Thursday, June 15, 2017

Do you know what you are rewarding or reinforcing?

Do you pay attention to how and when you interact with your dog all (ALL) of the time? For example, when you are letting them out for their morning pee do you just open the door and let them go? Then you probably are not aware of how your actions and reactions affect the behavior of the dog. In the above example, if you allow the dog to charge out the door every day then why would they not think that is okay when you open the front door and visitors arrive? Being observant and setting criteria for behavior that matters to you through reward and reinforcement will help with a cohesive relationship full of understanding and good manners.

Here are some examples on how you may be reinforcing your dog and not even aware of it:

Attention is a VERY strong reinforcement.  Much behavior gets created and maintained by attention alone.  For example leash biting.  The more you tell your dog to stop biting the leash the more you are interacting with your dog, therefore, the more you are reinforcing the behavior (read: vicious circle).  Jumping, the more you push your dog down the more you are rewarding them for jumping.  Getting too far away off leash (ranging), the more you call your dog back for going too far the further he will go so you will call him back.

I see this a lot when it comes to being able to catch your dog.  The dog is off leash and the owner goes to catch the dog and the dog keeps backing up (and moving away).  Owner reaches into their pocket pulls out a cookie and the dog allows himself to be caught (huh!?!). Think about it? What did the dog learn from this interaction?
Another situation I see is the owner asks the dog to sit; the dog stands there and looks at them without sitting (you know this look well don’t you? I sure do!).  Owner reaches into their pocket and pulls out a cookie and the cues the sit, the dog sits (again I say “huh!?!”).  What rewarded the behavior in this situation?

In both of these situations, the owner reaching for a cookie is what is rewarding the behavior, not what you asked of them.

The Environment
The environment rewards our dogs all the time. For example, dogs pulling on the leash. The dog quickly learns when I want to see something I just pull towards it and I can get to it.  By allowing the dog to pull you forward you are rewarding the behavior.

So how do you solve this problem?
Well first, you need to pay attention to your dog, your surroundings and yourself and actually SEE what is being reinforced and rewarded in the situation? Observation and self-awareness are the keys to managing situations that you don’t want to happen. In our first example of letting the dog out to pee, if every time you go to a door you ask your dog for a ‘sit’ and release them outside with a release word (Okay, break, free etc.) would this solve your problems at the front door as well?

Shake-a-Paw Basic Manner Classes and Private in home consultations help you become an observant and self-aware dog owner. If there are some nasty behaviors or just little things that drive you crazy, then reach out to us. We would love to help!

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