If you haven’t read the previous blog, I highly recommend going back and reading that one first. This blog will make a lot more sense!
By this time you’ve made sure that your dog is healthy and their needs are being met both physically and mentally. Next up is managing your dog and their environment.
Management will help you reach your goals faster. If your dog doesn’t have the opportunity to practice the unwanted behavior, that behavior is no longer reinforced. Meanwhile, in the next steps, you’ll be building up a reinforcement history for alternative behaviors and healthier coping skills.
This step is all about setting your dog up for success. If your dog barks at people knocking on the door, placing a sign on the door saying “please don’t knock” can prevent the behavior while you work through it with your dog in controlled sessions. If your dog lunges and barks at people on walks, try moving behind any barriers you can find and toss treats on the ground for your dog to eat. There are tons of management opportunities out there regardless of what problem behavior you’re experiencing. I’d be happy to help you brainstorm what will work for you and your dog.
Alternative Behavior Options
Before training can start, a clear training plan needs to be in place. If you don’t know what you’re going to train, your communication will suffer. Unclear communication leads to frustration and stress, which neither of you want!
So how does this work?
First, think about what the function of your dog’s current behavior is. I briefly mentioned this when talking about their mental health and enrichment. Are they attempting to access a resource they want (like attention or a dog or human)? Are they trying to get a trigger to go away? The function of your dog’s behavior will lead your training plan. When you brainstorm alternative behavior options, keep that function in mind and make sure you are including it.
Second, consider your dog’s mental well-being and ability to cope with their triggers. This also goes back to that function. If they are trying to get the trigger to go away, your training plan should involve giving them that space and showing them a healthier way to communicate that need to you. If they are trying to access a resource, what behavior can they offer instead that will gain them access?
Always keep in mind where their head is at and meet them there. For example, if I’m working with a jumpy greeter who has excess energy, I don’t ask them to sit to greet. Doing so builds frustration and tension, which can lead to an energy explosion and/or negative fallout. Instead, consider an incompatible behavior involving movement. My go to is having them swing into a heel position next to the person they want to greet. I’ll be making a separate post on this.
The foundations have been laid, so now it is time to train! Consider your short term and long term goals as you prep your weekly and daily training plans.
When entering a training session, make sure that you have a detailed plan laid out.
What are you going to be working on? I try to choose one exercise or game per session and focus on that.
How long are you going to train? I recommend setting a timer when you start to make sure you are setting your dog up for success and not pushing them over their threshold.
What is your criteria? Be as specific as you can here. I’ll use the On/Off Switch game from Control Unleashed in this example. Instead of saying “my dog sits every time we stop playing”, try “my dog sits within 10 seconds of the play stopping 9/10 times after 10 seconds of play.” The more detailed and clear you are with your criteria going into the session, the less frustrated you and your dog will be coming out of the session.
Always set your dog up for success and end on a positive!
Do you need support with your dog’s problem behaviors? You have options! I offer private lessons and a community designed to give you as much care and support as you need. I also have a self-paced workshop called Chaotic to Calm that focuses on problem behaviors when you’re out and about.