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Bark All About It!

Finding Substitute Behaviors for Your Dog's Bad Habits: How to Deal With Excitement and Distractions - Part 2

Jul 02, 2015


In our last blog post, we talked about the importance of not overusing the word "no," and instead being more constructive in reshaping and modifying your dog's problematic behaviors. Let's jump right back into it with two more common situations dog owners run into, and how to handle them.

Instead of barking and running around when the doorbell rings, teach your dog to: “Wait,” or “Come get me.”

In a lot of ways, a ringing doorbell is a lot like having strangers walk into the living room—it’s a chaotic, exciting unstructured moment that gives your dog the opportunity to take advantage of the lack of structure and act impulsively.  For many dogs, the doorbell becomes a trigger. When the doorbell rings, it’s Christmas in puppy town.

Consequently, the appropriate response to this is pretty similar to how you discourage your dog from jumping on people. You want to satisfy your dog’s craving for attention, but for it to seek that attention in a much calmer (and quieter) manner.

However, this situation is a little trickier, because you want your dog to ultimately come to rest away from your door, rather than smack dab in front of you (while you’re trying to answer the door). When you’re getting ready to have a “teaching moment,” we advise clients to create a 4 to 6 foot bubble of empty space around the front door, and practice going to the front door and using simple space-creating techniques or commands, such as “back,” to teach their dog to move away from the source of excitement—the front door—and give the owner space. Then you can begin to expand on this idea further.

There are a couple different ways to approach this. One option is to teach your dog to “come get me” or “come find me” when the doorbell rings. In this situation, the dog should run away from the bubble area, and come and sit in front of you, waiting calmly. Then you can reward your dog by giving him a good pet and praising him, as well as a treat once in a while, and then by having him “stay” until you come back from the front door (and you can do a second round of praising for following the “stay” command). 

Another approach is, instead of having your dog come to you, is to have him instead sit at attention a few feet away from the door, outside the bubble. This alternative can work because (1) as you walk by your dog to go to the door, you can reinforce the behavior by petting and praising your pup, while (2) keeping him out of the doorway.

Instead of barking or running after a strange dog, teach your dog to “Look,” or “Follow me.”

When you’re taking your dog for a walk, there are a lot of reasons for wanting your dog to keep his distance from other dogs. Maybe he tends to play too rough, or he isn’t good at recognizing and staying away from aggressive dogs. Regardless of the reason, the impulse to gravitate toward other dogs is very strong. Chances are though, regardless of the situation, the best way to mitigate any unwanted situations is to get your dog to move away from other dogs, rather than closer to them, regardless of whether it’s threatened by the other dog, or wants to play with it. But you don’t want to have to use your dog’s leash away every time you come across another dog.

In either case, you want your dog’s initial reaction to be to engage with you, instead of the other dog. You can do this by teaching your dog to visually track your hand, and to follow you on command. The good thing about this approach is that you can practice this without having another dog around, and by using treats, it’s quite easy to get your dog to track your hand quite closely. Once your dog can reliably do this in a quiet environment, then you can practice having your pup “look” and “follow” as an alternative to jumping on people or rough-housing, just to shake things up a bit. Once they’ve got this down, then you can take the show on the road.

When you come across a dog you want to avoid, remember that dealing with the issue is a two-step process: redirecting your dog’s attention to you, and then moving away from the other dog. So employ the “look” command to get your to track your hand, and then follow up with “follow” to lead him in a wide arc away from the other dog, until you’re far enough away that you can resume your walk in peace. 

Remember: For your dog to successfully gravitate towards a new behavior, it has to be satisfying the desires indicated by the old behavior.

The examples we’ve provided above are just a small sampling of the hundreds of situations that you and your pup will run into. But chances are that you can successfully address any problematic behavior by taking the time to understand what your dog is feeling and what it wants, and then developing a more acceptable behavior that is a happy compromise between what your dog wants, and what you want your dog to do.

Category: Training

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