(This is the first in a series of blogs I am calling “Inspired by Knap”. These blogs come from being reminded about basic training as a result of having a new, very active, very aware puppy in my home… Knap. Without my long background in training dogs, this puppy might be very difficult to live with. With it, we are having a grand time together. Through these blogs, Knap and I want to share some of what is working so well for us with the hope that this will help make training your dog using reward-based training more effective and more fun.)
The best relationships start with good observation. We get to know all the little things about those we love and notice quickly when something changes. From there we can make decisions as to the best way to react (or not)… or how to plan to help out. What we look for colors our relationships. Good dog training also starts with what we observe.
In my work with humans whose dogs have behavior issues, I often ponder how I can change something to help them be more efficient, to have more fun in working with their dogs. With a new puppy in the house, I am keenly aware of what I do. It starts with how/when/what I observe. Because what we look for also colors our training.
It is human nature to take good behavior for granted. This means that we often don’t start paying attention until unwanted behavior starts. As reinforcement based trainers we pay attention sooner… We look for things to reward. As I thought about this, I came to a kind of generalization, that I think might help pet owners observe differently, thereby changing the quality of the training:
Every unwanted behavior is preceded at some point by a desired behavior.
Think about it…
- Jumping up on people is preceded by feet on the ground
- Barking is preceded by quiet
- Mouthing is preceded by a still mouth (hard to believe this with puppies sometimes… but it is true!)
- Door rushing is preceded by dog being away from the door
- Not coming when called is preceded by a time the dog is close to you and will respond.
- Pulling on leash is preceded by a time the dog is close to your body… probably before any steps are taken.
- Fence running is preceded by standing in the yard… or next to you.
If we start with this as a concept, we have also started with a place to reward our dogs… and the reinforcement training has begun, resulting in more of the desired behavior. The unwanted behavior is less likely to happen because we have preempted it by reinforcing the behavior we want.
Now, lest anyone accuse me of being too simplistic… it is. But it is a great starting point. The next important concept will be management… because sometimes we have to manage so that there IS good behavior to reinforce. But that’s another blog.
This can work whether we are catching good behavior before unwanted behavior starts or if we are already dealing with unwanted behavior. Think about the unwanted behaviors your dog does that you would like to change. What good behaviors can you find that precede the unwanted ones? How can you reinforce those behaviors? How will doing this prevent the unwanted behaviors from being an issue?
There is a shift here in what we choose to observe, in what we pay attention to. I am betting that making this shift will help make training your dog more efficient and more fun… for both of you. It certainly has for us!