‘To Do or Not To Do, That is the Question’

Am I right in thinking that trainers are mostly called upon when people want their dogs to learn to DO things – to sit, stay, come, learn manners and so on?

It seems people like myself who call themselves behaviour practitioners are asked for help mainly when people want their dogs NOT TO DO things – not to bark, not to jump up, not to run off, not to bite and so on.

barking dogIt can be a challenge initially because people who want their dogs NOT TO DO something often can see no other way than by discipline, ‘obedience’ and control.

There are three ways I can think of to approach ‘DO’ (there may be more including working on the emotion that’s driving the behaviour):

• Substitute an alternative behaviour incompatible with the unwanted behaviour (MEB – Mutually Exclusive Behaviour, dog can’t sit and jump up at the same time; DRI – Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behaviour, ‘do this instead of that’).

For instance, instead of jumping up, ‘Sit’ gets the greeting. The dog can’t sit at the same time as jumping up. (DO sit instead of DO NOT jump up)

• Wait for, capture and reward the absence of the unwanted behaviour – for instance, flying all over the place is ignored and moments of stillness are marked and rewarded. (DO be still instead of DO NOT fly all over the place)

• Put the unwanted behaviour itself on cue so that the opposite can also be cued – for instance teaching a noisy dog to bark and then silence can be put on cue. (DO be quiet instead of DO NOT bark).

Here is my story of a little dog I’ve just been to where we were teaching him to be silent by marking and rewarding him for brief moments of not barking at times when he usually would be making a noise. His owners had tried the ‘Not To Do’ approach with shouting, smacking and a Citronella collar, so now we are working on the ‘To Do’.

I can’t think of any way to get a dog to NOT TO DO doing something other than by using punishment of some sort.

I know all this is obvious to most people reading this. Just thinking……….

Oh, and if ‘To Do or Not To Do’ is the Question, ‘To Do’ is the Answer of course.

About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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1 Response to ‘To Do or Not To Do, That is the Question’

  1. odinmylove says:

    I always like to say, “you don’t have a singular problem, you don’t have a dog that jumps on guests, rather you have a dog that lacks impulse control. Teach them other ways to behave and the “problem” behavior will cease or at the very least be less prevalent.”
    I too find that most people seek me out when they want behaviors to stop and this is what I tell them…instead of teaching my Doberman to not jump on guests or on me, I taught her how to jump rope. I gave her an appropriate outlet for her behavior. Once I did that she never jumped on people again, she learned to wait for the jump rope to come out.
    Will that work for every dog? Surely not but it is good to consider that we can take nuisance behaviors and turn them into practical everyday behaviors, or into fun tricks that are real crowd pleasures. Instead of worrying about keeping your dogs mouth off everything, teach them to retrieve items for you and the list can go on and on.
    I find that really my job as a dog trainer is to motivate people and open their minds to creativity.


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