Training your dog involves obedience and commands like sit, stay and come. These are desired behaviors that you practice, reward and reinforce.
But, if you aren’t careful, you can accidentally teach your dog behavior patterns that are much less desirable – and you likely won’t even realize you’re doing it.
Accidental Reinforcement & Dog Training
Today, most professional dog trainers use positive reinforcement-based methods to shape behavior. Essentially, this means giving Fido a reward when he exhibits a behavior you want to see.
For dogs, a reward is anything they want right now. This could be a treat, a walk, a few minutes of playing with the ball or even just a heartfelt “Good boy!” and an enthusiastic head scratch.
But, what you may not realize is that your pet views many other, unintended responses as rewards. And, every time you repeat those responses, it helps to reinforce an unwanted behavior.
Rewarding Unwanted Behavior when Training Your Dog
Whatever unwanted behavior you’re dealing with, it’s happening because you are somehow rewarding – and thus reinforcing – that behavior.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you don’t allow Fido on the furniture but, one evening as you sat there reading a book or watching TV, Fido leapt up on the couch next to you. You promptly give him the off! command and, like the good boy he is, Fido jumped back down to the floor.
“Good boy!” you tell him, and give him an enthusiastic ear scritch or maybe even a treat.
The next night, as you sit there on the couch doing a crossword puzzle, Fido jumps up to see you. Off! you tell him and, again, you reward him for following your command. Or did you?
What you’ve actually done here is ensure that, every time you’re sitting on the couch engrossed in any activity that isn’t Fido, he’s going to jump up, knowing that you will give him the off command and a reward.
Congratulations. You’ve just successfully trained Fido to jump on the couch.
How to Un-Train Your Dog’s Bad Behaviors
The first step is to stop rewarding or reinforcing any sequence of behaviors that includes an unwanted action. When you consciously stop reinforcing bad behavior, even accidentally, it will eventually lead to the extinction of that behavior.
After all, Fido doesn’t want to waste his time doing things that don’t get him something fun or yummy.
This concept is hard for many pet owners, who tend to think that negative reinforcement (punishment) is the right way to deal with bad behavior. This is where a professional trainer can help.
The experienced team at Innovative K9 Academy in Salt Lake City can help you understand how you may inadvertently teach your pet unwanted behaviors and, more important, teach you how to reinforce obedience and other, more desirable behaviors.
Innovative K9 Academy offers a wide variety of dog and puppy classes and boot camps, designed to give your pet the social and behavioral skills he needs to be a good companion and valued member of your household. Contact us today to learn more about the best methods for training your dog.