‘Good! That’s the behaviour we want!’.
Ignoring unwanted behaviour or actively disengaging when the dog does something we don’t like, is only half the story. Actually, it’s a lot less than half the story.
Making it completely clear to the dog what we consider is the good, wanted behaviour is the way to go.
Rupert is the most gorgeous adolescent show Cocker Spaniel.
They have already been doing something that most people find very hard. That is by, resisting commanding or scolding, actively not reinforcing the behaviour they don’t want. They just wait for the behaviour that they do want. They do this brilliantly.
For instance, they don’t want Rupert to jump up at the gate. So, arms folded, they wait. When Rupert eventually jumps down they open the gate (sometimes he comes back up again).
If they had used ‘Good’…….
Had they used ‘Good! in teaching him, he would no longer be jumping at the gate in the first place.
As soon as his feet hit the floor they will now say ‘Good’. Then they will drop a bit of his kibble on the floor (placement of the reward where they want him to be – on the floor).
Soon he will be in no doubt what weird human thing it is they want him to do. He will soon sit straight away when the lady approaches the gate. She can then continue intermittently to reinforce this with kibble or with a ‘Good Boy!’. Opening the gate to join him is reinforcing in itself.
So, at present, by just ignoring him until he happens to stop jumping, they are lacking the part of procedure that completes the picture. That is reinforcing the behaviour they do want.
Better well-timed reinforcement will make Rupert more motivated and other things will fall into place.
They want him to stop chewing his lead (positive translation = to leave the lead alone. Good). They want him to stop pulling (positive = to walk on a loose lead. Good). Stop growling when they go near his food (positive = being relaxed when they go near him while he’s eating. Good). They want him not to jump up (positive = to keep his feet on the floor. Good) and so on.
Clicker is a great tool for this. They can click and feed to reinforce the precise moment Rupert offers the behaviour that they want.
He grabs the lead
We had a good example of ‘trigger stacking’ where Rupert attacked the lead more vigorously than usual.
His life isn’t over-arousing as a whole, but they could see how easily the build-up of excitement makes Rupert less manageable. He was excited by my arrival, then they had an Amazon delivery which caused a lot of barking. Then they put on his harness and lead. He anticipated a walk.
Outside the door, his lead-biting was worse than usual.
It’s so easy to cure with a bit of patience and an old lead that doesn’t matter. They will stand still or even drop the lead as he grabs it. No reinforcement whatsoever. Each time it falls from his mouth, ‘Good!’ (or click) followed by food. It becomes the ‘drop the lead’ game instead of a game of tug
A clever dog may build up a chain. He may then grab the lead in order to drop it in order to get a click and food! Then I would be reinforcing dropping the lead – ‘Good’ as before, but also reinforce not picking it up again.
A worrying aspect of Rupert’s behaviour is some growly food-guarding now that he’s maturing. Using positive methods and games they will teach him that exchanging things is good.
They will show him that good things come from them when they walk near him while he’s eating. A piece of chicken may land in his dish of kibble!
They will overcome the food-guarding but, as with all dogs, should never quite trust him in situations where there may be a child who could try to take something off him.