Canine Conversations discusses the tricks dog trainers use to get good behavior from their own dogs – so that you can use them too! Trainers have the benefit of behavior knowledge and perspective on what works and what doesn’t, as well as some “shortcuts” to good behavior. Trainers Ursa Acree, Marissa Martino, and Kayla Fratt discuss their go-to approaches.
#1 SMART x 50
- Catch your dog doing things you like (or even things you can tolerate – it doesn’t have to be perfect behavior)
- Practice this throughout the day, so that good behavior becomes a habit
- Try to notice what your dog does that you want MORE of, instead of focusing only on what you want LESS of.
- Management is preventing unwanted behaviors from occurring by changing the environment so that they are less likely or unable to happen. A good example would be, for a dog that gets in the trash, getting a trash can with a locking lid, or putting the can in the closet.
- While management can feel like a “cop out” it’s actually a smart way to prevent unwanted behaviors from continuing to be reinforced. This allows you to help “break the habit” of the inappropriate behavior while teaching a new one in its place, if desired.
- Management doesn’t always replace training as a long-term solution, but it can! Sometimes, it’s the safest, easiest, and quickest way to ensure a dangerous behavior is never allowed to occur.
- Management helps keep us from setting our dogs up to fail.
- Engagement means keeping your dog interested, engaged, and motivated to interact with you – which makes training much easier.
- Rather than expecting our dogs to love us and pay attention to us “just because,” we spend time providing them with things and activities that keep them coming back for more. This helps us build a relationship that is mutually beneficial, as well as compete with reinforcement coming from the environment.
- As Kayla says, “your treats don’t have to be better than the distraction, but your relationship does.”
#4 Addressing Problem Behaviors
- Rather than seeing a problem behavior and thinking “how can I punish this?” trainers ask, “what would I like my dog to do instead?”
- Management (above) is a crucial part of this – preventing your dog from practicing the problem behavior. But you also have to identify and reinforce an alternative behavior in its place.
- Trainers also tend to see and catch problem behaviors early on, rather than allowing them to become so severe that they are difficult to change.
- If you’re not sure if a behavior may become problematic, ask a trainer for help!
#5 Giving Choices
- Allowing dogs to have control over what happens to them, and even to “opt out” when it’s safe, is important to their emotional well being.
- Good trainers don’t have an “or else” clause in their training. They don’t force a dog to comply “because I said so.”
- In situations where choice is dangerous, we use management rather than coercion to prevent our dogs from making the wrong choice.
- Allowing dogs to choose when and how they interact communicates that we respect their space, and helps reduce the need for the dog to use aggressive signals to get their point across.
Sources and for more reading:
- Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao
- Kayla’s blog post about SMART x 50
- Giving Choices
- When “Avoiding The Problem” Is Okay: The Role Of Management In Dog Training
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, as a private dog trainer, and with working detection K9s. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.