How To Change Your Dog’s Behavior in 3 Easy Steps

When I begin a new class I always ask my students what their most pressing problems are.  In puppy classes, these are pretty predictable, but in my more advanced classes and my “growly dog” classes there is more variety. Often I find that though I am addressing different problems in these different classes, my advice is essentially the same. It boils down to this:

  • Dogs do what works. If they are repeating the behavior, that behavior is being rewarded in some way. Remove the reward.
  • Train an incompatible behavior. Rather than only telling them what not to do, let’s tell them what they should be doing.
  • Reward good behavior and good choices. And reward them with something that is truly a reward to them.

There are very few problems that cannot be solved using this approach. You may have to look hard at how they are being reinforced, as sometimes that is not obvious to us.

The other two principles are fairly easy to incorporate into any approach.

So whether your problem is jumping up to greet people, or pulling on the leash, keeping these three principles in mind will help you develop a successful plan for dealing with the issue.

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5 Responses to “How To Change Your Dog’s Behavior in 3 Easy Steps”

  1. Amy@GoPetFriendly 15. Nov, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Great points! Sometimes we make things so complicated and we forget that dogs think very simply. If we want to communicate with them we have to think in very small steps.

  2. Ken Perry 16. Nov, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    Once again, good advice for the real world. The trick, I think, is figuring out how you are rewarding the unwanted behavior. We have to remember your other advice that our attention is often the only reward they get, but it still can be a powerful one even when it is negative attention.

  3. Elizabeth Deitz 17. Nov, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    You are right about figuring out how they are being rewarded. Tricky business sometimes and involves getting inside their heads.

  4. Elizabeth Deitz 17. Nov, 2010 at 7:45 am #

    You hit the nail on the head when you said “very small steps.” When I point this out to clients I use the phrase “don’t go for the gold.” In other words, though you know what the final picture should look like, your dog does not. So mark those tiny little incremental steps along the way.


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