Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's all fun and games....

When dogs play with each other, there is a whole set of behaviors that they use as they romp and roll with the other dogs.   When dogs play with us, not surprisingly, they are very likely to use these same behaviors.  However, since we generally don't speak 'bark', and most of us don't have a protective layer of fur, two of these behaviors can be problematic for us humans: barking and nipping (or mouthing).   Luckily for us, these are really easy to stop using the patented "Get Really Boring" method!  When your dog play bites or play barks, you should, simply, quietly stand up and walk away.  Not a word, not a look, just be Really Boring.  When your dog calms down a bit, come back and play with him in the way that you want him to play - fetch, tug of war, chase... If the play turns inappropriate again turn back into "Boring Dude/ette" and quietly stand up and walk away (gently and quietly put the dog down if he is being held).  The two parts are important: get boring when play is too rough, and restart play when the dog is calmer; rinse, repeat.  I swear to you, it's really that simple.  The key here is consistency.  If you continue to play when the dog is nipping or barking, you are rewarding that behavior.  What "Get Really Boring" tells your dog is this: "If you nip or bark at me, we don't play".   Resuming play tells your dog "I like to play with you when you are calm".   

One thing I need to point out is that because the behavior has probably been rewarded for a while, you will probably see it get worse before it gets better. Don't let that get you down! Keep at it, keep being boring!  Behaviorists call this worsening of a behavior an "extinction burst".  In those situations your dog is thinking "This worked before! Why isn't it working now??!  I thought she loved my jaunty bark while we were playing...  I thought she liked punctures in her skin from my tiny sharp teeth....Let me try this again!" Eventually he'll realize it's stopped working and give it up all together. Its similar to a human standing in front of an elevator that's broken - when it doesn't come, do we immediately say "Hmm, it must be broken, I'll take the stairs" or do we press the button a couple hundred more times? 

Remember - dog training isn't about discipline and dominance. It's about rewarding the behaviors you want and ignoring the behaviors you don't. Think about how you interact with people - would you rather hang out with someone who
a) gives you a beer and chocolate every time you do something they like
b) someone who kicks you in the shins every time they decide they're not happy with something you did or said, but they wouldn't tell you what it was so you don't really know?

How would you react to those two different people? You'd LOVE hangin' out with person 'a' and you'd try stuff to see if you could get more goodies from them. And once you figured out what it was that was earning you beer and chocolate, you'd do that as often as you could!  On the other hand, you'd be afraid to do or say anything around person 'b', so you'd just shut down and try to avoid getting kicked in the shins again.  How would you rather be trained?

"Getting Really Boring" is a form of "ignoring the behaviors you don't like".  By Getting Boring you are choosing to NOT reward the inappropriate play behavior.  By going back to playing when your dog has calmed down a bit, you are rewarding the calmer behavior.  The message is clear.  Now, if I could only get Zinger to not reward Comet's play barking.

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