For a tiny gal, Rambi could make some noise. She had her preferred spots for barking, and one of them was by the kitchen. She engaged in this behavior when family members were preparing food and eating at the kitchen table. Rambi had an aversion to sitting on the tiled kitchen floor, so she took up a spot on a rug by the doorway.
Like any behavior that sticks, her barking was reinforced when handouts happened. In our human interpretation, giving the dog a handout might make her be quiet. In the dog’s interpretation, the barking works great to make handouts happen. How do we change this behavior? The first step is to stop reinforcing the barking with food handouts!
Find an Alternative Spot
The rug had a context. It was Rambi’s barking spot. To change her behavior, we needed to change the order of events. We also needed to provide her with directives in an alternative place. Using the dog’s preferences helps, and Rambi liked her blanket in the corner of the kitchen. In the absence of someone preparing food or eating, she chose to go there and lie down. We could use the blanket as an alternative spot.
Rambi was willing to go to her blanket when asked, so we started reinforcing that behavior with her favorite cheese (Provolone). Before long, she was offering to go to her blanket, anticipating cheese. The blanket was not a barking spot.
Shape an Alternative Behavior
Now that Rambi was willingly going to her blanket, we taught her what to do there. We wanted her to lie down and continue lying there. We taught her a “lie down” cue, then used shaping to build that as a keep going behavior.
The criteria have changed for earning the cheese. She went to the blanket and lay down. It was the continuation of this that made the cheese delivery happen. We started with a high rate of reinforcement (lots of cheese bites) and gradually slowed the rate. As time goes along, Rambi practiced this cue chain until there was little food involved. Lying quietly on her blanket during meal prep and eating replaced sitting on the rug, barking.
New behaviors are trained in, and they must be maintained. We did not want the barking behavior to return. For several months after this work, Rambi’s owners must proactively ask her to go to her blanket and adjust the reinforcement schedule. Waiting until she barks to act is not a good way to maintain what we worked diligently to correct. It is always better to provide the dog with directives and pre-empt undesirable behaviors.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC