Rambi’s evening entertainment was parking herself on a circular rug in the middle of the family room and barking. Non-stop. The only way to hush her up was to give her a Kong stuffed with cheese. As soon as she finished, the barking resumed. It was a vicious cycle.
Her barking was, indeed, reinforced. It resulted in the appearance of a stuffed Kong. Like any behavior that works for the dog, she used it to achieve a goal. Rambi’s barking became a winning behavior pattern for her. And a super annoying one for her people.
Change the Pattern
The rug in the family room had a context. It was a barking spot. Just like the kitchen barking, to change her behavior pattern, we needed to change the order of events. As soon as a certain family member entered the family room, Rambi ran in after him, went to her barking spot, and started. She knew exactly the movements of her family and the relevance to her. It was predictable.
Keeping a leash attached to her harness and allowing it to drag helped Rambi connect to her handler. A bit less focus on her usual routine was more likely. The new behavior pattern looked like this: Rambi waited for her handler (a different family member) to walk to the family room door and stayed as asked to walk into the room together. By-passing the barking spot, Rambi was directed to a different rug beside her handler’s favorite chair. She was asked to lie down and remain there for a time. At a later point, she was invited up on her handler’s lap, where she tended to be quiet.
Train In Basics
The only reliable obedience cue in Rambi’s repertoire was “sit”. We needed to teach her to lie down and stay. The clicker proved to be a good tool to teach Rambi, who was 5 years old, that training could be a fun game for her. We worked to fade the food lure and adjust the reinforcement schedule. When she was ready, it was time to teach her to “stay”. The goal was to use these cues to bring her to the new (non-barking) rug, then ask her to lie down and stay there until verbally released. We were setting up an alternative routine for the family room as we had done in the kitchen.
We used the clicker to mark and reinforce the “stay” cue, setting criteria for success. We used cheese to reinforce her correct responses to the “lie down and stay” cues.
Training in obedience cues gave us tools to use in setting up and practicing a new family room routine. We changed Rambi’s old behavior pattern. Gradually we moved away from the clicker and extended Rambi’s time lying down. To achieve this, we dropped the “stay” cue and used shaping to reinforce a keeping going behavior (lying down).
Like all new behaviors intended to replace undesirable ones, there must be a plan to maintain them. If you halt all reinforcement of any behavior, it will become extinct.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC