“Don’t Do That” Navigating Our Way in the Right Direction

“Don’t Do That” Navigating Our Way in the Right Direction

“Don’t let him jump on you!!!” screeched the woman far behind the large yellow lab that was making a beeline towards me at top speed on the trail.

What do you suppose happened next?

Yup, sure thing, the dog jumped on me. There was no aggression, mind you, just uninhibited joy. His enthusiasm and technique were a clear indication of how well-practiced this move was and how ineffective though well-intentioned his owner’s training efforts had been. Jumping on people had, in effect, become this dog’s hobby when he was out on the trails, pure bliss for him, but a form of assault for his victims.

Missing from the equation was what the woman thought I should do rather than what I shouldn’t do - not that it would have made a difference here. “Don’t let him jump on you” was a vague request, leaving interpretation up to me. In addition, it put the onus on me, a total stranger, to keep her dog from doing something she didn’t want him to do.

Imagine if our navigation systems in our cars only told us where NOT to turn, what direction NOT to go in. I know for sure I’d have some choice words as I shut it down and turned to the old paper version of maps for help.

It’s time for a shift in how we think.

Our dogs do what comes naturally to them, and these behaviors aren’t always conducive to a peaceful coexistence. We cannot blame them, but we can train them.

“What do you want him to do instead?”

This is a question I often pose to my clients when we are talking about common challenges with their dogs. The question usually baffles them. “Well, I don’t want him to do it,” is likely their response. Trouble is, we cannot train the absence of behavior. Behavior is going to happen no matter what; we need to choose which one works for both the teacher and the student. We will be far more successful if we focus on what we want them to do rather than what we want them to stop doing. Dogs are often in the predicament I found myself in in the above scenario; being told not to do something without clear information about what to do instead.

How do we make this shift?

  1. Step back.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Laugh at your dog for being a dog.
  4. Define the exact behavior you’d like to modify or replace with something else.
  5. Identify the motivators for the problem behavior (Ex: Food? Attention? Toy?)
  6. Take a mental picture of what you’d like your dog to be doing instead of that annoying thing.
  7. Set your dog up so he wants to do it.
  8. Eliminate the reward for the undesirable thing.
  9. Anticipate and prevent rehearsal of the undesirable behavior.
  10. Limit his other choices, and
  11. Reward generously for the little steps towards your new goal.

Got a puppy who jumps at your clothing as you walk? There are many ways to address this, but how about teaching the rules of tug and using a toy as a reward instead of your clothing? You will find that your puppy looks up a lot more and focuses on you rather than your clothing.

Got a dog who pulls on leash? Work inside initially, in small spaces, and reward your dog for being at your side. Be so generous that he gravitates towards that location. Gradually build the skill to where he can be on leash and in the presence of distractions.

For every “no”, there has to be a “yes.”

Of course, there will be “no’s”, but whenever you find yourself saying “no” to your dog, be quick to say “yes” to what you want him to do. Everybody will be happier for it.

Happy Training!


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