AN INTRODUCTION TO BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS:
When it comes to housebreaking and problem solving issues, my philosophy has always been to not only understand how important it is to learn to stop these behaviors, but it is equally as important to understand why and how these behaviors have occurred in the first place. With whatever behavior problem you are dealing with at this time or in the future, remember that like people, all dogs come with some sort of baggage. Some just have a little more than others. You’re also going to find that some dogs might take a little longer to figure things out than others.
It’s funny because as I talk to people, quite often they think the specific problem they are encountering with their dog is unique and no one else has that same problem with their own pet. I will almost guarantee you that the problem you have with your dog is not isolated to just you. As a matter of fact, there are many other people.. maybe hundreds or thousands right now that are dealing with the same exact problem you are having.
I think that it is ironic that I am writing about problem solving and housebreaking when the most recent dog that I rescued about three years ago was really my biggest challenge. His name is Foster and he is the little gray Terrier mix that you see in many of the pictures with me on this website and in my books. The history with him was simple. He was allowed to relieve himself on everything and everybody, and allowed to chew on everything and everybody. He also was tormented with his previous owners with a broom, so I had to be very careful every time I lifted a broom to sweep. He also was a little aggressive too. There was no question that Foster was a big problem from day 1!! But the one thing that I made sure of from the beginning was that I did NOT give him the opportunity to be exposed to those situations where he can develop the bad behaviors, and give those behaviors a chance to escalate. Over the course of time, those things began to change. The chewing stopped, the barking stopped, he had less fear of the broom, and the best thing of all was he stopped urinating on my leg. It just goes to show you that it could happen to some dogs with the most potential.
It seems like when you hear people talk about animal behavior, it's all about what happens when the animal does something right, or what happens when the animal is correct. We all know that when the animal does something right, he normally gets a reward. But what about when the animal does something wrong or develops bad behaviors? In addition, it seems like more times than not, when pet owners first get their dog, they find their dog doing more things wrong than right. How a new pet owner responds to a an animal doing something incorrectly, or developing a bad behavior, can have a huge impact on his or her relationship their pet.
Remember that a bad behavior is just something that an animal has developed over time. If an owner has been unaware of it, the behavior can now escalate and grow into something that happens a few times a week, or even every day. And of course, the longer the animal has had the problem, the more difficult it is to correct. This is why I always tell new pet owners especially to be aware of minor behavior problems with their dog early on, so they can catch them before they have a chance to develop into major behavioral problems. The biggest reason that most people have major behavioral problems with their dog is that they were not aware that they had a minor behavior problem early on. It always seems like, if they had been aware of the problem as it began to develop, it would have been a lot easier to correct and eliminate.
The solution is to get to know your dog and be aware. It's amazing the behavior problems you can catch early!
Don't forget that the completion of a bad behavior is in itself a reward. Think about it:
How about a dog that relieves himself in the house? Why did he do it? Because it made him feel good. Was that reinforcing to him? Absolutely! Then the completion of that behavior was in itself a reward.
How about a dog that likes to jump on guests? Why did he do it? Because he wanted to be closer to the guest. Did he complete the bad behavior by putting his feet up? Yes. Do you think it made him feel good? It probably did. Then the dog was rewarded for the completion of the bad behavior.
Remember that in dealing with almost any bad behavior, a dog getting the opportunity to complete the bad behavior is in itself a reward to the dog. The way you deal with this is by not giving the animal the chance to begin the chain of events, and put them into play.
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