Teddy is a sweet Cavapoo, who learned that access to the kitchen table was easy. Not to mention highly gratifying. There was a bench on one side and chairs on the other side of an oblong table. It was easy for Teddy to hop up on the bench and sit with the family while they were eating. This was tolerable until Teddy pushed the envelope. He began helping himself to the food when the family was present and, especially, when someone got up from the table. Any food left behind was quickly scarfed by Teddy. This gave him lots of powerful reinforcement for shopping the table. He could also leap onto island stools, so he was found regularly on top of the island browsing for leftovers.
Dogs in the kitchen present a dilemma. Sooner or later, the dog becomes curious about what is “up there”. One or two major paydays (leftover hamburger) and a habit is born. Gates at both kitchen doorways were recommended to control Teddy’s access. He was in the kitchen only when one of his people was present. Otherwise, it was the compelling kitchen environment that determines behaviors. We could predict those behaviors.
Also, family members were aware of leaving unattended plates within Teddy’s leap. Dogs are, after all, opportunistic scavengers. It is silly to tempt fate.
The New Mealtime Spot
Teddy had a crate in the kitchen, but he vocalized in there when the family was present. He also had a bed beside the crate, and he often chose to go lie down there. This would become his new mealtime spot instead of the bench. We used shaping to teach Teddy that he could be part of the mealtime routine, but in a different way and in a different place.
To help manage his “jumping on the bench” habit, we used a five-foot tie-out style tether. If he got up from the bed during the meal and attempted to jump on the bench, the tether prevented it. We redirected him back to his bed to lie down. Once he was settled there, we reinforced this behavior with a bite of treat.
Teddy was amenable to this change. After only several attempts to reach the bench, he went back to his bed. The time in his bed extended and the rate of reinforcement decreased as the family practiced Teddy’s new routine during mealtime. This technique and training were also recommended when one or two people were sitting at the island to prevent continued rehearsal of leaping onto the stools.
Prevent a Restart
Once a behavior pattern is interrupted and replaced with a new one, it must be maintained. There can be no continued rehearsal of the old pattern.
It takes four to six months on average to truly replace old behaviors with new ones. Improvements can happen quickly, but this does not mean the deal is done. Training and management should continue with no complacency until the behavior is proofed. In Teddy’s case, that might mean he is no longer tethered and continues to choose lying in his bed and refraining from jumping on the bench or stools. It makes sense to work a while longer before allowing him a short stint alone in the kitchen.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC