Dog Behavior Modification

Dog behavior modification involves training your dog to respond with a behavior that you like rather than one that comes naturally to him. This is most often used in reference to fear behavior when trying to train a new response to a fearful stimuli. However, it's valuable in all training situations.

Simple Behavior Modification

Using behavior modification is like thinking, "What would I like my dog to do instead?" When dogs have to think through problems, they often come up with answers that are instinctual to them but aversive to us. For example, a dog that is scared might automatically start barking. That's called his default behavior because it's how he reacts when he doesn't know what to do.

Behavior modification helps you modify that default behavior, creating new behaviors from which your dog can choose when he doesn't know what to do.

A simple behavior modification is jumping. When you get home, your dog's response is to jump on you for greeting. Instead, you would like him to sit.

To teach this, practice sit all the time. Make him sit before he gets his food, before walks and before playtime. Sitting will become almost automatic. When you get home, ignore all jumping behavior. When he's calm, ask for a sit. His reward is attention. Practice that every time you come home until it's automatic.

Fear Behavior Modification

Conditioning new behavior becomes especially important if you have a fearful dog that lunges, barks or nips. For example, if your dog is afraid of men coming into your home, you would want to train him to tolerate men coming in (instead of guarding the door and barking).

First, you want to help your dog be more comfortable around men. Take him to a park and keep him at a safe distance. As men approach, give him treats. Teach him to move to your side and look at you rather than pull in front of you and bark. Teach that in your home when nothing else is going on. Then, move it to increasingly more distracting environments. If at any point, he can't look at you, you're moving too fast.

Then, teach him to go to his mat when the doorbell rings. First, teach this without the doorbell, so he knows how to do it. Then, start sending him to the mat when the doorbell rings, but no one is at the door. Gradually, build up to having men ring the bell.

Then, put it all together by having men come over while your dog goes to his bed and responds to your commands rather than barking. This will take some practice. If your dog reacts, put him in a quiet place and let him return when he calms down. Give lots of rewards the first few times strange men come through your door. You want the correct choice to be very rewarding so he will always remember it.

This type of behavior modification is very effective in modifying destructive behaviors. It also improves the life of your dog by teaching him how to calm down rather than react. With a little patience, you can have a dog who responds the way you want.