“How Do I Change My Dog’s Behavior?”

That is what training is, isn’t it? Effecting change on behavior. But what actually motivates your dog enough to make a change? Change is hard for everyone, even your dog or maybe especially your dog.

I would like to believe that my dogs would change because they love and adore me and want to please me. However, if I look at it this way I am uncomfortable with the obverse.  If  my dog doesn’t change his behavior  to please me then does he not love me? Is he being stubborn? Is he being willful? Is he stupid? A more fruitful approach is to know that change occurs because of consequences. The consequence may be a treat or toy, or a privilege. It also may be that I turn my back to him and walk away. Either approach will effect a change but the most rapid change will be a combination. Behavior that is rewarded is repeated and behavior that is not rewarded will tend to fade.

Consequences are what drives change. Though we never can truly know why a dog is being obedient we can make some pretty good guesses based on the method used. If physical aversives are used (choke chains, pinch collar, alpha rolls, etc.,) it is safe to assume that the motivation is the avoidance of aversives. Although I am not willing to concede that change is likely to ensue just because my dog loves me, I am also not willing to effect change as a consequence of avoiding pain and fear.  So what motivates your dog?

Your Dog’s Currency

You can divide these into two categories – the 2 P’s and the 2 T’s.

The first group consists of privileges and praise and the second, treats and toys. You can think of these as your dog’s “currency.” Reserve those high dollar rewards for those behaviors that are the most challenging. Even if your dog finds one of these as highly rewarding, there is no guarantee that he always will.  For instance, after a long walk in the park, he may not find a game of tug of war very interesting. Just as on the international currency exchange, exchange rates are fluid.

The “treats and toys” category is fairly obvious. But what about praise and privileges? These are often overlooked but deserve to be added to your currency list.

Praise and Privileges

  • Physical affection
  • Your attention
  • Wrestling
  • Rough-housing
  • Playing off-leash with a pal
  • Going into or coming out of the house
  • Car rides
  • Verbal praise

With praises and privileges it is especially important to let your dog be the guide as the rewards may not be as obvious as treats.  For instance, many dogs cringe when we pat them on the head and very few actually seem to enjoy it.  A more likely physical reward might be a scratch behind the ears or a tummy rub. Likewise, an older dog may be past the stage where they really enjoy a wrestling match, though this may be a strong motivator for a rambunctious puppy

Related Posts

Top Training Treats

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to ““How Do I Change My Dog’s Behavior?””

  1. Donna 26. Mar, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    Just ran across this blog when I was reading about fearful dogs. Its excellent and lead me to believe that with time and slow baby steps I’ll make progress.

  2. Elizabeth Deitz 28. Mar, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    Hi Donna-
    Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked it. Working with fearful dogs can require an enormous amount of patience. You rarely see huge leaps forward. I think of beautiful caterpillars when I am working with fearful dogs. They are beautiful to watch, but forward slowly. Sometimes it is hard to see and appreciate the changed they make. You have to look very closely!

Leave a Reply

Current day month ye@r *