stop rewarding unwanted behavior

Living harmoniously with our animals is our ultimate objective. Setting your dog up to succeed rather than fail will help avoid undesirable behavior before it gets out of hand or even starts.

Have you ever been caught off guard when your dog jumps up on another person or almost pulls you off your feet to greet another canine? This behavior is nothing short of annoying.

Let’s analyze a couple of scenarios. You might be in a busy park with lots of people, pooches, and food smells around. Not recognizing that Sparky is focused on another dog or is about to spring up for what he thinks is a friendly greeting from an approaching person, you find yourself taken by surprise and being reactive to the situation. As you pull Sparky away, you abashedly apologize for the fresh paw prints that have been added to the other person’s shirt.

Later, you might ready to sink your teeth into a slice of juicy pizza when your dogs thinks, “Hmm, that should be shared with me.” Noticing that you may lose your dinner to your dog, you command him to “lie down”. When he responds by standing there staring, you repeat “lie down!” with intensifying volume. Now he’s looking at you as if you are from Mars. “Lie down!” you shout. He licks his lips, and with an apologetic expression finally obeys. “That dog has selective hearing,” you grumble. In actual fact, you just taught him that “lie down” must be said three times and in an escalated tone of voice before he obeys.

Setting your dog up to succeed is paramount to a successful relationship, where you speak and the dog obeys. Being proactive and aware of your dog’s potential behavior is part of the solution. Here are a couple of tips to help prevent you from inadvertently rewarding unwanted behavior, and to ensure that you always remain the leader in any situation.

1. Since touch can be a powerful positive reinforcer, you don’t want to correct jumping up behavior by pushing your dog off. This reaction actually provides two positive rewards: one when his paws touch you, and the second when you use your hands to remove him.
2. As an alternative, teach him to sit and look at you while being approached. Teaching your dog the “eye-contact game” is a great way to establish leadership and get him to pay attention when there are other diversions around, like other dogs and people. Practicing with friends who understand your goal will help. This exercise can precede each command like “off” or “leave it”, especially in a distracting environment, and can be achieved by first showing your dog that you have a treat. Say his name, then the command “look”, and hold the treat up between your eyebrows. Then say “good” and give him the treat. Gradually increase the time between eye contact and saying the word “good”. Ask your friend to stop her approach immediately if the dog moves. Replace him in a sit, continue the eye contact game, and have her start her approach for a second time. Before you know it, your dog will be able to look at you for a whole minute.