When Training Fails

Yep, there are times when training does not work or simply falls apart. I have always been a big top 10 list fan. David Letterman style!  So here it goes…

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I had to start somewhere. Your dog will learn many things even if you think you are not training. But they may not be the things you want.

 

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Kidding! I know you have a dog. Or several. Why would you be reading about dog training and behavior?

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You went to puppy class last year. Your dog still has periodic accidents in the house. Does not listen to you. Puppy class is like when we went to kindergarten. We learned to share. Not eat paste. Raise our hands to ask a question. To not stick things up our noses. After we completed kindergarten we did not proceed directly to law school. We took lots of little steps in between. Learning how and when to apply the skills learned.

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Ever tried to build a sand castle? How easily they collapse. Sand castles lack a solid foundation. They are built on and with sand. In most aspects of life we need a strong foundation. Mastering behaviors in various environments at the individual pace of the learner. We don’t take the SAT’s until high school. Most of us anyhow. We need a strong learning history for a secure foundation to build and grow. Weak foundations may hold for awhile but……

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The desirable is setting your dog up for success. Your dog used your trash can as a buffet. Place the can in the pantry under the sink, or better yet get a can with a lid that requires you to press a lever to open. Or throw your stinky trash outside in the big can. The way to train your dog to not eat trash is to prevent them from having the opportunity to get into the trash. If you scold your dog when you “catch them in the act” they will only learn that it can be dangerous to get into the trash when you are around. They will wait for you to get into the shower then explore…this has NOTHING to do with status but learning by association. I get trash. You yell. Hmmmmm. You leave the room. I get into trash. I have some fun. It is not wrong to check the trash. It’s dangerous to engage in this behavior when you are around.

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All mistakes made by your dog are only information! We give the cue and our dog does not offer the behavior. This is not our dog’s way to overthrow the government. It is his/her way of saying I am not sure what is being asked for in this moment. I may be distracted. Have to poop. Tired. Sick. Worried. Or we have not worked on # 4 yet.

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We know what being fluent in a language means. It is the same in behavior for your dog. We have not practiced the behavior in different places and with us in various positions at different times of day with various reinforcers. The difference between saying the 12 months of the year in French and understanding a joke told in French. Practice sit in the kitchen. At school. In the driveway. The back yard. On a walk.

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The methods we are using can and will affect our success (or lack of) when training our dog. If we have read or heard and attempt to employ training methods based on wolves, pack theory, or dominance we are not using what science shows. There is no disputing gravity. Science tells us we don’t get what we want. We get what is reinforced. It is a whole lot easier to address an unwanted behavior by asking ourselves, “what do I want my dog to do in this situation”. (S)he keeps jumping on everyone. I want him/her to stop jumping. What does “stop jumping” look like? What do I want my dog to do? Let’s train sit. Sit is incompatible with jumping up. Let’s reinforce our dog each and every time (s)he sits to greet a person. Think about our strong foundation. Let’s teach a sit behavior first. Consider fluency. Let’s practice in different places. Then add different people to greet. Avoid fear, pain, and intimidation.

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Oops I let this slip already. We don’t get what we want. We get what we reinforce. I don’t want my dogs to jump on people in my house. What has been reinforced? Scolding, yelling, shoving. All physical methods can be reinforcing to a dogs behavior. We fail to tell our dog what we would like him/her to do. While we are training the behavior we are giving our dog a high value reinforcer. Food is a primary reinforcer. It works very well. High value means yummy and stinky. Not a huge quantity. Keep it tiny. Make it worth it for our dog. The bottom line is we don’t work for free. Why should our dog. We all repeat behaviors that are reinforced!

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No fun. Doesn’t work. Dogs do what works for them. They do what is fun. That is how they are wired. We need to set our dog and ourselves up to succeed. What will get the dog to see the value? Is this fun for them? Have FUN!