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.

Continue reading…

Consequences Drive Behaviour. Teaching Unwanted Behaviour

Consequences drive behaviour.

consequences drive behaviourUnwittingly the young couple have made a rod for their own backs.

They are first time dog owners and hadn’t realised that something only needs to be reinforced just the once to create a behaviour. If the dog barks in the night – that ‘come and talk to me’ bark …and if they go to her just once …she will very likely do the same thing the next night!

Now Freya has them up shortly after 5 am each morning. One of them comes down, maybe lets her out, gives her something nice to chew while they lie on the sofa trying to get a bit more sleep. If it’s a bit later she may immediately get a walk.

What very rewarding consequences for barking at 5 am!

Behaviours harder to undo than to create

It takes a lot more work to undo a behaviour that has been reinforced by enjoyable consequences than it does to cause it in the first place. Continue reading…

Stress. It’s All Down to Stress

Stress. Is it cause or is it symptom?

It’s like merry-go-round. Chicken and egg.

Barking for attention = stress = barking for attention

Barking at the neighbour’s dog = stress = barking at the neighbour’s dog

Shredding the mail = stress = shredding the mail

Wild excitement before meals = stress = wild excitement before meals

Barking in late evening when people gathering outside the pub next door = stress = barking in late evening

Attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher = stress = attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher

Attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal = stress = attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal

Guarding behaviour = stress = guarding behaviour

Growling when approached with lead = stress = growling when approached with lead

Barking non-stop for attention = stress = barking non-stop for attention

Stealing things for attention = stress = stealing things for attention

Wrecking things = stress = wrecking things

Humping her bed = stress = humping her bed

Fear of bangs = stress = fear of bangs

Stomach issues = stress = stomach issues

Pulling on lead, discomfort to her neck = stress = pulling on lead

Obsessive chasing balls and sticks = stress = obsessing

Lunging at dogs = stress = lunging at dogs

Wrecking toy to relieve her stressNoodle barked and barked. She barked because she knew there was food in my bag. The barking got her into a real state.. The increased stress made her – BARK!

Because people eventually for their own sanity give in to barking if she carries on for long enough, she’s in effect been taught to do it.

The couple have had Noodle for eight years, since she was a puppy, and have given her everything a well-loved dog could wish for. There will be a genetic component to her problems.

The common thread running through everything is stress and over-arousal. If we can reduce the eight-year-old Jack Russell’s general stress levels, the resulting behaviours should largely take care of themselves.

In over three hours that I was there Noodle didn’t settle once.

Apart from short sessions spent upstairs to give us and herself a break, she barked for most of the time unless I was focusing my full attention on her, teaching her an incompatible behaviour to barking whilst reinforcing quietness. This is something that will need to be worked on over weeks.

The only real relief for both her and for us was while she determinedly employed herself at dismembering a toy I produced. I could see by the way she was frantically going at it just how much she needed to vent all the pent-up stress inside her.

In order to get Noodles’ stress levels down, anything that stirs her up too much must be reduced in every way possible. Control and management will play a big part in saving Noodle from herself and putting an end to rehearsal of certain behaviours.

We looked at ways they can regularly initiate healthy stimulation to keep her mind busy with stuff that, instead of being arousing, will calm her down and help her to feel fulfilled so that she’s less likely to resort to stealing things, destroying things and guarding things.

We also looked at ways to help her to calm herself down. Chewing, foraging and hunting are all great ways to achieve this.

Her tendency to guarding behaviour will be worked at. She will play fun games that require exchanging objects for something else.

With a dog like this it’s less about dealing with the behaviours themselves beyond putting in management like blocking views out of windows, installing an outside mailbox and using a baby gate, and more about changing the dog’s inner emotions that drive the behaviours.

We discussed how they can make her feel better about the sounds she hears outside – people chatting outside the pub and the dog opposite – by associating them with food. They had only thought about trying to stop her noise, not trying to address the emotions which were causing the noise.

“Surely if you feed her when she’s barking are you not teaching her to bark?”, the man said.

Yes and no.

Next day - in gainful employment!

Next day – in gainful employment!

‘Yes’ if you are feeding to reinforce a behaviour like begging for food and ‘no’ if you are feeding to change an emotion, like the fear which is causing her to bark at sounds.

Feed a behaviour and you make it more likely – that way you can successfully teach a dog to bark. This has in effect happened with the ‘I want something’ barking.

