Everyone knows that you should reward good behaviors and ignore bad behaviors, right? So it makes sense to ignore a dog when she jumps on you and reward her with a treat when she sits, right? WRONG! You need to do more to train your dog to sit politely and not jump up, but it’s easy to do. Just follow there 5 essential tips. Note that these can be applied to other behaviors too.
Tip 1: Don’t ignore the unwanted behavior from your dog. Instead remove the rewards for unwanted behaviors. It turns out that if you ignore an unwanted dog behavior, you may accidentally be rewarding it. For instance, most of my training clients complain that they are ignoring their dog when she jumps up but they aren’t getting the results they want. What they don’t realize is that their dog does not perceive their actions as a removal of attention. Their hands are still dangling out there like tug toys or they are still walking around, which makes them look interactive to their dog—all “rewards” to a dog.
What dog owners should do is to remove what their dog wants, attention in this case, within 0.5 seconds and do it in a way that the dog perceives that they have removed their attention. That may mean standing up completely straight and holding both arms folded against their body while they stand silent and stationary. Or it may just mean pulling their hands away and back to their body. If they remove their attention in a clear manner, they will see a quick and clear response from their dog.
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Tip 2: Train the desired behavior first. It’s essential that the dog owners know to first train their dogs the correct behavior—sitting politely in this case—or it could take a dog forever to figure out what else will earn rewards besides jumping. A five or ten-minute training session where the dog earns 10-50 rewards is generally adequate. Make sure the treats are small-sized and easily chewed.
Training dogs to sit by having them “Say Please by Sitting” automatically is one of the foundation exercises for training-focused, calm behavior and is one of the primary exercises in my Learn to Earn program. Watch how words are not needed. It’s your actions (rewarding at the right time) that are important.
Tip 3: Use a high reinforcement rate first. Then quickly and systematically reduce and vary the rate. Once the dog is sitting, the owners need to reward at a high reinforcement rate. Giving just one treat for sitting often won’t hack it. The first treat you give is for sitting, but additional treats are for remaining seated so that the dog doesn’t just get up and try to jump again. At first, the treats should come rapidly—enough to keep the dog seated—but as soon as she is sitting stably at that treat interval, the interval should be increased and varied. This process should be repeated until the dog is sitting automatically and remaining stably seated. Then the focus should be on switching to other rewards such as petting and praise.
Tip 4: Use a flash lure to prevent the dog from getting the first jump in. If your dog tends to jump on you and then sit afterwards, you should change your strategy FAST so that you don’t accidentally reward this chain of behaviors—jump then sit. You can add in what I call a flash lure before she has a chance to jump. As she’s running over to you but before she has a chance to jump (preferably when she’s about 2 steps away), suddenly flash a treat right to her nose level by just straightening your arm. This will cause her to stop will all four feet on the floor. When she’s completely stationary, you can quickly bring the treat all the way back to your body and clearly out of your dog’s reach so she know she doesn’t get the treat yet. Once she sits, then she gets the treat.
Tip 5: Practice a lot in a short period of time. Because your goal is to develop a new greeting habit with your dog, it’s essential that you practice a lot over a short period of time. For instance, if you set up the situation where your dog is excited to see you five times a day and each time she earns 10-20 rewards and never has a chance to jump then by tomorrow she will probably be sitting automatically in this situation. By the end of the week, the good behavior—in this case, not jumping and sitting politely—should be a habit!
That’s, of course, assuming that in between your practice sessions she didn’t have a chance to get rewards for the opposite behavior!
These are some important subtleties that can help you get behavior changes quickly. It’s important to apply these principles to all training exercises to get the fastest progress.
Used with permission from Dr. Sophia Yin, visit drsophiayin.com for more training tips.