Tag Archive for: training

a black and white cocker spaniel relaxing on a brown couch

How Do I Get My Dog to Stop…?

We often get emails and phone calls with questions that start: “How do I get my dog to stop __________?”

Insert unwanted behavior:  Jumping. Nipping. Counter surfing. Pulling on leash.

The Golden Rule of Behavior

Here’s what you need to know:  A dog will only do things that they find reinforcing.

When your dog is engaging in a behavior, ask yourself:

“What is my dog getting out of this behavior?”

If you can identify the reinforcement and remove it, you have removed your dog’s reason to do that behavior.

A Real World Example

Meet Titania. She’s an 8(ish) year old cocker spaniel I adopted from OBG Cocker Spaniel Rescue in 2011.

a black and white cocker spaniel relaxing on a brown couch

Her favorite spot in the world is on the back cushion of the sofa.

Black and white cocker spaniel perched on the back cushion of a couch, looking out a window


This was fine with our old sofa. However, our new sofa has a much higher back, which makes it unsafe for her to be jumping up and down to get to her favorite spot. Titania has some slightly herniated discs in her back and her physical therapist confirmed at her last appointment that we needed to prevent her from jumping up to the back of the couch from now on.

Where’s the reinforcement?

Question: Why did Titania like to perch on the back of the sofa? What is rewarding to her for the behavior?

Answer: It was because she could watch the world go by through the window. (The clings are semi-see-thru.)

Remove the reinforcement

I bought two science fair style pieces of cardboard from the local craft store and put them up in the window.

the author sitting on the couch pointing up at the window which is covered with a posterboard

Now, it ain’t pretty. We’re not going to be on HGTV anytime soon with this setup. (I had considered curtains but Titania is the type who would just nose her way under or around them.)

Reinforcement (the view outside) has been removed.

Witness: the new behavior!

Black and white cocker spaniel asleep in a gray and beige tufted dog bed on the floor

Suddenly — as if by magic! — the dog bed on the floor is her new favorite place to chill out. I can make the dog bed even more reinforcing by giving her treats there. (But it’s already really comfortable, so that’s a good start!)

Now you try!

Think of a behavior you’d like your dog to stop doing.

Identify what the dog gets out of the behavior. (Food? Attention? Entertainment?)

Remove the reinforcement. (Put the food out of his reach. Ignore him when he jumps on you. Cover the window.)

…and step 2: REWARD the behavior you like. (Treats for good behavior. Pay, pay, pay your dog!)

Let us know what happens!

Bribes vs Rewards

by Nancy Tucker (“The Normal Dog” Blog – March 22, 2011)

Every single time I walk with Woody, I bring along a treat pouch with a mishmash of various goodies. Maybe some kibble, maybe some dried liver, maybe some cheese, maybe some apple chunks, or maybe some of Woody’s favorite Zukes.

Recently, someone remarked, “What? You STILL need to carry treats for your dog??”

Well, no. Of course I don’t need to. But why on earth wouldn’t I? During our walks, I can come across plenty of perfect opportunities to toss him a reward to let him know he’s done something I liked.

Like the day we came face-to-face with someone walking a dog who clearly didn’t want Woody to approach him. What did Woody do when he saw the dog? Well, in the past, he would have taken off like a bullet towards the dog, with me skidding behind him on my heels like a cartoon character. But this day, Woody paused and turned towards me. Yesssssssssss! Good boy! Here’s a treat. Here’s another! Here are three more on the ground… Find it! Find it!

By the time Woody looked up again, the other dog had passed, and we went on our merry way. In those few seconds of activity, I reinforced a behavior in my dog that originally took me a very long time to instill. It cost me precisely 5 treats. Yay for Woody! In return, I have a dog who is much more likely to repeat this behavior the next time we come across a similar situation. Yay for me!

