Fitting Confidence And Skill Building Into Your Dog's DayAug 21, 2023
When you have a fearful dog, you usually have a laundry list of training issues to work on- and it can feel pretty overwhelming. How are you supposed to find time to do all of that training while taking care of all of your other responsibilities?
One approach to fitting in little bits of training (and positive reinforcement!) into your dog's day, is to simply reward your dog whenever you notice them doing something you like. The behavior you reinforce could be something as small as looking at you as you pass by, taking a step in your direction, or resting on a mat. Check out Kathy Sdao's SMART x 50 protocol for opportunistically reinforcing desirable dog behaviors in her book "Plenty in Life Is Free". You can find links to her books and videos on her website.
I have personally struggled to remember to reinforce my dogs' "good" behaviors as frequently as I should during our daily lives. If my dogs are resting quietly, I tend to ignore them. It's when they are being the "squeaky wheel" (ahem, Pancake) that I pay attention. Since I pay more attention to these more noticeable (and often somewhat annoying) behaviors, like barking or whining, that's what my dogs try when they want something- food, attention, to be let outside, etc.
So I set out to do a better job of reinforcing "good" behaviors throughout the day- especially for our dog Pancake, who uses barking to get what he wants much more often than I want. But how to get myself to notice and reinforce behaviors that are less "in my face"?
I researched some recurring alarm options to prompt me to look at Pancake throughout the day (even if he was being quiet!) to check to see if he was doing something I wanted to reinforce. I settled on an alert every 30 minutes on my Apple watch. (There are also some free phone apps that will do this.) Then I jotted down a list of behaviors I might see Pancake doing that I'd like more of, including settling on a mat, walking with me on our hikes, and playing with food toys (or other variations of "entertaining himself"). Finally, I made sure I was prepared to toss a treat to Pancake at any time- by keeping a few treats in my pocket.
So how did it go? In this week's video, I give some highlights of the great "Please be quiet Pancake" experiment. In short, I did see an increase in his "good" behaviors I was trying to reinforce- like settling on one of his mats- and less barking! So I am calling it a success.
You might find a different way to work more reinforcement into your dog's day, but the following are, in my opinion, the critical pieces:
1) Treats (and/or toys) within reach most or all of the time!
2) Something to remind you to look at your dog and toss them a treat if they're doing something you like. I really benefitted from the recurring alert on my phone, but you could also try visible reminders like brightly colored treat cups in conspicuous locations that you and your dog frequent.
If you try this strategy for increasing reinforcement and training in your dog's day, we'd love to hear from you! You can comment below this blog, shoot us an email ([email protected]), or message us on Facebook or Instagram.