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Why Dog Trainers Want You to Stop Your Dog from Rehearsing Unwanted Behaviours and the Destruction of the Self-rewarding Cycle.

Updated: Feb 15


Two dogs barking at a fence line.
Barking at the fence or window and scaring away the potential threat is very rewarding for dogs.

As a dog trainer, my goal is to help dog owners build positive relationships with their dogs that increase both the quality of life for the dog as well as the owner. One key aspect of successful dog training is preventing problem behaviours from becoming ingrained habits. In this blog, we'll explore why dog trainers like me stress the importance of stopping dogs from rehearsing unwanted problem behaviours.






What are some unwanted problem behaviours?


Barking at windows, doors, and the fence line

Resource Guarding food, furniture or people

Digging

Destructive chewing

Playing the chase game when you recall them

Jumping up on guests

Barking and lunging on a leash

Pulling on leash

 

 

Habits Form Through Repetition:

Dogs, like humans, learn through repetition. When a dog engages in a particular behaviour consistently, it becomes a habit. This is why trainers often say, "Practice makes perfect." Unfortunately, this principle applies to both desirable and undesirable behaviours. Allowing your dog to repeatedly rehearse problem behaviours can make them more challenging to correct later.


Emotional Impact:

Problem behaviours can have an emotional impact on both the dog and the owner. Dogs that engage in undesirable behaviours like excessive barking, aggression, or destructive chewing may become anxious or stressed. Additionally, owners may feel frustrated, which can strain the bond between them and their pets.


Difficulty in Relearning:

Correcting problem behaviours that have become ingrained habits can be challenging. Dogs may have to unlearn their previous behaviour and replace it with a new, desirable one. This process takes time and patience. Prevention is often easier and more effective than trying to change established habits.

 

Reinforcement of Unwanted Behaviors:

Every time a dog practices a problem behaviour, they are often inadvertently being rewarded in some way. For example, if your dog jumps up on guests and receives attention or petting, they will view jumping as a successful way to get what they want. This reinforcement strengthens the behaviour, making it even more difficult to eliminate.



Corgie dog pulling on leash and pulling their owner on a sandy beach.
It is much harder to train a dog out of pulling on leash the longer they have been practicing and rehearsing the behaviour.

Common Self-Rewarding and Reinforcing examples:


Excessive Barking: Dogs may bark excessively in response to stimuli like other animals or noises. The act of barking can be self-rewarding as it allows them to express themselves and release pent-up energy. They also learn that the barking works at scaring away the mailman or delivery person as they walk away from the building.


Chewing: Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs, but it can become self-rewarding when they find something particularly satisfying to gnaw on, getting out of their boredom and frustration as the reward.


Counter Surfing: Dogs may sneak onto counters or tables to grab tasty treats or scraps of food. The thrill of the hunt and the tasty reward make this behaviour self-rewarding.


Enhanced Dog Training Success

By preventing your dog from rehearsing problem behaviours, you set the stage for successful training. Dog trainers often focus on redirecting a dog's energy and attention toward positive behaviours. This not only prevents undesirable habits from forming but also promotes better communication and cooperation between you and your furry friend. But the solution doesn’t stop there! After redirection, you must train your dog to do an incompatible behaviour. An example – if your dog barks at the door, you interrupt them, redirect their attention and have them go to their bed and stay.


Understanding the importance of stopping your dog from rehearsing and self-rewarding problem behaviours is a crucial step. If you are not actively training your dog then remove your dog from rehearsing and practicing the unwanted problem behaviour.


Opinions are good, and I'd love to hear your insights on managing self-rewarding and rehearsed behaviours in dogs.







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