What Do You Want?

You know you don’t want your dog to jump up and bark at the mailman. So you tell them no. Then you hire me to tell them no.

But do you have something for them to do instead?

I find that humans are really clear on what they don’t want their pets to do—jump on the bed, pee in the house, bark at visitors—but are unable to describe the behaviors they do want in those situations.

Benny leapt and growled at the pool man—twice a week for years. His human wrestled him away from the pool man—twice a week for years.

She knew she wanted Benny not to leap and growl at the pool man. But she had not thought about what she did want him to do when the pool man came.

It’vs always important to substitute a good behavior for a bad one.

So we suggested to Benny that when the pool man comes, Benny sit by the window quietly and watch the pool man carefully. And if the pool man does anything that Benny thinks is bad, he will bark and his human will take care of the situation, and will be happy because Benny is working as a partner to keep them safe.

Needless to say, big behavior changes like this one take some work to shift, but Benny was open to it. We all agreed that the next day the pool man was scheduled to come, she would keep the dog door closed so Benny had to be inside, and when the pool man came, she would go and sit at the window with Benny, and give him treats as long as he sat quietly watching the pool man with her. She would not wrestle with him. She would ignore him if he barked. But if he sat and was quiet, he would get a treat—a reward for his new behavior.

While it might take some time for Benny to see the benefits of his new behavior, and be able to sit quietly at the window even with the dog door open, with persistence he’ll get there.

So next time you want your dog to stop doing something, think to yourself what you would like him to do instead, and cut off the bad behavior at the pass. And remember to always reward the new good behavior.

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