So you have a dog with a behavioral problem that you want to STOP. What If I told you that reframing your goals can give you BETTER results?
No, I’m not going to tell you to simply ignore, prevent, or punish your dog’s bad behavior. You’ve probably already tried these things and you’re ready to move on to something that will actually help change your dog’s behavior for the better.
Yes, those techniques CAN work, but I find that they can make things worse if used alone or when used incorrectly. That is because those techniques are not designed change the underlying cause of the behavior and in some cases can even make the behavior worse! I see this happen the most when I am training reactive dogs that feel frustration and/or fear towards people and dogs to the point of barking, lunging, growling, and so on.
People come to me after they attempted to correct their dog’s reactive behavior with leash corrections or bonking (hitting with a rolled-up towel or paper) and wonder why it seems to work in the moment, but it doesn’t give them the long-lasting results that they are looking for. That is largely because you aren’t teaching the dog to feel differently around the trigger that is causing the reactivity. Do you feel calm and focused when you’re hit by someone? If anything, you might shut down in the moment (or punch them in the face!), but that is definitely not the same things as being calm.
Instead of punishing the dog for overreacting, we can build the dog’s ability to focus on you and use counter conditioning techniques to help your dog feel GREAT in the presence of people and dogs. This might include developing a playful mindset in the dog and training helpful commands such as coming when called, heel, and stay. All great things for a dog to learn, right?
Reframing your goals and focusing on what you WANT your dog to do, will help you create a path to success. This is how we follow something called the “dead-dog rule” (lovingly coined from the “dead man test”).
The “dead man test” is a practical way to identify target behaviors for a behavior modification plan. It states that something that a dead man can do is not a behavior in an analytical sense. In other words, it is not as helpful to track the absence of a behavior, compared to tracking the presence of a behavior.
I’m not saying it is bad to have goals that ignore the dead-dog rule, but framing your goals in that way can be counterproductive. Following the dead-dog rule will help us create the right training plan for you so you can get even BETTER results.
Once we redefine your goals, you will have a newfound sense of direction so you can train your dog with CONFIDENCE. Each training activity has a specific purpose that will build the behaviors you like, address the unwanted behaviors, and strengthen your relationship with your dog all at the same time!
If you need help with your dog's behavior, let me know and I would be more than happy to help. I train in Chicago IL and the surrounding areas. To get started you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can fill out my contact form.
Lindsay, S. (2005). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols. Wiley-Blackwell.