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19 May 2024Fundamentals

What Behaviors Are You Reinforcing?



If you are having issues with your dog’s behavior its wise to ask yourself… What behaviors am I or have I been reinforcing?

Every week I hear dog owners tell me how their dog’s negative behaviors are affecting their lives in some way or another and that they need my help. When I conduct my evaluation of the dog and owners I often notice how most owners are completely unaware and have been contributing to their dog’s negative behaviors through improper reinforcement.

I love to help my clients clearly understand how their improper reinforcement is creating their dog’s negative behavior and creating stress. It is a blessing to see people empowered by a moment of clarity about their dog!

As dog owners we are ALL guilty of improper reinforcement. Yep, I am just as guilty as you. I believe we all go into an auto pilot mode with our dogs and start reinforcing behaviors we don’t want. For over the 20+ years of having a pack of dogs I have taken notice of how my dogs will take advantage of me when I am in auto pilot mode. Its amazing how a dog can read and manipulate us into reinforcing something that THEY want. When you realize you’re on auto pilot do not be shocked if  you find yourself reinforcing a behavior that you don’t want your dog doing.  

Let’s take for example…

A dog owner explains to me that they are having problems with their dog jumping up on them and other people and can’t get them to stop. So, when I get out to do their evaluation I notice right away “yes” the dog is jumping up and is excited for my attention. The owner is embarrassed and commands the dog “get down” to no success. So, I ask them to just allow it to happen.  During this time, I do not give any attention (reinforcement) at all. After about a minute of no attention (reinforcement) they physically back off me. Its at this moment I praise them and give them all the positive attention (reinforcement) they are after. This positive reinforcement after the dog backs “off “ you tells them, the fastest way to get what they want (which is a attention) is to say off you. Changing their behavior.

Typically during the evaluation, and usually when in conversation I see the owner go into “auto pilot”. This is about the time when their dog starts taking advantage of the moment. They have learned through reinforcement they can seize the moment. The dog goes over and dog jumps up on the owner. And, what does the owner do? Starts to pet (reinforce) their dog for jumping up on them.  They are now reinforcing the very thing I am there to help their dog stop. This is when, I say… “Look what you are doing?” and they look around confused and say “What?” Ummm…

So, we need to be fair to our dogs. And remember, just because they are doing something we consider to be negative, does not mean they see it that way. It means they value something and it has been reinforced. Its our job to learn how to use the information our dogs are giving us and ask ourselves… 

“What behaviors Positive or negative am I reinforcing? 

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize what we are reinforcing. However, if you would like to know if there are any negative behaviors you are contributing to I would love to help you. So contact me today!

I would love to hear your input about this article. Please comment below!

Thank you for reading!

Garrett Ridley 

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