Now that Cato responds to “Leave It” by turning his attention away from the counter, we have the first step in the change program. Lacking further direction, Cato is likely to revert his attention back to his counter shopping activity. We want to replace it with an alternative kitchen activity.
Here Are the Alternative Behaviors
We all engage in behaviors to achieve goals. Cato’s goal in counter shopping was to enjoy a bonanza. Food or objects there were of interest and satisfied his seeking desire. Alternative behaviors can occur when his goals are met doing something else. After he responds to “leave it”, Cato is directed to a runner mat beside a sliding door. On many occasions, he chooses this spot to lie down. Because he likes it there, we teach him to “go to the mat” and reinforce that behavior with a bite of high value food. Cato goes to the mat when we ask him to.
The next cue in the chain is asking Cato to “lie down”. We reinforce “go to the mat and lie down” to make these behaviors strong. Observing a fluency in the cue chain, we change the reinforcement to build a keep going behavior. Shaping is the best technique to achieve this. Rather than asking Cato to “stay”, we used a reinforcement schedule to teach him as he remained lying down on the mat, he could earn bites of food.
While training in this keep going behavior, we must continue to manage. This means that Cato has no unsupervised kitchen time and the counters and island are kept clear of food and objects with a history of interest to him.
How Replacement Works
Ultimately, Cato’s behavior goal is the same. He is learning a new way to achieve it, using a different set of behaviors. Learning is a result of human intervention instead of the environment. Counter shopping starts with a curious, bored dog who is looking for mental engagement. Humans intervene by providing directives in the form of interactive or independent play and trained in cues. Counter shopping takes hold when the dog finds something of value either by way of food or engagement. (Paper shredding is fun!)
Most dogs are amenable to changing behaviors to achieve goals. It is matter of determining which replacement behaviors work for both the human and the dog. Cato still gets his payday. He achieves this by going to his mat, lying down, and remaining there.
Beware! It Can Come Back
Replacement behaviors must be asked of the dog for a time to truly develop an alternative behavior pattern. Should the owner stop directing Cato too soon and cease all food reinforcement, the counter shopping behavior can come back. It will return if Cato finds a big payoff there.
Here is a cautionary tale: I taught my Border Collie, Belle, to “leave it”. She took nothing from surfaces she could easily access. For years, she was reliable. But…., I became complacent. I placed three cupcakes on the kitchen table – too close to the edge. When I returned home, there was not a crumb left of those cupcakes, and she was not talking….
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC