Tell the Dog What to Do

Dogs behaving badly either lack the skills required to engage in appropriate behaviors, find themselves in situations where they are so far over threshold that they are dysfunctional, or have inadequate information and direction from their humans.  It is, often, a combination of these. 

Dogs love structure.  They have expectations of outcomes and thrive on predictability.  They want and need information and directions from us.  In the absence of information and directions, a dog’s behavior can look frenetic and confused.  That is precisely what is going on.

Obedience Cues are Tools

The best way to provide information to the dog is by using learned obedience cues.  A handful of cues, such as sit, wait, stay, lie down, and come become reliable, using reinforcement schedules, generalization, and maintenance.  They are the tools to provide information to your dog when needed. 

Here is an example.  Someone visits and this is a new experience for the dog.  He will not figure out what to do without direction from the owner.  He may continue to jump, bark, or engage in other undesirable behaviors.  He does not know how to navigate this big social transition.  This dog needs information and direction, which might include that owner calling him over by her side to lie down.  This is productive because the dog is fluent in the “lie down” cue.  He can respond to that!

What Does Redirection Mean?

Signaling to the dog that a behavior is undesirable requires further action on our part.  When we say, “No” or “Stop” to the dog, we cannot just leave it at that.  It is insufficient information.  We must tell the dog what to do instead.  This is how dogs learn which behaviors work for them and which behaviors do not. 

Training requires many repetitions with reinforcement to build reliability.  Young dogs, especially, are easily distracted from the task at hand.  They are looking for the handler to tell them what to do.  A common error is when we humans assume the dog is reliable, and we fail to clearly communicate the desirable behavior.  Clear communication means using the obedience cues that we invested time and energy installing in the animal. 

Information, Please

Effective handlers always work at the dog’s level.  This means observation and adjustment to the dog’s duration, distance, and intensity thresholds.  Inexperienced and untrained dogs might not know to look to the handler for information, because they just react to a situation.  We must intervene and begin to teach them.  More experienced animals come to look to their handlers for information and direction.  What do we do here?  It is our job to answer that question.

Where is your dog in this process?  Next time you and your dog might face the unfamiliar, observe if he looks to you for direction.  If he does, provide it!  If he does not, you have some work to do.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC