TIP #1: EASY AS ABC
Every behavior follows this pattern: something prompts a behavior (the antecedent), the behavior happens, then there is a consequence (positive or negative) to the behavior.
In a training environment, some examples of antecedents are a food lure, a physical prompt, a verbal cue, or a hand signal that causes the behavior to occur. Then you have the behavior (the Sit or Down or Come), followed by the consequence of that behavior (food reward or life reward or other reinforcer). While the antecedent helped the behavior to happen, it’s the consequence of the behavior that will affect the dog positively or negatively and cause the behavior to increase or decrease.
Behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated, even if they’re unwanted behaviors. Remember to think about training from the dog’s perspective. What’s in it for the dog? Will the consequence be more likely increase or decrease the behavior? Keeping the consequence in mind is a great way to think of solutions for solving unwanted behaviors. If your dog is counter surfing, what’s in it for the dog? You left a sandwich on the counter (antecedent), the dog jumped up on the counter and ate the sandwich (behavior), and the dog filled his belly (consequence). Because the dog surely enjoyed the sandwich, the behavior of jumping up on the counter is more likely to increase because it was reinforced.
By recognizing and controlling the antecedent and/or the consequence you can change your dog's behavior.
TIP #2: WHY IS HE BARKING NOW?
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons.
1) Watchdog Barking serves the dual purpose of alerting other pack members that there is an intruder or change in the environment and warning the intruder that they have been noticed. Dogs bark much more than their ancestors, wolves, who hardly ever bark. In domesticating them, we have selected for more barking. The predisposition to watch-dog bark varies among breeds and individuals. The modifying principles are the same, though, whether you're trying to coax a little more barking out of a couch potato Newfoundland or tone down barking in a hair-trigger German Shepard or miniature schnauzer.
2) Request Barking starts off as a behavioral experiment by the dog, kind of a "let's see what this produces." Typical requests include opening doors, handouts from your plate, invitations to play, and being let out of a crate or confinement area. This behavior is a problem not because the dog tries out the experiment but because the experiment usually succeeds: the owner reinforces the barking by granting the request and a habit is born. Dogs zero in on whatever strategy works.
3) Spooky Barking occurs when the dog is fearful or uncomfortable about something in the environment. It's the dog's way of saying: "Back off - don't come any closer." This is much more serious than garden variety watchdog barking because the dog in question is advertising that he is afraid and therefore potentially dangerous if approached.
4) Boredom Barking can result when the dog's daily needs for exercise and social and mental stimulation aren't met. The dog barks compulsively. This is very much like pacing back and forth, tail-chasing or self-mutilation. Chained dogs and dogs left outdoors in yards are at high risk.
When you know why your dog is barking (the antecedent) you can take the proper steps to change the behavior.
- excerpted from The Culture Clash
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, CTDI