Every dog will do it. Sooner or later, he’ll do something unexpected and unwanted that makes you yell. It happens to everyone. Invariably we feel bad, and now have a dog who thinks we’re unpredictable and bonkers. Luckily, there are some very effective ways to handle those ‘yell-inducing’ moments without having to scare the pants off everyone in the room.
Many unwanted behaviours are entirely predictable and the answer to those is ‘management’. If you can prevent your dog from finding out how much fun the flowerbeds can be, he’s never going to develop a gardening habit in that spot. If you also give him an area to cultivate as he sees fit, he no longer has a reason to apply his gardening skills to other areas.
If you’re planning a new canine addition, this is always the best way to go: prevent mistakes and provide appropriate outlets. However, management is never 100% and dogs will always be dogs.
No crystal balls
Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict what your dog may find entertaining. Sometimes they’re just going to take you by surprise and do something you’d rather not see again.
You can’t manage what you don’t anticipate so you’d better have an alternative up your sleeve when your dog does something that makes you go ‘OMG! No!!!!’
Obviously, if your dog is about to do something dangerous, like chew through a live power cord, you’re going to do whatever it takes to stop them, and rightly so!
However, for things that aren’t life threatening, just annoying and unwanted, a better way to go is this:
The positive interrupter + redirection
Never heard of it? That’s because many trainers will tell you to either punish or ignore unwanted behaviour. So, when you take punishment out of your tool box, and ignoring problems is usually impossible (not to say ineffective) interrupting and redirecting is the only sensible option.
Using the system of positive interruption and redirection works because:
- There’s no emotional fallout (unlike punishment).
- It’s informative: stop doing ‘that’, do ‘this’ instead.
Options for interruption – no training required
There’re quite a few options for positive interrupters. Which one you choose will depend on the age and stage of training of your dog. I’ll start with the ones that don’t need any training at all.
1 Physically move the dog
Yep, just gently but firmly move the dog away from what he’s doing and give him something else to do. This works great with young pups that are exploring and find themselves in spots you never imagined they could get to.
If you do have to move your pup, don’t just swoop in and scoop them up! Imagine how scary that would be; there you are, minding your own business and suddenly you find yourself flying through the air being gripped tightly round the middle! EEK! The better way to move them is to gently hustle them with your hand and let their own legs carry them where you guide them.
2 Treat lure
If your dog is foodie, this can work a treat (excuse the pun). Just put a smelly bit of food on his nose and lead him to where you want him.
3 Kissy noise
Many dogs will respond to a kissy noise. If yours is one of them, make the noise, and when they look at you, reward by presenting a cookie for them to come and collect. If you’re using a marker signal (clicker/word) you can give it just as they look, and then reward.
Once your pup has stopped and redirected their attention to you, give them an alternative by redirecting them to a chew toy or engaging them in some other activity.
Options for interruption – some training required
If you’re working with an older dog who has some training, you can use what he already knows to interrupt unwanted behaviours. Just be sure to reward well for compliance – remember you are asking him to stop doing something that’s potentially a lot of fun. If you don’t pay, he’s unlikely to listen to you again!
If your dog can come when called, just call them to you to interrupt them. Remember to call randomly, not just when you want to interrupt him, and always pay. That way you’ll keep his recall muscles nice and strong.
5 Stationing and release
If your dog knows how to go to, and stay on, a mat/bed/station, send them to one to interrupt them. Again, pay well.
6 Drop it
I suggest that every dog should be taught how to drop items when requested. I’ve lost count of how many scary things my pups have picked up! It’s one of the very first behaviours I teach a new addition in our house. For my guys, ‘drop it’ means ‘spit out that thing and come to me for something better!’.
If you’ve taught it, keep it strong, pay for it well and use it to keep your blood pressure from soaring when your pride ‘n’ joy picks up something swallowable and dangerous.
7 Let’s go
Again, this needs a bit of training to work but it’s pretty simple to do. If your dog can change direction, or leave what they’re doing to come with you, you have a great way to interrupt him when he’s about to stick his nose where it’s not wanted.
8 Alternative behaviour
If your dog has some training, you can interrupt them from doing something you’re not keen on by asking them to do just about anything else in their repertoire.
Now you have a nice arsenal of positive interrupters and ways to kindly stop and redirect unwanted behaviour. However, all these interruptions have one thing in common that you need to be aware of:
they all have the potential to strengthen the behaviour you were trying to prevent. (You can about read how that works, and how to avoid the problem here.)
With that in mind, don’t overuse or rely on any one intervention repeatedly. If your dog insists on going back to doing the behaviour you’re trying to stop, put management in place to permanently prevent it while you either train something else or change the environment.
If your dog is about to commit suicide or unintentional murder by doing something very dangerous, don’t worry about how to stop them ‘nicely’; feel free to do what it takes to avert a disaster!!!
– Sarah and the Gang
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