Behavior Modification

All training is “behavior modification”. There is no difference between “behavior modification” and “obedience”. In all cases, we are trying to make a behavior happen (or not happen) predictably. In order to do that, we need to examine why dogs act, and what tools we have to alter those actions.

It’s important that we understand that we cannot “make” the dog do anything. We can as long as there is a leash on them, but if we can always control their behavior, there would be no need to them to learn to control themselves. Our goal is always to be working toward off leash reliability, meaning that the dog does the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do, not because we had to bribe them or make them do it. Getting there is a process, and it takes time, patience, practice, and maintenance.

Why Does My Dog Do That?

Our dogs act in order to:

  • Make something good happen.

  • Make something bad stop.

In our training, we use BOTH of these motivations because:

  • If we only use rewards (something inductive/appealing) then the dog chooses what to do and when to do it.

  • If we only use pressure (something compulsive/forcing) then the dog only works when they know you can make them.

So in our training, we will draw (pull) behavior out of the dog using rewards. And we will force (push) the dog to do the right thing using pressure. All along the way, we are trying to help the dog understand that we want them to have the reward they want, and we will teach them how to get that reward.

Three Keys To Dog Training

We utilize the following tactics to create and maintain new behavior until it becomes habit.

Motivation

The consequence that your dog experiences for doing or not doing what you ask must be meaningful as proven to you by your dog's desire to repeat or avoid that response in the future. We are either building "ignition" or "inhibition" at all times. These things must be tangible until the dog has formed a habit.

Timing

In order for your dog to connect their action to a consequence, the consequence must (at least initially) happen at the same time, or immediately after their action. Because it's sometimes difficult to time consequences that well, we use "markers" or words/sounds that can we can time more perfectly.

Consistency

In order for your dog to be able to recognize the pattern between their actions and the consequences of those actions, the pattern must be consistent. Predictable outcomes create predictable behavior. Inconsistent outcomes create inconsistent behavior, and confusion.

Environment: The “Fourth Key” To Dog Training

If there is a fourth “key” to dog training, it is controlling the environment. If we put distractions in front of the dog that are too strong, too soon, then the dog won’t be able to process the lesson we are trying to teach them. We would say that dog, in that scenario, is “over threshold”. We can help keep the dog under threshold by adjusting the following dynamics:

  • Distance: move the dog further away from something distracting

  • Duration: limit the amount of time the dog is exposed to the distraction

  • Degree of Difficulty: lower the intensity of the distraction

Alternatively, as your dog becomes more skillful, you can increase these dynamics to increase the challenge. Generally speaking, we try to increase only one dynamic at a time.

How To Create Behavior

  1. Be very specific about what “it” is you want.

  2. Your dog has to do "it" before you can name "it".

  3. Name it only when you would be willing to bet money that “it” will happen.

  4. Reward your dog for doing “it” when you ask, and pressure if they won't do “it” voluntarily.

How To Stop Behavior

  1. Identify the behavior, specifically.

  2. Administer a consequence that the dog finds intolerable.

  3. Make sure the consequence is inevitable. It happens every time the behavior happens.

  4. Make sure the consequence is inescapable. There is no way the dog can avoid the consequence after the behavior happens.

Use It Or Lose It

Just because your dog knows how to do something, or knows not to do something, doesn't mean they will always behave appropriately. You have to regularly require them to use learned skills, and remind them of things they are not allowed to do. This should be considered "regular maintenance", no different than having to put gas in your car, put air in the tires, and change the oil from time to time. The stronger your foundation, the less maintenance you'll need. The more severe issues your dog comes into training with, the more likely they will require intensive maintenance. Finally, every time you fail to follow the concepts on this page, you are un-training your dog, and you can’t blame them for that!

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