So here’s a hard truth…a big part of my job as a dog trainer is just getting people to stop rewarding their dogs for things they don’t like! We control so much of what our dogs experience. We decide when they go out for walks, when they are fed, when they get treats, toys, chews, affection, and so much more. By simply being conscious about WHEN you give your dog all this great stuff, you can ensure that you’re rewarding behavior you actually like!
If you pet, pay attention to, talk to, or give stuff to a dog who is being poorly behaved (even when it’s cute,) then you can expect your dog to repeat and even intensify that behavior. Dogs don’t have jobs, social media, or netflix so we are their main source of entertainment! That means your dog can really focus on figuring out how to get you to do what they want. This isn’t a bad trait…it’s actually a great one if you are being thoughtful about what you choose to reward.
This is where the system called “nothing in life is free” comes in handy. If you want your newly adopted dog to start engaging in good behavior and learn how to cooperate with you, follow these steps:
- Write up your dog’s asset list. What does your new dog love? Petting? Food? Getting their leash put on? Sniffing in the yard? Think about all the things your dog really enjoys and write down the top 5.
- Pair each of your dog’s top 5 assets with a skill your dog must do to get them (like an obedience command, a training game, or a trick). For example, if your dog loves getting their leash put on, perhaps they will need to sit first. If your dog enjoys getting pet, maybe they will need to come when you say their name.
- If your dog gets pushy or demanding for an asset without first earning it, ignore them (turn away or leave them room). Once they have given up, ask them to perform their skill to get the asset.
- Repeat…a lot. Dogs need repetition to learn good habits so the more you repeat this simple game, the more you can be sure your dog is not getting paid for behavior you don’t like and instead is getting to practice things like responding to their name, sitting, or even doing a trick.