Pair food with an emotion like fear (starting at the mildy uneasy stage where she will still eat) and you reduce the fear and that way reduce the barking too. This way we are dealing with the behaviour at source.  See this ‘Can you reinforce your dog’s fear‘.

 

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 Noodle 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. 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 Help page)

Consequence Drives Behaviour

Leonberger puppyI have just been to the most stunning puppy. A four-month-old Leonberger called Amra.

What was troubling the couple was their large puppy’s painful biting and pawing, particularly directed at the lady when she comes home. The gentleman initially referred to this as ‘dominance challenge’.

It’s easy to explain behaviour where the dog seems to be controlling us as ‘dominance’. This is now an outdated, unhelpful notion that leads to a confrontational training approach which, with a spirited dog, can eventually make for defiance – even aggression.

This beautiful dog fortunately has a lovely gentle nature and merely gets too excited. He then can’t control himself. He’s just a puppy being a puppy, but being the size he is makes biting and pawing, something he’s quite persistent with, painful.

What is behind the behaviour isn’t dominance – the puppy wanting to become Alpha – but that certain behaviours bring him the most reinforcement. When he gets a bit rough he can bank on getting rewarded in terms of attention of some sort. A confident dog and kindly treated dog isn’t at all upset by being told NO. The word may stop him in his tracks, but does it teach him anything positive?

Amra’s ‘silly’ times can be anticipated. They can pre-empt the puppy wildness with various occupations that keep him busy including hunting and chewing.

With each thing they want to change (and there are very few), we can analyse just what happens immediately afterwards – realising that it’s the rewarding consequence that is driving a behaviour to repeatedly occur. Sometimes what that consequence actually is needs searching for.

Here is an example. When the lady comes home from work (the gentleman works from home), Amra gets very excited indeed. The manner of her arrival and their greeting helps to trigger a mad and rough half hour. The pup will grab her leg. What happens now is that the gentleman calls him away and then distracts him – maybe plays with him. The dog’s reward could be that he indirectly gets quality reaction from the man.

I suggest, if they’ve not successfully managed the situation by setting things up differently in advance, that  the gentleman experiments with simply walking out of the room and shutting the door as soon as the dog grabs the lady (and that she wears tough jeans for a week or two)! If that doesn’t work, what Amra is ‘getting out of it’ needs to be re-examined as will the things that lead up to it.

I always love going to a puppy that has been to some formal old-fashioned type of training based on ‘commands’ and ‘control’ and to introduce both people and dog to the notion of using Yes instead of No – constantly reinforcing desired behaviour and having the puppy wanting to please rather than simply being expected to comply.

This same principal applies to when walking Amra on lead. They already have him walking around the house and garden beside them off lead, but once the lead goes on he’s pulling down the road. It’s so easy to have a puppy walking nicely if one has appropriate, comfortable equipment and a different mind-set.

Because Amra will grow to be so large, from the start they have been doing everything they can to make sure he grows up to be a gentle and well-mannered adult dog.

Too Reliant Upon Commands

They don't want Terrier mix to jump up at people

Billie

The decision was that Billie shouldn’t jump up at people anymore.

Up until now jumping up has been very rewarding in terms of attention. The 6-month-old terrier cross (right) is looked at, spoken to in terms of reprimands and also touched – pushed off.

She may get down but it doesn’t teach her to stay down or not to jump up another time.

The lady even, without thinking, caught herself automatically fussing Billie as she jumped up.  Modifying behaviours like this need consistency and patience. That’s it.

The dog should get absolutely no reinforcement for jumping up from anyone – no family members and no guests.

But, most importantly, what about letting the dog know what it is we DO want?

Jumping up is natural behaviour to dogs. Puppies in particular want to get level with our faces where so much communication takes place – just as they do with other dogs.

The most powerfully effective way to teach Billie not to jump up is to reward and reinforce her for feet on the floor. We worked on this continually all evening while Billie, unused to the jumping getting no results, tried harder and harder – in effect becoming more and more frustrated as is to be expected.

Beagle mix on crate rest due to neck injury

Harvey

She was waiting for the usual instructions or reprimand, but nothing was happening!

We simply outlasted her. Every time her feet were on the floor we rewarded her immediately. We turned, looked away or tipped her off each time her feet were on us.

She was learning to work things out for herself.

Beagle

Sadie

A dog that has been ‘trained’ using commands can often find it bewildering when left to think for herself.  She is used to being ‘directed’ and it can take a while for the penny to drop.

