Puppy Training – React and Reinforce

Posted by Zena Conkey on 25th May 2020

Are you wondering why your new puppy keeps displaying the same behaviour regardless of how many times you discourage it? If so read on and I’ll explain why it’s so easy for dogs to learn to do things which we don’t want them to. In this blog post I would like to expand on the reinforcement topic which we talked about previously. 

The most important thing to learn when bringing up a new puppy is that attention, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, will be rewarding to most dogs. Interestingly this counts for a dog of any age. I say most dogs because some dogs, particularly those with fear issues, just want to be left alone. The abused dog can often see interaction as pressure.

But we are talking about your new puppy, your blank canvas, and when you learn the fact that attention is rewarding, any kind, you will soon learn to stop reinforcing unhelpful behaviours from your puppy.

For instance a puppy that jumps up your body at eight weeks old is really ineffective and quite cute. He is asking to be picked up and each time you do pick him up you are reinforcing his action of jumping up your body. In reality you are teaching him to jump up.

Now fast forward six months, your puppy is no longer three kg he’s more like fifteen and heavy. Suddenly it’s less fun when he jumps up both at yourself and people who visit. So you push him off touching him and telling him to get down. Eventually the same dog will be put out of the room when visitors arrive.

See this situation, briefly, through your dog’s eyes now. He has always jumped up and always been rewarded. He has never been taught, in his own language or even in a language which he understands, that jumping up is no longer acceptable. So he carries on with what he has learned previously but things have changed.

What has changed? Well, you have, your attitude towards the jumping up. You seem frustrated and annoyed, your dog will know this so he will try harder to jump up and what seems like naughty behaviour is actually your dog just trying to make things right by doing what has always worked before. By this point the dog might even be quite stressed. I have to point out again that he is not being naughty it is just miscommunication between you. You would probably be quite stressed too.

So what can we do to avoid it, to avoid the situation developing at all?

This is where you simply need to understand that attention, any kind of attention, is rewarding. When you understand this you can take away any kind of attention which with dog receives when he jumps up and utilise this learning rule by giving attention when he offers a more suitable behaviour. Even just giving him some praise and a treat when all four of his paws are on the ground.

So remember by giving attention to your puppy you are giving him an automatic reward. If he displays a behaviour which you don’t want to see, or you would like him not to repeat, don’t give him any attention for it. If he displays a behaviour which you want him to learn and repeat for the rest of his life then give him attention and maybe even extra reward. By treating your puppy in this way you are teaching him, kindly and clearly, how you would like to behave.

In the next blog post we will talk more about attention and why your dog reacts in a certain way in common situations, so do pop back and we will see you soon.

Next time: Why Does My Puppy – Understand Dog Behaviour