Stopping Undesirable Behaviours… What DO you want?
Roberta Press, Lead Trainer, CPDT-KA
Clients often ask us the following question: How do I get my dog to stop [fill in the blank]?
This could be “stop jumping on people”, “stop charging and barking at the door when someone knocks”, “stop bugging us at the dinner table”… Go ahead and fill in the blank with whatever naughty behaviour you’d love your dog to stop doing!
Unfortunately this is usually the wrong question.
We need to turn this question around. I often ask, “What would you like your dog to be doing instead?”
If you can’t answer this question, if YOU don’t even know what you’d rather your dog be doing, how can your dog know?
So let’s turn this around. Better questions would be: “How do I teach my dog to sit when being approached by someone for petting?” “How do I train my dog to go lie down in their bed when someone knocks on the door?” or “How do I teach my dog to settle on a mat when we’re eating dinner?”
THIS we can help you with!
Of note, if you decide to punish a naughty behaviour you might get that behaviour to stop, but then your dog will fill in the void with something else… And that something else could be just as undesirable! Good leadership is teaching what you DO want, right from the start!
So here’s a problem I was faced with recently… My younger dog, Ojo (the black one in the photo), loves to explore the world. This is a problem for me because when I let the dogs out of the back of my car in the driveway they are not in an enclosed, safe area. While my neighbours are very nice, it’s really not desirable (or safe!) for my dog to be romping through their yard, barking up their tree at squirrels, or poking around in their garden.
For a while I was simply putting her on a leash to get from the car to the back gate. This is management, not training, and it worked just fine… Except when I had an armload of dog towels and doggy water bottles and my daughter’s viola. So I decided to turn the problem around. What DID I want?
I have now given my dogs a job. Their job, when I release them from the back of my car, is to get to the back gate AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, and wait. It helps that the back gate is at the top of some stairs and surrounded on three sides, providing a visual barrier once my dogs are committed to the action.
I won’t describe how I trained this (although if you’re interested let me know!). But I am pleased to say that I can now release my dogs from the car and they know what they are supposed to do — run to the back gate! And bingo, just like that — no more romps through the neighbour’s yard!
So if you’re frustrated with something your dog is doing, a behaviour that you’d like to STOP, I’d encourage you to try turning the problem around. In most cases the easiest way to stop a behaviour is not actually to stop it at all, but rather to teach your dog to do something else instead!