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Many of our clients call us to help them with behavior issues such as counter surfing, jumping or excessive barking. Behavior issues are challenging, because they are not the root cause, they are simply the symptom of other underlining issues. In most cases, daily exercise and consistency in applying direction towards wanted behavior can alleviate behavior issues within a few weeks.
To address the unwanted behavior, we talk to our clients about creating "teachable moments". You cannot correct unless you are right there when the dog is doing the unwanted behavior; however, most issues occur when the owners are not there. Therefore, it is important to set up situations, in which the dog is first allowed to depict the undesired activity. In these situations, you, as the owner, can teach the dog by correcting and then showing the proper behavior. Over time, with consistency, the dog will be conditioned to act in the new, wanted manner.
Let me illustrate by giving an example. Your dog is chewing up things around the house while you are out at work, how do you correct and redirect him? You need to create a teachable moment to get him to chew on something he isn't suppose to, so you can catch him doing it. You can leave things, he usually likes to play with and chew on, laying around your living room floor, when you have time to teach. Shoes, socks, the TV-remote, or your children's toys for example. Stay close by and watch him, as he explores the wonderful stuff that is laying around. When he picks up one of the items he is not suppose to have, clap your hands loudly and say the word “no”. Now offer him something that he can chew on, like a nice soup bone you got from the butcher at the grocery store. In this way, you have disciplined him with the “no” and then redirected him to the right item- the bone- he should chew on.
Training should always occur in a controlled environment. Make sure you have set aside a short amount of time that you can devote to teaching your dog. Put yourself in the mindset of teaching with patience and equanimity. If you are already late for work, don't try to train your dog not to bark excessive when the door bell rings. Rather take 15 minutes in the evening, when you are relaxed and create a teaching moment by having your spouse ring the door bell, while you are inside, ready to discipline your dog's compulsive barking. When you teach a new behavior, it is important to be patient with your dog, if you are rushed and frustrated, you should not train your dog. When you are calm and have time, go through some exercises to show him what you expect.
Conditioning occurs over time. With repeated short training sessions, and eventually with consistent repeated times of doing the right activity, the dog will form a new behavior. Once you know the dog has learned the manner in which you want him to behave, you should expect it every time. That is consistency. If you have taught your dog to be quiet and calm when you put on his leash, don't allow him to jump around excitedly when you are rushing to go to an appointment.
Life is hectic and demanding. It's impossible to squeeze in dog training while rushing through your day. Consciously create teaching moments, when you can be in control of your environment and your personal state of mind. Make the training sessions short, but repeat them often. Be consistent in how you expect your dog to behave and most of all, always end on a good note!