Dog owners and trainers alike face behaviors in their beloved four-leggeds that cause them stress. Barking and lunging on leash, bolting out open doors, snatching food from counters, and the list goes on! Dogs do all kinds of dog things that are hard for humans to tolerate. Luckily behavioral science is here to help us build reinforcement histories for behaviors we can live with.
First thing’s first, we have to provide for our dogs’ behavioral needs. If we are neglecting the four critical areas for behavioral wellness; exercise, enrichment, nutrition, and communication, then we will fail to make much progress in the behavior change department.
But if we are taking the best care of our dogs that we can, and we are annoyed by a behavior they exhibit, there are simple steps we can take to help them choose a behavior that will work for them and for us.
Take Ghost’s back door behavior, for instance. She likes to pound at it and whine, and her end goal is to go outside. Understanding what her end goal is matters! We have no right to take away a behavior because all behaviors serve a function. And ethics aside, when we try to eliminate behaviors without considering their function, other problematic behaviors arise. Think of behavior like water; it can be rerouted but it can’t be destroyed, and if always wants to run downhill. So you can give it an alternative path downhill (or, toward that function) or you’ll face all kinds of havoc.
Here’s Ghost’s backdoor behavior before and after I taught her a new way to get me to open the door:
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