What’s Working for Your Dog?

If there’s one thing you should know about dogs, it’s that dogs do what works for them. If you want your dog to stop doing an undesirable behavior, the behavior needs to stop working for the dog. If you want your dog to do more of a behavior, you should make sure it works (produces really good things) for that dog. [Managing/controlling the environment is how we prevent a behavior from working. For example, dogs who counter surf have learned that every so often, it works BIG time, like that one time you accidentally left a chunk of meat on the counter. How can we stop the behavior of counter surfing from working? Block access to the counters, remove any and all food from the counter and surrounding areas, and possibly, train the dog he needs to be on his mat in a down/stay if he’s to be in the kitchen. Notice we set up the environment to help the dog succeed before considering training.]

Sound simple? Well, there’s a little more to it than that. But, understanding this fact will make your training journey much smoother!

Just like any living organism, dogs are most concerned about themselves; their safety, their next meal, and their comfort. Dogs behave to produce consequences, like keeping themselves safe (“Ok, I’ll stop barking if you stop jerking my leash!”) or to acquire something good (“You mean if I stop barking, you’ll give me attention? Nice!”). They don’t understand right from wrong, they understand safe vs. dangerous, or works vs. doesn’t work.

We should take full advantage of this when training dogs! No need to exploit their innate desire for safety (plenty of trainers still use methods that prey on the dog’s need to be safe and avoid fear, pain, or discomfort. We strongly recommend avoiding these trainers and choosing force-free, rewards-based trainers). Instead, you can use the fact that dogs seek out food, play, and attention, and make the behaviors you like work to produce these good things for the dog.

Here’s Mark working our first step of the Dog T.I.P. Streamlined Kennel Protocol.
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Shelter dogs learn quickly that jumping and barking at the front of the kennel works to get attention, or to get people to come into the kennel. These behaviors might dissuade potential adopters, so we want to teach dogs more acceptable attention getting behaviors, like standing or sitting nicely at the front of the kennel and offering eye contact (something humans really love!).

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Jumping simply did not work for this dog, and when she offered a different behavior, Mark’s quick clicking and treat delivery taught her that sitting is much more reinforcing than jumping.

As I mentioned, dog training is more complex than this. However, knowing that dogs do what works for them, that they don’t understand right from wrong, and that they aren’t being spiteful, stubborn, or the “alpha dog,” will help strengthen the relationship with your own dog.

Are the behaviors you want your dog to do more of working for your dog? Are you ensuring your dog is properly rewarded for doing the behaviors you like? Make the behaviors you want worth it for your dog!

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