If we want to change any behavior, including our pet’s, there are a few general steps.
Step One is: Reward the desired behavior and remove rewards for undesirable behaviors.
This is one of four foundational guidelines I first learned at an all-day seminar presented by the world-renowned Dr. Sophia Yin, professor of animal behavior at UC Davis. Dr. Yin’s credentials could fill paragraphs, but it was her spirit which fanned the flames of my interest in behavior. She communicated with animals in a way they could understand clearly—and most often it involved NO WORDS! The amazing thing is that once I understood the concepts, I too could produce similar behaviors—and without words! And even better—so can YOU!
Step One is especially fun in the exam room with a new puppy. Puppies are just like babies in that every interaction is a learning experience. It’s just a matter of whether what they are learning is a desired behavior or one that is undesired! The exercise starts innocuously while we are discussing Daisy’s diet or Sam’s potty training. All the while (after the initial treat lure into a sitting position), the process is repeated silently over and over until Daisy or Sam are sitting on their own in anticipation of a reward! In Dr. Yin’s terminology, this is called “Sit to Say Please” and it is the foundation of good manners and quick learning. In a few minutes with a few simple (well timed) rewards, you have established yourself as a trustworthy leader!
Step One Homework:
Understand what is a reward for your pet. Is it food? Toys? Attention? Try each one to see which is the most effective. Know that any eye contact, anything spoken and any touch are powerful rewards. Think of a jumping puppy. If Cody jumps on you and you look at him, say, “No!” and push him down, you’ve just rewarded him THREE TIMES! It’s no wonder the behavior persists.
Be aware that “negative” attention can still be a reward, so verbal scolding or physical contact (such as holding a puppy’s mouth closed to try to stop the biting), will perpetuate behaviors.