Incompatible Behaviours

In dog training, a lot of people want to stop their dog.

Stop him jumping up, stop her pulling on the lead, stop him growling when people walk past his food bowl, and so on.

This is often the time “positive” training comes under fire most. “He needs told it’s not acceptable”, is a common cry, along with “She needs to be taught she’s not the alpha”.

We’re told that “positive” trainers only ever ignore unwanted behaviour, and therefore do nothing about these, or similar behaviours that “need” punished.

The fact is, what trainers using positive reinforcement and negative punishment do to help dogs with these sorts of behaviour problems is elegant, effortless, and doesn’t require any special or magical skills.

What we do is to train and/or reinforce an incompatible behaviour.

An incompatible behaviour is something that the dog is able to perform (i.e. within that dog’s physical abilities) yet is unable to perform alongside the behaviour that we don’t want performed.

I’ve been doing this for the past six and a bit weeks with Starr. When she first came home, doors quickly proved themselves to be problematic for her; and quite dangerous for any human attempting to use them.

Starr would jump up at closed doors when you were trying to get through them, but unlike other dogs I’ve had she wasn’t just putting her paws on the door – all four feet were leaving the floor. Once or twice her little concrete-like head collided with mine, or another part of me, and it hurt!

Through reinforcing an incompatible behaviour only, she has learnt that jumping at doors is not the way to get them to open. Waiting patiently is what works. Alongside this, I added her release cue, so that she will (mostly) wait until she’s heard it before going through the door. I’ve begun to add eye contact into the mix now, waiting until she looks towards me before giving her release cue

Earlier in the week, we played a little game, simply because the situation presented itself to me. We were upstairs, and she’d jumped up on me as I moved towards the gate at the top of the stairs. I turned my back, and she sat. As I told her how good she was, I realised that she was sat within easy reach of the gate mechanism, so I gave her sit cue, and reached toward the gate.

As I unlatched it she got up, I left the gate closed, and reminded her to keep her bum on the floor using only my body posture. When she sat back down, I moved back towards the gate, and tentatively began to open it (having her rush downstairs now was not part of the training plan!), she kept her bum on the floor, so I pushed the gate open all the way, again I hesitated just long enough to make sure she was committed to sitting, but not so long that she would become impetuous and fail at the task. I gave the release cue and she went downstairs, having a play session with Inka as a reward.

She did it a second time later on that same evening, and has only got better since, as the video in this link shows.

I wonder, what incompatible behaviours have you used to help your dog?

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