Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.

 

They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

A Person Approaching he Finds Threatening

His reactivity to any person approaching him was triggered by something else.

Previously the well-socialised German Shepherd had been fine if there was a person approaching him. Recently Danny has begun to show aggression towards people on walks. He will pull, lunge, bark and jump at people.

It came to a head when recently, off lead, he rushed at a man and leapt up at him, snarling. The man, understandably, wasn’t pleased.

A person approaching upsets DannyThe dog law now declares that someone need only feel threatened by a dog for the owner to be prosecuted, regardless of any injury.

Two-year-old Danny’s story is a perfect example of how, when one really scary incident occurs, it can infect something else that is seemingly unrelated.

A short while ago the daughter had been walking him when she was stung by a hornet. She screamed. She panicked.

At the same time a jogger happened to be running towards them.

What has a hornet sting to do with aggression towards a person approaching?

Danny will very likely have connected the girl’s screaming with the approaching jogger. He is now particularly aggressive towards joggers. The reactivity has spread to barking, lunging and jumping up at any person approaching him.

I always myself avoid walking directly towards any dog as it can be perceived to be threatening. Each time I visit a house I ask that the dog is brought to join me instead of my walking directly into the dog’s space. I learnt this the hard way in my early days of doing this job when a gentleman opened his front door with his German Shepherd beside him. He said ‘Come in’, so I stepped towards them. The dog leaped and grabbed my arm. No harm done but a valuable early lesson learnt!

The work starts at home.

In all areas of Danny’s life they will now be rebuilding his confidence in unfamiliar people so a person approaching will no longer seem a threat to him.

When someone unfamiliar comes to the house, he will be left to calm down before joining them. The encounter will be associated with good things. With me, after a noisy start, he was confident, curious and polite. I came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy which he certainly liked – he dismembered it. Not a good choice!

Danny barks if he hears a person approaching up the gravel drive. Territorial barking is what you would expect of a dog, but it need not carry on for long. Bearing in mind he has guarding in his genes, this might be harder work than if he were, say, a Greyhound.

Currently on walks he is controlled with a head halter on a tight lead and corrected with a jerk when he pulls. This won’t help him feel relaxed when he sees an approaching person. A calm dog walking comfortably on a loose lead will be far less likely to react in alarm. They will work on this.

How the family reacts when Danny spots the approaching person is key to his progress – and they will be working hard at this. Exact procedures differ with different situations so I don’t go into details here.

Here is one idea. If it’s a jogger running towards them, what should they do? A person approaching is what upsets him. A jogger approaching him upsets him even more. It may also fire him up to chase. As he’s okay with people coming from behind, why not turn around when a jogger appears and themselves jog too? When the jogger has overtaken them they can turn around and go on their way.

Jumping up aggressively at a person approaching him is a recent thing.

It shouldn’t yet be too much of an ingrained habit. With some work and appropriate response on the part of the people who walk him, he should learn to trust them not to force him any closer to a person approaching than he feels comfortable by arcing, going off at an angle or turning around. This distance should naturally reduce over time.

Should Danny be off lead now? I feel that universally when another dog or a person appears, a dog that won’t immediately come back when called shouldn’t have total freedom. It will never happen.

The dog law, tightened up last year (my slide show here), has no sympathy for a dog feeling threatened and reacting accordingly. If a person feels threatened however, that’s enough to cause big trouble.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Danny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Jumping Up at People

Six month old white standard poodle

Sunny

I’m sure most of us who, over time, have had several dogs from puppies, forget what monkeys they can be when young. I have just been to see two wonderful friendly, gentle Standard Poodles – Asia is eleven years old and Sunny a large, adolescent six months.

Compared to the majority of dogs I have met of that age, Sunny is an angel! His only two ‘crimes’ are jumping up at everyone and jumping up at the sides to nick things – counter-surfing.

Inadvertently he has been taught to do both through reinforcement.

‘Get Down’ may make Sunny get back down again once up – he’s a very biddable young dog, but ‘Get Down’ doesn’t teach him not to jump up again the next time he feels like it.

Jumping up at people is his most trying habit. The lady herself had begun to ask Sunny to Sit before touching him, but the clever dog has merely learnt that, with her, the sequence is ‘to jump up, be told to sit possibly several times, to then sit down, to get fussed, then possibly to jump up again’!

If sitting is what she wants and sitting is incompatible with jumping up after all, he needs to learn to sit straight away without jumping up first. Having already on several occasions asked him to sit, if she now just waited and ignored the jumping, he would soon work it out for himself that sitting does the trick. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of people in Sunny’s life who all, unwittingly, encourage the jumping up.

Why does he do it? He is a lovely, gentle and friendly dog and it’s probably merely because dogs may greet face to face (if not face to bum!), and he wants to get to face level. He doesn’t jump at children who are already level with the tall dog’s face. Sunny merely needs to learn that to welcome humans there is one rule that may seem weird to him but is necessary if he wants his welcome to be reciprocated.

White standard poodle

Asia

The rule is that his feet must be on the floor.

The attention he expects and gets is by way of being touched, looked at or spoken to. He usually gets all three! Dogs are experts at reading body language. Looking away and waiting usually gets the message across about what he should not be doing, but that’s only half the story. He also needs to know what he should be doing, so feet on floor needs to get him what he wants.

I am a great believer in dogs working things out for themselves rather than being constantly told or ‘commanded’, and Sunny will soon get the hang of what’s expected if everyone is consistent. Currently when he jumps up, one person puts his hand up above him as though to push his head down (ah – a hand to jump up at), and other people give him quite a wild or exciting welcome whilst he is jumping up, even though they may at the same time be saying Get Down!

I predict that if the humans can be trained (always the hardest bit) Sunny will soon politely keep his feet on the floor when people come in.

Jumping up at the sides is the other jumping problem, something all the lady’s Standard Poodles have done. They do it because the can – they are tall – and there is sometimes food up there so it’s reinforced. Sunny will actually nick anything so long as it’s on the side, food or not – stuff like paper that he would not be interested in anywhere else!

The easy solution is to remove all opportunity by shutting him out of the room when unsupervised and keeping the surfaces completely clear. It’s one of the things that becomes a habit and he will have seen Asia doing it too. Stop him doing it for long enough and the habit should become unlearned – along with more reinforcement for keeping his feet on the floor!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sunny. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).