Doggie Doo it’s a New Year and people are making resolutions. For the past few years, I’ve been pretty anti-resolution. Why? Because they do not work! And in doing so, you can actually make things worse because you feel frustrated and defeated when you don’t reach your goals.
I’m not saying that people can’t make positive changes in their lives! My entire career as an academic and animal trainer was based on applying behavior changes, and it can and works. The problem lies in execution. A few optimizations can make all the difference. I would like to talk about it in this blog.
New Year’s resolutions are much more like dog training. We start with a big goal that we want to achieve (lose 50 pounds., Get a promotion, return to school for a higher degree, etc…) and then we have to figure out how to get there. For our dogs, it could be winning a title or changing unwanted behavior like barking at the door. Having the goal is easy; knowing how to establish a progressive plan to achieve one’s goal is difficult. We all make very similar mistakes: we expect too early, we don’t offer enough advice, support and reinforcement along the way, then we get frustrated and give up.
The thing that those who succeed with intentions and with dog training do well is to divide goals into small realistic actions and then build on success. Many goals rely on ourselves (or our dogs) to refuse something we want. This attempt to use impulse control and willpower to change behavior is often doomed to failure.
Pulse control is a limited resource. We can do this for a while, but our ability to resist temptation runs out and we lose control. For this reason, changes in behavior that simply rely on depriving yourself of what you want are not effective in the long term. So what can we do instead? Instead of eliminating a behavior, we can replace it with something more acceptable. More than 30 years ago, I quit smoking. Just ask someone how difficult it is! What did I do instead? I ate red licorice. Tons of red licorice. It was a temporary substitute that was better than unwanted behavior. That alone may not have been the reason for my success, but it certainly helped. Acceptable replacement behavior is a good step in the right direction.
We use the term antecedent arrangements to describe the configuration of the environment so that the desired behavior is simple. Let’s say that “walking more often” is one of your goals. I keep a box in my van where all my hiking gear is. There is no need to find or forget things when a hiking opportunity arises. I can just get in my car and walk when the mood beats. I have arranged my world so that hiking is the easy option. It is possible to configure your dog’s world so that even the desired behavior is the simplest option.
Avoiding thinking “all or nothing” will be helpful in changing behaviors. We don’t need to be perfect, but we often pretend that a mistake is a total failure. “I ate a cookie, so my diet is ruined, so now I’m going to eat the whole box. And indeed, now that my diet is ruined, I give it up and start again next week.”When I work on change, I don’t always expect 100% progress. Regression happens, mistakes happen and they can be good feedback to help us change our plans in the future. Let’s say I ate a cookie because an employee brought them to work, and I find it rude to say NO THANKS (which, by the way, is not the matter). Instead of throwing my power out the window, I might come up with some ideas to deal with this situation in the future. Maybe I have to avoid the break room at times. Maybe I’ll take a cookie and give it to another colleague after. Maybe I eat my emergency snack healthy, then complain about being too full for a cookie. There are always ways.
What does all this have to do with effective and successful dog training? Everything!everything! Successful behavior change in our dogs is based on exactly the same principles. Make your dog training goals realistic, divide them into small reasonable actions, replace unwanted behaviors with acceptable ones, configure the environment so that success is likely and easy, and avoid thinking about all or nothing.
Let’s say you have a dog that is an overly enthusiastic door Green and want to change that behavior. First you need to put in the work to get the result. So is it a desire or a goal? Saying” I wish my dog didn’t rush to the door when people come ” is exactly that; a desire. This desire can easily be turned into a realistic goal if you are willing to put in time to teach your dog what you want.
A traditional approach to this problem could be based on strength and pressure and the desire of the trainer to master the dog. The main problem is that this leads to frustration for both the trainer and the dog. And this is unlikely to lead to permanent changes.
Instead, think about what you want, as opposed to what you don’t want. Remember, we can’t have a behavioral vacuum. I don’t want my dog to rush to the door and bark when someone comes. All Right. What is acceptable replacement behavior? How about a station like a carpet or a bed when someone comes to the door? Rather, it seems like a good option. This is incompatible behavior. Your dog can not rush to the door and walk on his mat at the same time. It gives your dog a desirable task instead of the unwanted ones. If there are two options (rush to the door or go to the mat), your dog will choose the one that is the best bet.the one who pays well and consistently. Do what behavior you want.
Once the task was decided, the approach would then be to make the station an important reinforcement site. Here, the pet Tutor comes into play as a very convenient tool. If your dog has ever been introduced to you, you know that he loves you. Using the pet tutor as a treatment delivery system on the mat has several advantages, including the ability of my dog to work at a certain distance from me and give my dog an external accent for reinforcement.
I simply install my tutor near my station and train my dog by feeding him whenever he is nearby, and finally when he is on the mat. My ultimate goal is for him to lie on the carpet. Here, my ability to divide the desired behavior into small, easily accessible parts is important. If I do not strengthen regularly (every 3-5 seconds), I wait too much. In this matter, I have to lower my criteria, maybe to throw my dog towards the mat. My goal for this stage of the process is for my dog to be magnetized on the mat, as it always leads to a high degree of reinforcement. Basically, I want the opportunity to come on the carpet to make my dog very, very happy. I need it before I go to step 2 and add the sound.
My ultimate goal is for my dog to hear the sound of the door (ring or knock) and automatically run to his mat and lie on it. Step 2 of training to this goal is to add the sound before amplifying my dog on the mat. So the dog is on the carpet, I knock on the door frame, and then quickly strengthen with the pet teacher. Repeat repeat repeat … the clatter or sound of the bell must come before amplification. The sequence must be first sound, and then amplified.
What if your dog jumps off the carpet when he hears the noise? I’ll do two things. First, I will continue and further strengthen. Yeah, even if my dog goes to the door, I’ll look at the rug as soon as possible. For some dogs, the realization that even if they hear the sound, there will be Cookies is enough to keep them there. But if not, I know I have to change the sound to make it much less intense. I have to find that sweet spot where my dog hears the sound, but doesn’t feel compelled to react. A slight tapping instead of 4-5 hards for example. Or the sound of a doorbell on an app on my phone to start with the very very low volume. I will work on this scene until the sound causes my dog to stay in a down and focus on the pet teacher in anticipation of the treat.
Then finally I add to step 3 where my dog starts the mat and goes there when he hears the sound. Instead of starting with my dog on the carpet, I start with my dog out of it. I can do this by throwing a cookie or calling the dog for a cookie. Then I make the noise. When I have done the first two steps correctly, my dog will rush to the mat and I will signal the guardian of the animal to strengthen him. Then ask my dog to leave the carpet with a treat or a Booster and a cookie from my Hand, make the sound, wait for my dog to come back to the carpet and reinforce it. Again and again.
In summary, the three basic steps are::
- Bring your dog to love this mat!
- While your dog is on the mat, add the sound (knock or ring the bell) before you feed.
- While your dog is out of the mat add the clay, wait for your dog to go to the mat, and then feed him.
These steps lay the foundation for the real situation of someone who comes to your door and knocks or rings the bell. There are many more steps to make this useful for everyday situations. One of them is the device of the previous arrangement. Your carpet in a comfortable place and ready for your dog. Have your Tutor nearby and loaded with good things. Being ready is the first step to a successful Training. If you need to get up and find all your stuff, it’s just easier to watch Netflix and the Training isn’t done.
If you really want to make a new year resolution then how about this? Make some fun with your dog every day! My dogs think that Training is the most fun they can have, so I just have to get up and do it to make them happy. Make a few minutes more fun Training every day (remember not to think anything or anything!) is a great resolution and will make both your life and that of your dog richer.