Reinforcing Unwanted Behaviour. Rewarding Barking.

They do what they can to stop young Basset Hound Bentley doing unwanted things like jumping at the table and barking for attention.

In fact, they are instead reinforcing these very things.

Whilst reinforcing the unwanted behaviour by ultimately giving Bentley what he’s asking for, they also try discipline – ‘NO’.

Confused, Bentley can get cross.

reinforcing his barkingBentley jumps on the table. Sometimes they ignore this, at other times a loud’No!’ – or they may grab his collar and pull him off.

Lack of consistency is a problem. ‘No!’ doesn’t tell him anything specific. Grabbing his collar can result in a quick twist of his head and a snap.

Instead of ‘No’ or manhandling him, they will now find ways of getting the 13-month-old dog to willingly respond to instructions that he understands. They will use motivation.

The thing that I was most aware of is how they are reinforcing the barking. Basically they have taught him to bark at them because it always works. He does this when they are doing something else and paying him no attention. They either fuss him, give him something to chew or eat, go outside with him or take him for a walk.

All these things are great, but the timing is wrong!

Reinforcing the barking

Because taking him into the garden or out for a walk makes him happy and quiet, they take him out. If he carries on barking for long enough, he always gets a result. The family are reinforcing barking every time.

The other element is Bentley’s internal state – the emotions that drive his need for so much attention. He wakes up calm. Over the day his arousal levels rise until, when the two young daughters come home from school, he’s ready to go.

He might chase them and grab their legs or arms with his teeth when they try to leave the kitchen. If they go out into their lovely garden, Bentley is liable to chase and grab them. It’s risky having their friends round.

They have nowhere they can put him apart from shut away in a crate somewhere else in the house.

Three areas to work on

Instead of pumping him up – turning up the gas under the pressure cooker so to speak – they will now do all they can to avoid over-arousal. 

They will provide him with plenty of activities that work his clever brain and his nose to help ‘vent’ his stress/arousal. Enrichment makes a ‘good’ dog.

Secondly, they will initiate all the things he likes to do with them and more – but when he’s quiet only, before he starts to bark. Otherwise, what’s in it for him to be quiet? Now they will be reinforcing not barking.

Finally, and most importantly, we will look at management strategies. These are things that don’t involve training or behaviour work as such, but that they put in place to make life easier and safer.

Examples are gating the utility room door which leads off the kitchen, using a tie-out cable in the garden and possibly teaching him to love a muzzle.

At the front door they have to hold him back by his collar. He will learn now to run to the utility room (behind a gate) when there is a knock on the door. Fortunately he is very foot-motivated.

Later we will look at getting him to come to ‘Touch’ a held out hand. This is a very good and positive way of calling him away from something with avoiding NO and avoiding collar-grabbing.

Consistency

Consistency is the key to success. The gentleman in particular finds it hard not to give in to Bentley’s barking. Not only is the noise exasperating, he wants his dog to be happy. 

Bentley will be even happier if given suitable enrichment and learning self-control.

The dog’s behaviours all are driven by a build up of arousal/steam due to being fired up or by frustration. He has to find a way of releasing this – of finding relief – to let off steam.

Their reinforcing of unwanted behaviour and the mixed messages make it impossible for him to learn.

It will be a big challenge for them to be consistent, but key to their success. Changing our own ways can be hard.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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