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Behavior Modification

Starting Out

So… I’m here to teach you a little about non-force training philosophy, with a basis in clicker training.  We’re not going to get hung up on all the technical jargon and theory… this is a beginner course.  We’re going to concentrate on the “how-to” aspects of clicker training, and what you can expect from it.


Why am I so against the use of force methods?

Because, first, it’s just not necessary to hurt your dog in order to get your message across.  There is nothing that you can teach, using force, that I can’t teach better without force.  Why do I say “better”?  Because we’ll both “get the behavior”… but the methods I use don’t have negative emotions attached to them... fallout.  It’s always better to take the shortest, cleanest route, whenever possible… and the shortest, cleanest route in training is in the use of positive reinforcement.  This is important:


Training Mantra #1: Behavior is driven by reinforcement.   Read that statement again, internalize it, make it a part of you.  It will be your primary mantra, your driving force, in training.


All beings (ALL of them!) will work to find a way to gain reinforcement.  If they dig a hole, it's because they think there's something cool in there (sometimes, it's just 'because it's COOL in there!').  If they shred a piece of carpet, it's because shredding stuff is FUN. They are driven to do this – it’s how they’ve survived.  This makes reinforcement THE most driving force available to us, in teaching… all we have to do is figure out how to use this, in any context, to gain appropriate behavior from our dogs.  I promise you, it’s not hard to do.

 If he’s chewing things that you don’t want him to chew, the reinforcement is chewing.  Give him things to chew that you feel are appropriate alternatives, and make those inappropriate ones inaccessible. (Right now, I have The Most Destructive Chewer I have ever met in my home... I'm doing everything I can to make sure that I don't lose any more shoes to the garbage.  I swear, what I'm telling you is the only way to keep your sanity.  This sets your dog up to succeed, and everyone wins.  If he’s counter-surfing, remove temptation, and the behavior will stop on its own (no reinforcement, the behavior stops – this is called “management”, and management is covered later).  If he’s tearing out the garbage, put the garbage AWAY, and he can’t do it.

Aversive methods (methods that rely on the manipulation of something that the dog doesn’t LIKE) only suppress behavior… aversion doesn’t stop it.  As soon as the opportunity presents itself, the dog WILL engage in the undesirable behavior again, if the reinforcement for doing it is strong enough – because reinforcement drives behavior.  Aversive methods also sacrifice trust, and are prone to teaching “superstitious behaviors”.  If you yell at or hit your dog for behavior that you feel is inappropriate (note that I didn’t say “IS inappropriate” – because your dog may not know it’s inappropriate), then the punishment is unfair, and trust is sacrificed.   And, if your timing is a little off, and you punish something besides the intended “inappropriate” behavior, that’s how “superstitious behaviors” are born… the dog becomes fearful (and even aggressive) in a situation where he wasn’t, before… and this fearful behavior often has nothing to do with the initial situation, so it can be difficult to determine the source.


I am often consulted for this particular problem (superstitious behaviors are very common!), and it’s a sore spot, for me… because owners aren’t forewarned of this particular dilemma, when sold a “bark collar”... collars that apply shocks or other kinds of aversive are VERY prone to causing what's called a 'superstitious behavior.  For example: barking is a very common complaint for pet-owners… and pet stores make a huge percentage of their profit from the sale of “quick-fix” items like “anti-bark” collars.  These collars are most-often sold for dogs who bark-bark-bark when someone knocks on the door.  IF your timing is exceptional, the visitor knocks on the door, the dog barks and is shocked, and the dog associates the shock with the bark.  Sounds logical, right?


What the salesman doesn’t tell you, though, is that the dog is just as likely to associate the shock with the visitor, as he is to associate the shock with the bark… because they’re both presented at the same time.


So, when I’m consulted for these kinds of scenarios, it’s not usually for barking, because the barking has stopped… it’s because the dog has suddenly become fearful/aggressive toward people who visit.


Think about this: how unfair is it for a dog to bark happily because they’re getting a visitor, and be shocked for it?


By the way, this same scenario is also an all-too-common side-affect of the use of “underground” fencing, and the owner is often left with an even bigger mess to clean up... one that may not have a 'fix'.  So, no, I don’t recommend force/aversive methodology, at all… behavior is driven by reinforcement, and reinforcement is the fastest, cleanest way to achieve the desired results – without negative repercussions.

Understand that I’m teaching you to teach your dog appropriate behavior, without the use of force… the methods that you’ll learn from me aren’t “permissive”.  I don’t advocate “chaos” and “anarchy”… I advocate non-force methodology and acceptance of species differences.  There’s a difference. {grin}

This is Clicker Training

When you're thinking about training your dog (or your kids, or your hubby, or your chicken, etc.) it's time to think about what happens in someone's brain when they learn... when you teach something to someone -- no matter who it is -- all you're doing is making a series of associations.  It's your decision whether these associations will be good associations (which means that the learning will be HAPPY) or BAD associations (which means the learning won't be so happy).  In addition, the nature of the associations will bleed over onto YOU... the teacher.  Do you really want all those bad associations to color how your dog sees you?

Clicker training has benefits that we often don’t think about, actively.  As you progress in your learning, you’ll see this:


**That your dog will be more enthusiastic.

**That your dog’s problem-solving capability will increase.

**That your OWN problem-solving capability will increase, in response. {grin}

**That your dog will be able to focus for increasing amounts of time.

**That your dog will be better prepared to cope with successively larger amounts of stress.

**That you and your dog will build a stronger, more trusting relationship, because you’ll each know what to expect from the other!


Training Mantra #2: A Behavior That’s Reinforced WILL Be Repeated!


In learning to “mark” behaviors, you’ll find that it’s relatively important to build your timing skills. {grin}  This is necessary because if you mark the “wrong” behavior, then that behavior will be repeated (and repeated… and repeated).  However, one of the best aspects of this type of training is that “mistakes” in training are very easily fixed – you simply stop reinforcing that behavior, and it will extinguish itself. 


And, you’ve not associated yourself, the situation, or anything else with anything negative.  You’ve not harmed your relationship with the dog.


There are several ways to build your timing skills:  you can jump into training, teaching “stupid pet tricks”.  This will allow you to strengthen these important skills, without sacrificing any important behaviors (like ‘sit’ or ‘heel’) in the process.  You can play the “training game” with humans, learning shaping skills and timing sequences, again without sacrificing anything important in the process. 

Next: Behavior Modification 2 (Clicker Training)


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