It happens often.
You’re out walking your dog when a neighbor approaches from the opposite direction. You can feel your dog’s growing excitement at the new person to check out. As soon as she’s close enough, he jumps up on her.
You tell your dog to get down, gently pulling him off your neighbor, and laughingly apologize to her. Then you pet your dog for the few minutes you and the neighbor chat to try to keep him from jumping up again.
As you eventually continue your walk, you wonder why your dog won’t stop jumping up on people. But your dog is thinking you couldn’t be happier with how the exchange with the neighbor just went.
Behold the difference in what we think we’re communicating with our dogs and the messages they receive. This is one of many reasons behavior training a valuable experience for dogs and their people – whether you’re new to each other or have been together a long time.
You might accidentally be rewarding your dog for behaviors you don’t like.
“For dogs, ‘what gets rewarded, get repeated,’” said Brittany Bloor, Animal Behavior Program Manager at Anderson Humane. What’s most important to know is that dogs decide what is rewarding, not us. “For example, if a dog finds jumping on strangers rewarding, they are going to repeat that behavior.”
Some of our behaviors can inadvertently make matters worse. “Most people don’t know that they are accidentally rewarding the jumping behavior by pushing the dog off, laughing, or petting them when jumping,” Brittany said.
Instead, in our behavior classes, trainers teach dogs to sit when people approach. “Most behaviors that guardians struggle with we’re able to improve with simple management techniques and training,” Brittany said, adding that our trainers are happy to answer questions about other troublesome behaviors.
It’s important to know what your dog considers rewarding.
Because rewards are so motivating to dogs, “it’s important to find the right reward to effectively reward a behavior,” Brittany said. Knowing your dog’s preferred reward is so important that we begin our training classes with a preference test, offering each dog a variety of treats – such as hot dog, cheese, chicken, or peanut butter – to see which they prefer.
Sometimes what they prefer isn’t even a treat. “Most people do not know that toys, verbal praise, and appropriate touch can be just as reinforcing as food if your dog likes it.”
When you know your dog’s love language, you can communicate more effectively and reinforce positive behaviors.
Your puppy won’t just grow out of unwanted behaviors.
At two months, your dog is going through their secondary socialization period, which means they are learning about people, sounds, textures, scents, body handling, and much more. “These experiences, positive or negative, will shape how a puppy feels about stimuli in the future,” Brittany said. Including which ones they consider rewarding.
Because dogs are motivated by their preferred reward, simply ignoring undesirable behavior or waiting for them to grow out of the behavior will not work. “We have to teach them different behaviors that they still find rewarding in order to decrease the undesirable ones,” Brittany said.
“This is why at Anderson Humane, we offer Puppy Preschool, which combines socialization and basic cues to help set you and your dog up for a lifetime of success.”
Dogs can be trained to practice desirable behaviors at any age.
While it’s great to start a puppy on a path to good behavior at an early age, learning is a lifelong process. “Whether you have a puppy, adolescent, or adult dog, we have classes for you!” Brittany said, adding that with consistency and patience, you should see some progress within the first weeks.
Anderson Humane uses and advocates positive reinforcement, which rewards the behaviors we want to see. “We avoid using punishment as it does not teach a dog what to do instead of the undesirable behavior,” Brittany said. “Punishment can also lead to your dog feeling fear, and anxiety, and can lead to behavioral fallout.”
Our training classes also focus on establishing and strengthening the human-animal bond. “We do this by educating guardians on how to read dog body language, having in-depth conversations on dog development, setting up dogs and parents for success, and simply having fun in class!” Brittany said. “We make sure you walk out of our classes with information to foster life-long training success for you and your pup.”