Unintentional Reinforcement?

Do you ever wonder why your dog loves to jump up even though you continually push them off and tell them no? Whether you realize it or not you are providing your dog with lots of positive reinforcement! The first step in dealing with issues like jumping is to learn about reinforcement, and then you can learn how to use it in your favor.

First things first—what is reinforcement? Reinforcement, whether positive or negative, causes a behavior to be more likely to occur again. On the other hand, Punishment, whether positive or negative, causes a behavior to be less likely to occur again. So, what does all that mean to you and your dog? Well, let’s look at each jumping up as an example.

Jumping up is the number one complaint of dog owners that come to The Animals’ House for obedience training. Their otherwise well behaved canine companion just can’t help jumping up when they come home, when a friendly stranger enters the house, or just to say hello. So let’s break it down and look at this scenario step by step. When your dog jumps up he gets the three things that dogs love best – your touch (pushing them off), your voice (saying “get down”, “no”, “stop it”) and your eye contact (that isn’t a hard stare of course). All those things are Positive Reinforcement – they are all likely to increase the chances of that behavior happening again! Because after all, most dogs just want your attention right? So, what can you do? There are two easy methods that can help change unwanted behaviors:

1. take away the reinforcement that you didn’t intend to giv and 2. start to positively reinforce an incompatible behavior.

Let’s look at the first method we teach at The Animals’ House – take away the reinforcement that you didn’t intend to give. So, if your dog jumps up what should you do? You should take away your voice, touch and eye sight!!! Basically, when your dog jumps up for attention you can stand still with your arms folded, looking at the ceiling and saying nothing. When your dog gets down then you can say ‘Good Boy’ and give him some love. But remember, if he jumps up again then you IMMEDIATELY remove your voice, touch and eye sight so he starts to learn that he loses all those things when he jumps up and only gets them when he keeps ‘Four on the Floor’.

The second method can be just as effective – start to positively reinforce an incompatible behavior. The basic idea here is that even before your dog has a chance to jump up for attention and be unintentionally reinforced you get him doing something else that you can reinforce like a basic sit. The exercise looks like this: your dog is approaching you with that same old look in his eye telling you he is about to jump, but before he has the chance you say “Sit”. Your dog will then sit in front of you instead of jumping and you can lavish him with love and affection. You both win! (But remember; if he doesn’t sit go back to the first technique!)

Just take a few minutes to think about what your dog is getting – whether intentional or not – and you can make a big difference in his basic manners!

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