Dog’s Eye View: Breaking bad habits
September 1, 2017
So often, we get these questions about unwanted behavior: "How do I break him from jumping up, barking at the front window or pulling on leash?"
There are many more problem behaviors, but these are pretty common requests. The title to this column says a lot about one reason your efforts may not have been successful.
The term "breaking" may mean different things to different people, but usually, frustrated pet owners mean, "Make it stop!" This frustration is understandable when we have invite a sweet puppy or adopted dog into our home, then realize there is a huge communication and expectation gap.
Someone once said, "You can't replace something with nothing." If you think about it, that's what we usually try to do. We might be so desperate to get the biting or jumping up to stop that all we can think to do is shut it down, perhaps forgetting what we would rather our dog do.
The word "train" has numerous definitions, but common synonyms are teach, instruct and educate. These are our goals when we help dog owners understand the source and possible solutions to their pets' unwanted behaviors.
Dogs that jump up on people when they are being greeted are a common problem for owners. We don't often address the fact that we may have helped create this problem ourselves when our young puppies put their paws up on us to lick our faces when we greet them. They are small and irresistible. It's not until later, when they are bigger, that we suddenly think it's not so cute.
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For wolves, this is a normal food-begging behavior that is highly reinforced by the mother. The very young pups put their paws up and excitedly lick her mouth in order to elicit a warm, regurgitated meal. Domestic puppies also have the food-begging behavior, but the mothers rarely respond with a regurgitated meal. We humans respond to them with feeding meals in bowls, petting and attention.
We can interrupt this automatic jumping behavior pattern by teaching our dogs another behavior that is incompatible with jumping. We can teach our puppy to sit. We then wait for that to happen before we pet him. In our classes, we teach a skill called "nose touch targeting" or "Go say hi" to students. It requires their dog to touch his nose to the palm of an outstretched hand. This allows him to be in contact with the greeter without putting his paws on them. It's very effective.
Perhaps this more detailed explanation of what it takes to first understand, then train your little buddy might help when you are thinking of "breaking" his bad habit.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than 30 years of experience.