New Year, New Blog

Many people make New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not usually one of them (I prefer to make my resolutions on whatever day of the year they happen to fall), but this New Year’s I have resolved to start a training blog.  The purpose of this blog is to discuss humane training for dogs and other pets.  I am happy to take questions (leave a comment or contact me), and will address questions and comments as quickly as possible.

In this first post, I’d like to remind everyone that January is National Train Your Dog Month.  Hopefully you are already deliberately training your pet, but in case you aren’t, here’s something to think about:

Whenever you interact with your pet, training is taking place.  Sometimes you are training your pet, and sometimes your pet is training you (and generally, both are taking place simultaneously to some extent).

It’s good to be aware of what training is taking place, and even better to be at least partially in control of the training.  For example, say you are watching TV and your dog comes up to you and nuzzles your arm.  Do you reach down and pet your dog?  If so, you’re training your dog to come nuzzle you while you watch TV (assuming your dog likes being petted).  There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, as long as you like the result (more nuzzling).  If, on the other hand, you dislike being nuzzled while you watch TV, it’s best to control your reaction and avoid petting your dog when he or she nuzzles you.

Much of the time when we complain that we hate it when our pet does something or other, we have inadvertently trained it (or allowed our pet to train us to reward the behavior, depending on how you want to look at it).  Becoming aware of what training is taking place is a great first step in training the things we actually want.

So here’s my challenge for you this month: Notice the things your pet does that you like, as well as the things your pet does that you don’t like.  Ask yourself what is reinforcing these behaviors (in other words, what is keeping these behaviors going).  Then think about how you can change the equation to maximize behaviors you like and minimize behaviors you don’t like.  Here are a few tips:

– Reinforce behavior you like, with attention, petting, food, access to desired resources (such as toys and the outdoors), and anything else your pet likes.

– Ignore behavior you don’t like, lest you accidentally reinforce it with attention.  Simply sit tight, look at the ceiling, keep your lips closed, and wait for the behavior to stop.  Then count to ten and resume interacting with your pet (if appropriate).  That’s right, I am asking you to take the word “No!” out of your vocabulary (since for many pets, even “negative” attention is good – much like some publicists would say that even “bad” press is good).  If sitting tight is not an option, walk away and put a closed door between you and your pet, if necessary.

– Manage behavior you can’t ignore.  Here’s an example: Some pets like to “surf” kitchen counters looking for food.  This behavior is generally not about getting your attention, but rather about eating, so your ignoring it will have no impact on the behavior at all.  To prevent this behavior, keep your kichen counters clean or close off the kitchen so your pet can’t get in there (or both).

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll discuss how to train a wide range of behaviors, and how to deal with many common annoying behaviors.  If there is a behavior you’d like me to deal with sooner rather than later, contact me.  In the meantime…

Happy New Year!

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Positively Expert: Irith Bloom

Irith Bloom has been training animals since the 1980s, when her family got its first dog and put her in charge of its education. After spending a great deal of time working professionally as a translator while pursuing her avocation of training pets on a volunteer basis for friends and family, Irith decided to begin training animals...


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