’s simple. Choose an alternative behavior and reinforce only that. Don’t falter, because if you allow your dog to jump just once or inadvertently reward the behavior that you are attempting to remove from your dog’s repertoire, he will try it again. Many times to have success you will need to change the environment as well.
Setting up and managing your environment so that your dog is unable to jump, dig, bark, chew may be necessary for you and your dog to continue to succeed. Give them an appropriate place to dig, and reinforce them for using that area. An easy way to accomplish this would be to bury treats in a sand box. Your dog will naturally want to forage there, because he will be reinforced for it. If your dog chews your valued items, put up items that you don’t want destroyed. Make sure to replace those items with appropriate toys. Ignore barking and reinforce when your dog is calm and quiet. Dogs thrive on routine and structure. With patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement there is nothing that you and your dog can’t do.