We all have those “how did that happen” moments when working with our dog. Sometimes it is a negative conditioned emotional response, sometimes it’s a behavior we have inadvertently reinforced enough to create a problem. Sometimes it’s the environment and we have no idea what happened.
Let’s look at the sock example
If you didn’t read my last post, go do it now. The link is here. How many different ways could that have gone differently?
I mentioned chasing her for the sock, which for Cargo, that would mean I now had zero socks in my house because a game of tug and chase is very reinforcing. Because that game is so reinforcing for her, even if I only played that game one time, the amount of time it would take me to extinguish that one reinforcing moment, would be insane.
What if I did not reinforce anything with snacks but grabbed her and wrestled the sock out of her mouth? For my bitey, herding breed, that would be a great game and again, very reinforcing. I’m sure that she would be hell bent on stealing every sock she saw and I would have no socks. For most of your pet dogs, this would probably result in a dog who hides when they steal a sock. Also not helping the survival of the socks.
What does it all mean?
As those moments of “ugh, why does my dog do this” pop up, take a look at how its being reinforced. Every behavior serves a function, and dogs do what works.
If your dog is jumping up on people coming in the door, take a look at what is happening. Does every person pet her when she jumps up?
Do you chase her around when she steals something?
Does barking and whining eventually get a snack from the table?
Those intermittent reinforcement schedules can actually reinforce behavior better than a snack every time. Think about gambling, and the intermittent reinforcement that is going on. You don’t win every time, but when you do, it’s a pretty great feeling! Your dog is thinking the same thing.
“man all that jumping finally got me some pets! I gotta try harder next time!”
What to do?
Make sure you are reinforcing the things you like to see! Don’t wait until it has gotten out of hand and you have to call me! ( you can always call me!) Treat your dog for laying on the mat in the kitchen before he starts counter surfing. Treat your dog while on a walk when nothing is happening to help him understand that flailing at the end of the leash does not allow him to say hello to friends.
What have you accidently reinforced? Tell me about it on the facebook page and I’ll try to help you out!