We have Success–Dealing with pushy dogs pt 2

We left off last week by talking about how I’m dealing with a very pushy dog who is giving me a difficult time with dropping his frisbee. Friday was day 3 of dealing with a bit of a pushy boy and there were certainly some differences.

Before I discuss the results (so far) of my plan with my pushy malinois friend, I want to reiterate that my game plan is all about using non-physical but very effective punishment to shape behavior. I frequently get asked how I “correct” bad behavior if I’m not hitting, spanking, poking, scruffing, or rolling the dog. Well, frankly it takes a bit of thinking “outside the box,” being creative, and having an open mind. Since dogs are not all the same, there is no one size fits all answer, but typically when I choose to use punishment, there are three things happening. One piece of the puzzle is making sure I am teaching an alternative or teaching what I do want the dog to be doing, the second piece of the puzzle isn’t always applicable but I make sure to be managing situations to keep the dog from rehearsing unwanted behaviors, and the third piece is typically taking away whatever it is the dog wants or is gaining out of the unwanted behavior–play may stop, a person may leave, the toy may be removed, or the dog may lose access (removed or crated or tethered).

Far too many people use very physical punishments that are not terribly effective (if you have to scruff, leash pop, hit, or jab your dog for the same behavior over and over and over again, the punishment is clearly not effective). My goal is to use punishment that is effective enough to make change in behavior relatively quickly (taking in account the fact that dogs with a long history of reinforcement for an undesirable behavior will often have some big extinction bursts).

My game plan for Bear:

  • I will cue a drop once–if he doesn’t respond I ignore him for 1-2 minutes or until he decides to drop the disc at my feet
  • If there is a single demand bark/whine/growl, I completely disengage and go sit on the steps away from him until he stops barking/whining/growling AND he drops the disc for me
  • If Bear drops the disc but is playing the “chomp the disc as Tena’s hand reaches for it” game, the game stops until he either backs away and allows me to get the disc OR he breaks another rule with a different penalty
  • The first day of adopting this plan he was a little confused and just spent a lot of time entertaining himself and trying to get me to chase him for the disc. The second day was filled with lots of demand barking and demand growling–he probably spent 15 minutes off and on barking/growling (with a duration of 2-4 minutes at a time) and had 6 demand barking episodes. There was a huge increase in “keep away” (not just not dropping it but coming in close then running off where he’d stop, stare, and bark at me) and he was taking his frustrations out on his disc. He was clearly frustrated that I was not engaging in his game and that I was not playing the way HE wanted to play.

    Day three saw HUGE improvements on his dropping the frisbee and letting me pick it up. We probably got in 5 solid minutes of play time before his first “but I don’t want to drop it” moments. He only had 3 demand barking moments and they lasted for 5 minutes total–they were more intense even though the duration was not as long. The barking was more frantic and definitely had a lot more growling involved but since it didn’t get him anything and it actually made me completely disengage by sitting on the steps, the frequency of the barking and the duration decreased significantly. He did a lot of “thinking” where he’d take the disc away in a circle then come back and drop it but I’m perfectly fine if he needs to think about it first–I also suspect this behavior will decrease as we keep working.

    We’ll see how things continue to evolve but at the moment it seems the plan of attack has been quite effective in correcting the unwanted behavior.

    1. I think you just solved one of my most frustrating issues with Maverick! His worst trick is to rapidly regrip the frisbee, which has resulted in bloody fingers. While he will auto drop for a second frisbee, I can’t have a fun game with him without 2 frisbees in play… and I hate to admit I’ve taken the easy way out with that. I’m very excited to give this a try and see if I can solidify the drop to hand. 🙂

    2. I am so glad it has been effective and again I want to thank you for laying it all out so simply. It makes a lot of sense that removing the reward of your attention and the game would help give him the idea that he needs to drop it in order to have fun. It’s great that he is starting to make the connection and actually thinking it through!

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