We all get frustrated when our dog does something she isn’t supposed to do – like chasing the cat, raiding the trash, or jumping up to check out the counter (or our guests), etc. Our usual response is to get frustrated and tell our dog “NO!” in order to get her to stop. But there is a better way to reduce unwanted activities for both you and your best friend.
First, resist the inclination to scold and reprimand by shouting, “No, no, no! Stop it!” Instead, we suggest you begin by gently interrupting the behavior you don’t like to prevent it from being reinforced, and calmly redirect your dog to a more acceptable activity. This is about limiting the momentum of a problem. The best overall way to reduce an unwanted behavior is to replace it with something you like better. Instead of telling your dog what not to do, develop the habit of guiding your dog to engage in appropriate pastimes.
What might this look like? Let’s say Daisy is counter-surfing, looking for something tempting you may have left within reach. Instead of reprimanding her, what if you cheerfully call her name, coax her or guide her away from the temptation, and offer her a chew toy. “Hey Daisy, ready?!” When she looks at you, invite her to go into her crate, or offer her a chew toy she loves.
When Rizzo barks at people passing by your house, offer warm praise to interrupt the chaos (“Good boy – thanks for letting me know there are people out there! Now, come to me!”) When he arrives, offer more praise, and then get him interested in a squeaky toy or a quick game of fetch if you have a few minutes.
Of course it helps if you’ve already worked with your dog, training for good manners and cooperation such as “watch me” or “come” or “go to your crate.” Practicing a repertoire of tricks for a few minutes throughout the day can make it MUCH easier for your dog to respond when it really matters. And it gives you a lot of options for getting your dog away from problems and temptations and into activities that you and your family can live with and enjoy.
So begin to think in terms of getting your dog involved in desirable behaviors as an alternative to saying no. It makes having a dog more fun for you, and having people more fun for your dog!
Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4 CPDT-KA