Avoid Reinforcing Bad Behaviors

Avoid Reinforcing Bad Behaviors 

Many dog owners get thoroughly annoyed with their pets when those pets exhibit bad behavior such as jumping up and barking, playing on furniture, or barking at the back door to be let in. The truth is, these are generally not bad behaviors on the part of the dog (they were not born knowing not to do these annoyances) but are instead bad behaviors caused by their people. 

How is that possible? It’s not so surprising when you think about what you are actually doing at the time your dog is demonstrating the so-called bad behavior.

It is well documented and known that rewarding a dog encourages that action to be repeated,whether the rewards are treats, toys, or verbal or physical praise. When you reward a dog precisely at the moment of some behavior you want them to do, they quickly learn that when this action is repeated, chances are good they will get the same reward again. This is where many pet owners go wrong because they don’t realize they are rewarding their pets for inappropriate behavior, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. This is known as inadvertent reinforcement, and it involves unknowingly rewarding your pet for bad behavior.

Inadvertent reinforcement

So why exactly does your dog continue to jump up and down, even when you loudly say ‘No’? Why does your dog bark at the back door until you show up to let it inside? In order to see the problem with this scenario, you have to adopt the dog’s point of view. In any of these behaviors, what the dog is really seeking is to get your attention, to have you pet them, or to get you to let them inside. When you shout at the dog to stop jumping up and down, you’re actually doing exactly what the dog wants, which is to pay attention to it.  Owners think its negative attention but the dog just sees it as attention unless it is stern enough to have meaning to the dog.

In fact, you are reinforcing bad behavior by rewarding the dog with attention. The same thing is true for the pooch was who tries to get into the house at the back door. By barking furiously, it gets your attention and you obligingly head to the back door and let it in – thus again reinforcing bad behavior. If you had adopted the exact opposite approach and waited until the dog stopped barking before allowing it inside, this would have reinforced good behavior, which was to stop the  barking.

Rewarding good behavior

The whole key to getting your dog to actually demonstrate good behavior is to think about which actions you are rewarding and make sure that you only reward positive behaviors and not the negative ones. That means giving dog attention, treats, and toys when they actually demonstrate good behavior, and not when they’re in the midst of some undesirable behavior you would rather discourage.

This can be somewhat difficult for an older dog because they have become set in their ways, but even older dogs can be taught new tricks if you’re consistent and if you persevere with your reinforcement strategy. Whenever your dog is engaged in some undesirable action, it’s better to ignore it completely, and then reward the pet when it has quieted down and is performing a good action.

When you’re not up to the task

If you should get discouraged when you don’t see results after a reasonable amount of time, don’t give up, because all is not lost. There are professionals who are expert at modifying dog behavior and persuading them to adopt good behaviors for which they will be rewarded. If you’re having trouble indoctrinating your pet, contact the professionals at Woof in the Woods, where the experts can lend their skills and knowledge to the situation, and bring about some genuine improvement in your dog’s behavior.