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Liz Langham, MS, CPDT-KA
239 Mountfort Rd.
North Yarmouth, ME 04097

Let a Sleeping Dog Lie . . . Is that such a good thing?

Imagine this: Your 5 month old puppy steals the remote control during the season finale of your favorite reality show and incidentally presses the down channel key. The whole family jumps off the couch and chases the puppy through the 3000sq.ft house. How fun is that? It is a lot of fun for the puppy. Your pup just initiated a really great game and everyone chose to participate! However, before the puppy initiated the game, she was lying in front of the woodstove chewing on a rubber bone. Unfortunately, she was not finding enjoyment in the TV program and was being completely ignored.
Here is another scenario: You have been at work all day and your child at school. Your dog has been in the crate for 7 hours. Once home, your child goes out into the yard and is swinging on the swing-set, and the dog is let out too. You hope he will entertain himself. Next thing you know your child jumps off the swing because he needs a snack and your dog chases him and jumps up, knocks the child over and starts licking and mouthing him. You run out of the house and yell at the dog while holding him firmly and punishing him. This keeps happening and you don’t know why because as a puppy he was perfect. The reason can be as simple as; your dog is getting attention, reinforced for a behavior. That behavior just so happens to be inappropriate.
Attention for a canine is looking at, talking to and touching. The attention can be praise or punishment, in other words, positive or negative. Reward can be food, play and going outside (to name a few). A puppy would like to be petted and praised. Even more, the puppy would love to be rewarded. The bone-chewing puppy was not getting any attention for being “good” but she got a lot of reward, and initiated it, for being “bad.” Perhaps if you went up and petted the pup, possibly sat with her for a couple of minutes, she would be satisfied. Everyone loves a pat on the back every now and then, especially when it is least expected. The punishment for the dog that jumped on the child is likely what happens every time the two are together. The dog recognizes that the only time he gets attention is when he is interacting inappropriately with the child. Try to take some time to positively engage with your dog by throwing a ball for him. You can even involve your child. This will help build your relationship and tire out your dog. A tired dog is a good dog. An under-exercised, under-stimulated dog will find its own entertainment.
The more a behavior is reinforced or rewarded, the more often it will happen. Start acknowledging what is right rather than what is wrong and you might find yourself enjoying the family dog a lot more. Written by Liz Harrison
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