Tips for …….. How Behavior Modification Works

Many dogs acquire behavior patterns along the way that do not harmoniously fit in with our human routines.  These are not bad dogs, only those who have yet to learn the skills needed to grow into successful pets.  Unskilled dogs are simply behaving like dogs, left to their devices, without information and direction from us.  Teaching our dogs to respond to foundation cues is essential.   Learning how to apply those cues where needed transforms unwanted behaviors into desirable ones.  Here are considerations for and components of a behavior modification program:

  • Dog behavior does not change unless/until the human’s responses change
  • Understand the cause of the undesirable behavior (fear, over arousal, resource guarding, for example)
  • Halt the reinforcement schedule for the undesirable behavior
  • Identify contexts where the behavior to change happens and set goals for what the dog could do instead
  • Positive reinforcement works to replace (rather than repress) unwanted behaviors with desirable alternatives
  • Tools and techniques learned in a behavior modification program should be applied for several months for new behaviors to “stick”
  • Management is important to prevent continued rehearsal of undesirable behaviors
  • Behavior modification programs work best when we work at the dog’s level, adjusting to set up for success (yes, she earns the cookie every time!)

Dogs are capable of learning and change throughout life.   Certainly, long-established behavior patterns take longer to replace.  Dogs, unfortunately, do not outgrow behaviors like human children.  Because dogs continue to practice the behaviors that “work” for them, they grow into those behaviors.   Thankfully, when set up correctly, dogs are happy to learn new behaviors more in line with our notions of harmonious companionship.