“But isn’t he only doing it because you have treats?”… Well, no. He did it because there was the
possibility of treats. I did not promise a treat beforehand by waving it in front of Woody and saying, “Here Woody! Look what I have! This way.. this way! Woooooo-dy! Look at me! Look at me! Want some cheese? Woody? Woody? WOODY?!! Want some liver? Here Woody! Over here! Cookie? Cooooooookieeeeeeee??”… in a desperate attempt to win his attention.

Instead, because I had tossed him a treat in the past whenever another dog was in the vicinity, Woody quickly calculated the odds of getting a treat on this particular occasion. He saw the dog, then took a gamble and glanced at me. “Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!!!” Jackpot! Glancing at me is exactly what I want him to do. To let him know, I reward him. Woody has now figured out that offering this behavior works out very well for him indeed. By rewarding him, I’ve just made this behavior stronger and more likely to happen again. Everyone wins.

With a bribe, the promise of payment comes before the behavior is executed. With a reward, the behavior comes first. I waited for Woody to offer me the behavior I was looking for, and when I got it, I rewarded him.

I see nothing wrong with snatching up random opportunities like this to let your dog know he’s doing something right. I assure you, you’re not “spoiling” him. On some walks, Woody might get three treats. On others, he might get ten. And still on others, he might get none! Thanks to this unpredictable treat schedule, I’ve successfully turned Woody into a gambling addict, which in turn makes him a very well-behaved dog.

Well… most of the time…. ;)

Nancy Tucker’s blogs: http://thenormaldog.blogspot.ca

Nancy Tucker’s web site: http://nancytucker.ca

Three Items to Keep Your Fearful Dog Safe

rexprogressHow many times have you seen a LOST DOG poster (or post on Facebook) that says, “SHY, DO NOT CHASE” or something similar?

If you’ve adopted a shy or fearful dog, there are many things you can do to prevent this situation from happening. It all starts with the right equipment.

Tagg GPS collar attachment

If you only do one thing for your fearful dog, buy him or her a Tagg and activate it. A Tagg collar is $99 and has a monthly fee of $9.95. Compared to the price of a professional dog tracker — $100 an hour! — the Tagg is a bargain.

  • Set your home zone. (You can change it if you go on vacation, to grandma’s house, etc.)
  • Tagg will notify you immediately by text and/or email if your dog leaves your home zone.
  • You can track your dog using the Tagg app.
  • Tagg also tracks activity. Even if your dog is just lounging at home you can get an idea of how active he is when you are out.

Buy your Tagg at smile.amazon.com (select Your Dog’s Friend as your charity of choice!) and we will receive a small donation.

Two Points of Contact

When out on a walk, a fearful dog can slip a collar or harness in an instant. While it may seem like overkill, it pays to have two points of contact with your dog.

For example:

  • One leash is attached to the collar.
  • A second leash is attached to a harness.

There is no way the dog could slip out of both, so you have backup in case of an emergency. In our Reactive Dog Class, all dogs are double-leashed for security.

For even more security, you could clip one leash to your belt loop with a carabiner or wear an extra long leash around your waist (look for jogging leashes on Amazon).

…the third item is not a thing, but a question.

Is Your Dog Ready for Walks?

This is a crucial question when you have a fearful dog. Rex, pictured at the top of this article, has been in his foster home for 3 months and is still too scared to be in the fenced yard. He is paper trained like a puppy.  While it is more work as far as cleanup, it enables Rex to feel safe and he is quickly progressing in his confidence.

There are many ways to exercise a fearful dog that do not involve being out in the big, scary world. Toy-motivated dogs can play fetch in the house. You can stuff a Kong with pureed pumpkin, freeze it, and let them work at licking it clean. Basic training (Touch, Sit, Down, etc) is mentally stimulating and will tucker out a pup.

Walks are wonderful, but if your dog is fearful and a flight risk, they can wait.

Join the Community

Trainer Debbie Jacobs has a wonderful community of fearful dog owners and foster parents on Facebook. You can feel safe there because everyone there is in the same boat. Everyone loves a fearful dog (or more than one!) and will help you with your questions and cheer for you when you have a breakthrough.