The Value of a Replacement Behavior vs. The Word “NO”
Ok this is going to be one of those strange blogs that hopefully makes you think and realize you just might be going about this whole dog training thing a little wrong…
What is our first instinct when our dogs do something wrong? We use the word NO… And in most cases, we yell it, in a loud, commanding and dominating voice (after all that’s what we have read on the web to do right 😉) Well this is what I want to address…
- How we use the word No
- What it really means to the dog
- Is it even necessary?
OK, so the word NO in dog training is what is known as a negative mark, or a way to “mark” or “label” a behavior as incorrect… However, we have attached in some cases both volume and venom with the word and to be honest it probably scares the dog into stopping said unwanted behavior… That way we could then redirect the dog to a positive or correct choice that could then be rewarded…
Here is the rub…by using all that volume and venom when saying “NO” we actual scare our dogs into a state of non-behavior… They know their owner is freaking out and yelling so the safest thing is simply stop and do nothing… And that is the last thing we want! What I really want is a dog that will offer new and different behaviors other than the one they got wrong! And if they are freaked out, the last thing your dog will feel comfortable with is offering other behaviors (and this is all based off your behavior, not theirs) …
So, what do we do? Change it up a bit… Instead of a Negative Mark, how about a No Reward Mark? How about saying “Too Bad”, “I don’t think so” or “That’s not right” Now don’t misunderstand me, your dog is not going to no the difference between the word “No” and “That’s not Right” but the way you will say these two things will in all likely hood sound very different. One, will sound like you are in trouble and the other will sound like “nope try something else” and let’s see if you can figure this out?
In one case we focus on the mere fact the dog made a mistake and the other we focus on getting the dog to keep trying to figure out the right answer, and once they do…
Here comes the reward and the reinforcement for the correct behavior!!!
Now to the idea of is the Negative Mark or even the No Reward Mark even necessary? Let’s look at the age-old dog behavior problem of “jumping up” on people along with the idea of replacement behaviors to correct unwanted behaviors….
First scenario with a negative mark:
Fido jumps up… Owners yells “No” … Dog cowers due to volume and venom but hey the jumping stopped right? You might even offer a cookie but ask yourself if your dog is having a good time or if you are building trust/relationship you want with dog?
Second scenario with a no reward mark:
Fido jumps up… Owner calmly says “I don’t think so” …. Dog looks confused, pauses and then sits wondering what the owner wants and the owner says, “Good boy” and here comes the cookie for a job well done…
Third scenario with a replacement behavior…
I guess I should probably explain what this even is… The replacement behavior is the behavior you actually want vs. the unwanted behavior that started this entire mess… The dog jumping is the unwanted behavior… The behavior we want is a sitting dog, because a sitting dog can’t be jumping up now can they… Instead of focusing on what we don’t want, we must focus on getting what we actually do want… So, the scenario goes like this:
Fido jumps up and the owner simply says “Fido, sit” and once the dog sits, we say good boy and reward. We don’t really need “No” Or “I don’t think so” … We just need to ask the dog for what we want which is also incompatible with jumping up (a sit) …
Now for the magic… You do this for a couple of weeks and your dog starts to realize that treats fall from the sky when his/her butt is on the ground and that when paws are on a human nothing good happens… Which behavior do you think will go away and which behavior do you think will increase? All with just 3 little things
- Teaching the dog to sit
- Ignoring and or redirecting the bad behavior (asking for sit)
- Rewarding the snot out of the behavior you want
I leave you with a little exercise I ask of my clients and then my response:
ME: If I ask you to write down everything your dog could do wrong; how long would that list be?
Client: Pretty Long!!!
ME: OK, how about if I ask you to write down all the things you want your dog to actually do?
Client: Well there are actually only 6 or 7 things I actually want…
- Don’t jump on People
- Don’t pull on leash
- Come back when called
- Stay when I want them to
- Calm Down
- Be friendly
- Like other dogs
(MOST FOLKS GET STUCK AROUND HERE)
ME: OK, would you rather chase a huge list of problem behaviors, to catch, punish and fix… Or would you like to simply focus on the 6-7 things you so desperately want and just reward the snot out of them? And before you answer, consider which your dog would enjoy more… Because if they are not having fun are you going to be having fun and if you are not having fun are you going to practice???
I hope this little blog (and yes it is simplistic and very generalized) at least made you think a bit about how to approach some of your dogs unwanted behaviors and if it did the next blog I would love for you to read is the one on Hand Feeding (how you can start focusing on what you want)
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