Most of us have habits with our dogs to which we never give a second thought. Most times there’s never a problem. However, some of our habits with our dogs can create dog behavior problems and we don’t even realize we are at the root cause.
Let’s take a look at what creates a habit.
First there is a cue, something that triggers your brain to go into automatic mode. Each habit has a specific cue that triggers you to do a routine. And finally there is the reward that consistently feeds back information to you (your brain) if the routine is worthwhile repeating.
Before you start thinking this is a science class, let’s take a closer look at habits so that you will better see how your habit can affect your dog.
The example is eating a meal, specifically dinner. You eat dinner and your habit is always having something sweet after dinner. Eating your dinner cues your brain to expect something sweet after dinner. The routine is having something sweet after dinner. The reward is that sweets taste good and it gives us a lot of pleasure. We want to repeat that over and over again. That’s how a habit gets set into place. The cue produces a routine and the reward follows the routine.
Now let’s take that explanation and let me give you an example of a habit you could have with your dog that could be creating dog behavior problems.
Your cute puppy jumps on the couch (cue) and you immediately begin petting your dog which is the routine that happens every time your dog gets on the couch. That gives you that warm fuzzy that wonderful feeling that says, “Oh, my dog loves me!” (reward.) I know this sounds familiar. And because it feels so good you are very, very likely to do that again and again and again…….there’s your habit.
Here’s the trick question: Is that a good habit or a bad habit. I know what you’re thinking, “It feels good so it must be a good habit, right?” Well, yes and no.
The “yes and no” answer.
The “yes” answer says: Yes, petting my dog feels good so it must be a good habit.
The “no” answer is the qualifier and says: No, it’s only a good habit if done in moderation, just like eating ice cream. Too much dessert can cause serious weight gain and lead to diabetes and other health problems.
If you constantly dote on your dog, to an extreme, every single day, it can lead to consequences that will be difficult to reverse. It can cause your dog to become insecure and miss you terribly when you’re gone creating separation anxiety. It can also create house soiling in insecure dogs.
Aggression in dogs, nuisance barking and a host of other unwanted behaviors can also develop in dogs that receive too much unearned love and affection. Additionally in these households I usually find little to no consistent structure. The dog is running the show.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Moderation is the key in doling out your love and affection to your dog. Here are some helpful tips to think about as you notice your dog coming up and nudging your hand or arm:
1. Always require your dog to sit before you pet your dog.
2. Don’t feel as if you have to pet your dog every time he comes over to you and requests to be petted. Send him away and call him back a few minutes later.
3. Keep your dog off the couch for a few minutes (dog leashed with foot on leash) before you invite him up.
4. When you finally invite him up, require a sit first.
5. Once on the couch, don’t let him in your lap. Require him to sit by your side.
6. Balance time on the couch with equal required time off the couch.
Patterned routines or activities that you do with your dog every single day can become healthy habits too. These daily patterned routines become predictable. Your dog learns to count on them every day. Knowing what’s going to happen and when it will occur every day will lower your dog’s stress.
If you actually feed, walk, train and play with your dog at the same time every day, you might be surprised at how less stressed you dog becomes. These are good habits to get into with your dog.
If you recognize a habit that seems like a good habit at the time, look a little closer. See if you can tell if your dog is developing a behavior problem because of a habit you are doing.
Then modify your habit that will allow you to turn a seemingly good habit into a great habit. Example: Always sit before petting and pet in moderation. And remember, habits never really go away so once you modify your habit, be consistent. The old habit is still there, etched in your brain. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself in the old habit allowing the dog behavior problem to easily surface again raising its ugly head.
Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. I truly hope you found some things to think about. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about puppy training. Are you looking at it a little differently? Remember:
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.