In the final part of our series of puppy blogs we look at how to understand our dogs behaviour.
Are you wondering why your puppy can’t seem to learn what you would like him to do but insists on repeating the behaviour which drives you mad?
If so stick around because we’re about to explain in further detail how your dog learns by how you react to him. We also have many handy tips which will help you to dissolve any unhelpful behaviour’s which a dog is already displaying.
We already know that attention is rewarding, we know that a dog cannot teach himself new and more helpful habits as he grows up. And we know that he needs guidance in a language which he can understand. So let’s break this down and see some situations from his point of view.
The endless barker, you know the dog that barks at the wind, the one that you sit quietly and ignore until he starts barking and then you give him attention. The reason for the barking is right there, the dog knows it gets him attention. And we already know that anything that brings him attention brings him reward so what do you do.
Well you give him attention when he’s quiet. Maybe even give him extra reward for being quiet. And then you completely ignore him when he barks. Your pet will soon make the connection the behaviour will change quickly – particularly if the barking was a result of reinforcement from his environment in the first place.
A common complaint from anyone who lives with a puppy is mouthing behaviour. Puppy teeth are like little needles.
Now, as a side note, it is important for your dog to learn bite inhibition from a young age. The puppy’s mother would have allowed him to mouth her initially, and then she would have taught him to mouth her gently -then eventually not at all. Each time she would have used a short sharp sound to show her puppy that he has gone too far. This way he is learning that if he is ever in a position where he has no choice but to bite, then his first option is to do it gently, hence causing the least damage. It would do no harm for you to repeat the process over the first few days of your puppy being home. Then it’s time to move on.
People, particularly children, tend to make a lot of fuss if a puppy mouths them. This reaction is rewarding and encouraging the dog to continue.
Provide your little dog with toys suitable for teething. Because he will need to chew within the next few months as his adult teeth come through. Then when you are satisfied with his bite inhibition learning it’s time to transfer the chewing behaviour to his toys. Do this by completely ignoring any attempt to mouth your hands but always having a nice toy around to offer instead.
Think of it this way, if he chooses his toy then you have a game with him and give him a lot of praise and attention you will be rewarding the behaviour of him choosing his toy. If he comes to you and tries to ask for attention by mouthing your hand and you don’t even acknowledge that he’s there then you are not reinforcing that behaviour. He will probably go and get a toy next. Eventually he will miss out mouthing you altogether and just go straight for the toy.
This type of reaction, the one described here, will have a direct effect on how your puppy learns throughout his life. It can be applied and adapted to all areas of behaviour. And it’s also the reason why punishment of any description will not teach your dog anything at all. For when a dog is punished the behaviour has already been carried out and therefore it has already been learned.
So remember as your puppy is growing;
Ignore unhelpful behaviour
Give your puppy the opportunity of replacement behaviour if necessary
Reinforce helpful behaviour
Punishment does not work
And enjoy your puppy – he will be grown up before you know it.