Eventually Billie was sitting on her bed nearby and even lying down. All the time she was earning her food.  She had the self-control to sit still while I took the photo.

Billie lives with Beagle Sadie and Beagle cross Harvey. I arrived to find poor Harvey on crate rest due to a neck injury. Harvey and Billie are a ‘terrible twosome’ when Harvey is fit, so I will need to go back when he is mobile again. Meanwhile, this very active dog has nothing to do, so he will need mental stimulation.

All are rescues with pre-existing baggage. Work needs to be done in other areas, particularly with walking nicely and reactivity to other dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Billie, Harvey and Sadie, which is why I don’t go into the exact details of your plan here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Another Dog that Growls and Barks at People

he growls and barks at peopleAnother puzzle insofar as it’s impossible to work out just why miniature English Bull Terrier Vinnie’s behaviour changed so drastically three years ago.

The growls and barks began upon his reaching maturity

A couple of things may have contributed to it. They moved house to somewhere a bit more busy, and Vinnie, now four, was reaching sexual maturity. I do find that some dogs who had previously been relaxed with other dogs and with people may change in adolescence or upon reaching maturity.

Vinnie growls and barks aggressively at people he doesn’t know coming into the house.

When I walked in he sounded quite scary. He has not yet bitten anyone and his owners didn’t describe the noise as fierce and warning but as barking ‘in an excited, naughty way’. It didn’t sound like that to me.

He also growls and barks at people and some dogs when they walk their usual walking routes near to home.

He’s a different dog away from home

Another part of his mystery is that at the lady’s mother’s house he doesn’t bark at people at all. Nor does he on holiday. Neither does he bark or stress when in the car and people and dogs pass by.

When he goes out for walks Vinnie drags his heels. He ‘will only walk one particular route’. He is reluctant to move – worse for the young lady although at home he follows her about. The gentleman puts pressure on him if he dawdles.

Then, at a certain distance from the house, Vinnie perks up and starts to take an interest in the walk, only to revert to his noisy growls and barks at people when on the way back and in sight of home.

More and more puzzling. If either the lady or gentleman takes him out alone, he doesn’t bark much although he still shows reluctance. When they walk him together he growls and barks at people he sees.

My best guess is that it’s to do with being protective and territorial. He shows none of the usual body language signs associated with fear or anxiety, and is very easily distracted with food.

Really scared dogs or really angry dogs are unlikely to eat.

What does the behaviour actually do for him?

Whatever the reasons, our plan is based around the principal that reinforcement drives behaviour. Dogs don’t do something for no reason at all.

We can try to look at what is actually happening rather putting interpretations on it. Just the specifics. We look at what result, in his mind, he gets out of the behaviours. That is what needs to be changed and alternative incompatible behaviours put in their place.

People often don’t realise that they are unintentionally giving their dogs most attention for doing unwanted behaviours in the form of commands and scolding. He growls and barks at people and he gets a result. They will give him much more attention by way of encouragement and reward for desired behaviours.

PS. I spoke to colleague, behaviour trainer, author and close friend of mine Lisa Tenzin-Dolma about this puzzling case and she feels that it’s the house itself needing to be examined. They could look into its history. Could it perhaps have been built on landfill? Would the radon levels be worth checking? The couple are going to do some research. One must bear in mind that a dog’s senses are many times more acute than our own. One other strange thing came to light. A previous owner some years ago had been stabbed to death across the road. Believing in the psychic may be a step too far for some, but who knows.

Ten days have gone by: “We feel that Vinnie is listening to us more and is quicker to respond to us as well as seems calmer, we are very surprised to be honest as we feel everything we have done has been very easy and was expecting it to be harder some how but we have been doing just about everything you suggested. i feel that we have also changed and are calmer and reward Vinnie much more which he is responding to”.

Dogs an Inconvenience Not a Pleasure

GSD Sascha watching the rabbit

Sascha

 

GSD Sascha is a handsome dog

Sascha

Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).

The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.

This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.

Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.

These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.

Annie is bullied by Sascha

Annie

Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.

Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.

Sprocker Jumps Up, Nips, Steals

Sprocker Milo is a very good natured and friendly dog - but he is a handfulMilo is a beautiful 14 month old Cocker-Springer mix. His family adopted him from Wood Green three months ago at eleven months of age. It became obvious very soon just why his previous owners had given up on him, but fortunately the members of his new family are giving it all they can and have already made progress.

