TIP #1: ASK YOURSELF "WHY?"
If your dog is exhibiting some behavior you don't want, you may have wondered, "Why is he doing it?" Does he not love you? Is he trying to dominate you? If he knows you don't like whatever it is he is doing, then why does he keep doing it? Is he not your best friend, after all? I think the answer is that he behaves the way he does simply because he has some need that the behavior helps him meet. He may not even find the behavior particularly fun to do, as is the case with most reactivity. But your dog has learned that behavior is a way to get what he wants or needs.
Think creatively about what your dog gets as a result of doing a problem behavior (whatever he's doing that you want to change). In other words, what is the functional reward for his behavior? Think of the functional reward as a "real life" consequence that reinforces the problem behavior. Has your dog learned that barking at strangers makes them move away? The fact that the person moves away creates safety in the dog's mind by putting distance between him and a stranger. That is the functional reward for his barking.
Once you know the functional reward(s) for your dog's problem behavior, the next step is to find other behaviors you can encourage your dog to do that can reasonably lead to that same reward. For example, you can reward your dog's choice to turn his head away from approaching strangers instead of barking at them. That would make looking away a replacement behavior for the problem behavior of barking. Sniffing the ground, yawning, sitting, or looking at you are also appropriate possible replacement behaviors for reactivity. Reinforce the replacement behavior(s) by using the same functional reward that your dog earned from doing the problem behavior. For example, when he looks away (a replacement behavior), happily walk your dog away from the stranger, thereby increasing the distance between dog and stranger (the functional reward). That's the core concept of Functional Analysis - using the functional reward of the problem behavior to pay for more appropriate behaviors. The functional reward concept can be applied to just about any problem behavior. Behavioral Adjustment Training is a way to apply the scientific concept of Functional Analysis to reactivity problems: use the functional reward of reactivity to pay for more appropriate social behaviors.
- Excerpted from Behavior Adjustment Training
TIP #2: LESS COMMANDING, MORE REWARDING
Dogs are persistently manipulated with verbal commands, equipment, and physical prompting to perform behaviors (such as pushing them into a sit) become reliant on their pet parents to do everything for them. This is equal to doing a child's homework for him or her. A child might get better grades if an adult did his homework, but he or she would not learn the skills needed to function successfully in the world. This same concept is also true for your dog. If you have been doing his "homework" via constant reminding or demanding obedience, telling him, "No," all the time, and/or using leash manipulations and physical prompts to keep him in line, he will not have learned the skills needed to function calmly in life.
Dogs, like children, must learn to problem-solve when life comes at them, and providing your dog a motivation to perform behaviors through rewards will help him learn those skills. In order for that to happen, however, he will need different, and well-practiced behaviors that will give him the answer to the question, "What do I do when (fill in the blank) _______?" If your dog's current answer to that question is to spiral up and become wild, out of control, inattentive, or reactive, he has very few tools from which to choose.
When your dog has a limited number of tools, he will continue to use the ones that are the most readily available and familiar since those are the easiest to grab. If your dog's behavior toolbox includes impulsive or reactive behaviors and little else, he has no choice but to use the tools that have served him best in the past.
For training to be effective, your dog needs to learn how to handle different situations without grabbing the old tools from his toolbox. Those old tools will always be there, but as you teach your dog that he will be rewarded for calm and relaxed behaviors, those old tools will be buried deep at the bottom of the toolbox under all the new ones, making access to them difficult and unlikely.
- Excerpted from Chill Out Fido!
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI