Behavior Modification

What is Behavior Modification?

It’s changing an undesirable behavior into a more acceptable one, through operant learning techniques.  The key word here being “learning.”   Operant Learning is changing a behavior by reinforcing or inhibiting the effect of its consequences.  The behavior must maintain the desired results or it will discontinue.  Behavior Modification is practiced without the use of force or intimidation.

Typically when a dog is acting out, non-compliant or, as some of my clients like to say “acting naughty” it is assumed that the dog is deliberately trying to upset them.  Their dog’s bad behavior is not an attempt to to defy anyone, but is merely instinctive or has worked well for them in the past.

Learned Behavior

Let’s take a simple example of an overly enthusiastic dog jumping up to say “hello.” When she jumps up she can see us better, get closer to us, get out attention, etc.  It also may be the very thing she’s been doing since she was a pup, and at all of 13 lbs. it was fine–maybe even enjoyable for you, and it worked very nicely for her.  But now you are ready for her to stop.  She is 65 lbs, knocks down the children and her feet are almost always muddy.  You try scolding her, kneeing her in the chest, pinching her toes or finally relagating her to the back yard.

To you this is a bad behavior that must be stopped and you don’t want this out of control dog around any longer.  To her, nothing has changed.  She is still a puppy who delights in your arrival and still wants to jump up and lick your face and get your attention.   So, what used to work for her as a puppy, must stop working now.  For example, she gets no attention or petting (not even a “bad dog” reprimand).  We need to show her that jumping all over people is not the way to say hello, and it may even send them away.  Any attention, even negative attention is reinforcing this behavior.

Innate Behavior

Your puppy spends most evenings in the yard with you and your family.  For the first few months of his life he is happy just to be with you.  However, at some point, he notices the squirrel from the tree across the street.  One day he takes off after it and you can’t get him to come back.  He is ignoring your call because there’s something he would rather do.  You’re angry.  He knows what “come” means, but he won’t do it!   Is this another naughty behavior?

Your dog is hard-wired to chase little critters.  It is so much fun and he is only now discovering just how much!  If your dog doesn’t understandd that “come” means… “even if there is a squirrel” then perhaps you are setting him up to fail being outdoors without a leash.  Maybe it’s more fun chasing a squirrel than coming to you.  It’s important to first make sure your dog has the best recall possible, before you allow him the freedom to make the wrong decisions that are upsetting to you and may one day take his ilfe.

Dogs need to be shown very clearly what you expect from them.   With patience and consistency always.