Milo didn’t have a good start in life because his mother died when he was born and consequently he was hand-reared. It is almost impossible for a human to replace the lessons taught by his mother. From his behaviour it also seems likely that he didn’t have the rough and tumble, give and take and bite inhibition lessons learnt from being reared with siblings.

He’s a very good natured and friendly dog – but he is a handful! His ‘crimes’ include jumping up, mouthing and nipping; stealing things for the attention and the chase; nip-biting when examined or groomed, and grabbing a hand that takes his collar; jumping up at work tops to steal food; he jumps all over visitors and they are afraid to have their young nephews and neices visit them. At the start of walks he is flying about, leaping up and grabbing the lead, nipping arms and maybe humping the person holding it. Basically he lacks self control or any form of impulse control.

His is a perfect example of reinforcement driving behaviour.  Attention of any sort will do! When looked at like that the solutions become clearer. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour so need to reinforce with attention desired behaviour only. This may be easier said than done – which is where I come in with strategies.

Milo has some very good traits. He is affectionate. He never barks for attention and is peaceful in his crate – very necessary when they aren’t about to watch him! Neither is he a big barker generally. The things that most stimulate him need reducing so that he can calm down. It’s not a good idea to play tug games or chase games with a dog that mouths, nips and grabs, or who steals things and runs off with them – winding you up for a chase.

He needs rules and boundaries in terms that he understands – provided more by the actions of his humans than by words and commands. Good self-controlled behaviour needs to become more rewarding than bad behaviour.

About 5 weeks later – some good progress with lead walking: ‘We see lots of progress compared to where we were and are confident your plan is working.  One proud moment yesterday was when we watched our son taking Milo out for a short walk. The whole process was a result of the training plan – Milo allowed him to fit the harness without any fuss, he sat and waiting while the lead was attached.  He remained calm, and followed my son out of the door with a slack lead, we watched them go off down the driveway, Milo walking at his side, lead slack and a general confident look.  Matt had a treat for him and he certainly deserved it!.
 

Staffie May Redirect onto Whippet

Staffie Maddie has extremely high stress levels

Maddie

Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Misty is intimidated by Maddie

Misty

Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden’. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Rehomed Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Ellie is inseperable from her lady owner

Ellie

Cocker Spaniel Ellie’s previous owner died, so now she has come to live in a lovely home with two other Cocker Spaniels, one male and one female. She is three years old.

Life before Ellie was a bit easier. She is a more nervous dog, and on occasion she has suddenly gone for the other female, who retaliates. No serious damage has been done so far as they have been separated in time, but it is very distressing for the owners – especially the lady, as it seems these fights only happen around her.

The fact the lady is always there could simply be because Ellie is inseperable from her. She follows her absolutely everywhere and looks anxious should she even go to stand up. However, fighting has not happened when the lady has left the dogs with other people at home.

All dogs are very well loved and much cuddled – by the lady in particular. Now there is a third less stable dog added to the little pack, the spoiling and lack of leadership is causing problems. Giving too much demonstrative human-style love and cuddles to a nervous or needy dog, particularly while the dog is growling, is sure to reinforce any problems she already has. Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Ellie does quite a lot of growling, especially when one of the other dogs walks towards the lady (to whom Ellie will be as near as possible and who will probably be touching and tickling her). I believe all growling is a warning of sorts unless in boisterous play (and I wouldn’t encourage that either), and should be taken seriously. She may growl if the daughter touches her. If constantly ignored, a dog then may take things to the next level. There are a lot of people coming and going in this busy household, and I noticed a visitor leaning over Ellie, trying to touch and fuss her whilst she was backing off, growling. She needs protection.

Ellie needs space. She needs calm and she needs time to get used to her new home without any pressure. Each small fight has occurred around stress or excitement, and around the lady. One incident occured shortly after I arrived. The atmosphere was more charged because I, a stranger, had just arrived. The dogs were about to be fed and the lady accidentally dropped Ellie’s food out of the bowl onto the floor. The lady will have been a bit agitated which dogs pick up on immediately and it was a perfect scenario for Ellie to attack the other female when she had finished her own food and approached Ellie. Fortunately I carry a large bag and I have fast reactions! I was instantly able to swing it between the two and the spat stopped as quickly as it began.

It is very hard for some affectionate and demonstrative people to stop constantly touching their dog, but this sacrifice is vital in order for Ellie to settle down and become less needy and more confident. A little dog full of growls, ‘possessing’ her lady owner and protective of her own personal space unless she herself has initiated contact, is an ‘incident’ waiting to happen.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.