I know what you're thinking (or saying):
"My Chachi is so eager to please, though."
Hate to break it to you - he's not. And, it's OK. Really, it is.
DOGS ARE INHERENTLY SELFISH===============================
Again, it’s OK. There is ALWAYS something in it for them - food, attention, access, SOMETHING; otherwise, they wouldn't do it. Trust me.
Case in point: you get up from sitting on the couch and the dog takes it. Hate to break it to you, but your dog is not trying to claim the couch from you; he just wants to take your nice, cozy, warm spot, since it’s a whole lot better than that cold, uncomfortable spot on the ground!
So, we use this “gimme what I want!” attitude to our advantage as that reward they will do anything for becomes very powerful when they make a mistake, since they don’t get it. Thus, the next time, they are more willing to offer the correct response, because all they care about is getting their pot of gold at the end of rainbow.
There is NO more effective consequence or “discipline” for a dog than removal of what they want. It is infinitely more productive and humanely convincing than using force or scare-based tactics.
So, how exactly do they learn and process information?
CLASSICAL AND OPERANT CONDITIONING======================================
Classical – Pairing something like food (unconditioned reinforcer), praise, toys, clickers (conditioned reinforcers) as a reward for something we want the dog to do. This = that.
Operant – Getting the dog to understand that the correct response gets him a reward, while an incorrect response moves him further away from the reward. Combined with developing a message that faster, better adherence gets faster, better rewards (like jackpotting for the best results – 2 or 3 treats instead of one), operant conditioning is a vital part of the learning process.
DOGS MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON 4 QUADRANTS====================================
This helps us understand why dogs do what they do. Why do they dig, jump, mouth, etc.? Because it’s rewarding to them, rather than they have some evil plan. The only way you deal with the rewarding/not-rewarding issues is to make the problem behavior not rewarding, and make an alternate behavior that we deem acceptable, more rewarding. For example, ignoring jumping, instead of pushing them down is an effective consequence. Getting them to understand that sitting is way more rewarding is even better!
The safe/dangerous issues are much more difficult. It deals with an imaginary line that is called a threshold that divides both areas. Once that line is crossed, the dog reacts with what is called a conditioned emotional response (CER). The CER may be as benign as fleeing away, to as problematic and dangerous as a maim-force bite.
The best way to deal with these issues is to desensitize whatever the stimulus may be through distance, as well as counter-condition the response the dog has. The dog must remain below threshold for learning to take place. If the dog reacts, we lose. We could shock the dog, leash correct or throw a filet mignon at their face during the reaction and it will not matter, since they went above their threshold and the CER came into play. It is paramount to understand that forcing a dog through an issue rarely works, and can often times exacerbate the issue.
Work below threshold, reward for calm behavior, and change the conditioned emotional response. While it may not be a quick fix, there is no more effective, long-term solution to those bottom tier issues.
We all want what is best for our four-legged family members. Let’s all try to make sure that when help is needed, it is informed, humane and effective. If you feel uneasy about a particular protocol, there is probably a good reason!
Drop us a line if you need help - firstname.lastname@example.org