One of the most frequent concerns among dog guardians is how to stop unwanted behavior. As Jean Donaldson explains in her phenomenal book, The Culture Clash, much of natural dog behavior is at odds with what humans find acceptable.
Dogs however, need appropriate outlets for their energies, which are usually significantly higher than ours. Without legal channels for behavior and energy, dogs become frustrated, bored, and stressed. In that unfortunate condition, it’s just a matter of time before dogs find other ways to vent. Behavior borne of frustration and boredom is often even worse and less acceptable to humans than the original unwanted behavior. Excessive barking, destructive chewing, fence fighting, and digging are just some of the behaviors in which frustrated and bored will engage. Besides all that, it’s not fair or humane to consign any animal to a life of chronic boredom, frustration or stress.
Enter, “Instead Of Thinking.” It’s not enough to find ways to shut down undesirable behavior. A far more effective strategy is to train your dog to do alternative behaviors that are acceptable and incompatible with the undesired behavior.
Let’s use jumping up as an example. Jumping up is a natural normal dog behavior. Dogs do it to greet us by getting closer to our faces. But most people don’t like it when Rover jumps on them. This is a classic instance of the clash between behavior that humans deem acceptable and that which is acceptable and common among dogs.
Typically humans think in terms of, How can I get Rover to stop jumping up? “Instead Of Thinking” asks a different question: What would I like Rover to do instead of jumping up?
Instead Of Thinking solves two problems at once: it stops the unwanted behavior while providing Rover with an acceptable alternative.
Sitting to greet people is an alternative behavior that’s acceptable and incompatible with jumping up. If Rover is sitting to say hello to people, he isn’t jumping on them. The training plan would be two-fold. You’d stop rewarding Rover altogether for jumping up, teach him to sit to say hello, and reward him with attention and lovies when he sits.
With consistent positive training, voila! Rover will learn that jumping up never works to get human attention but sitting does. If everyone who meets Rover follows the same plan, his jumping should decrease substantially and eventually stop. Instead of jumping on folks he’ll do lovely sits to say hello, and he gets a legal outlet for his exuberant greeting energy. Doing a short down stay or hand-targeting are two other examples of alternative behaviors that are incompatible with jumping up.
Rover won’t learn these things overnight, especially if he has a long history of jumping up and being rewarded with some kind of attention when he does that. Patient consistent practice will pay off so hang in there with your training plan.
The next time you find yourself wondering how to stop Rover from doing X, put on your Instead Of Thinking cap. Ask yourself, What would I like Rover to do instead of X? Then start training Rover to do the alternative behavior, reward him handsomely when he does it and stop rewarding him for doing X.
Rewarding Rover for desirable alternative behavior is a powerful tool in your training kit, and means he’ll do more of that behavior in the future.