Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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Top 10 Mistakes in Behaviour Change

Posted by k.mcclean on January 13, 2013 at 11:55 AM


Like most people I'm not really keen on being told what I am doing wrong - and I don't like presentation titles that focus on what's wrong.  But this little presentation of only 12 slides is one of the best I have seen in a long time and it is full of positive messages.  It is intended mostly to help people change their own behaviours but  it absolutely nails the principles of changing behaviour in our dogs.  Here is a outline of the 10 behaviours with the canine equivalent. (But please do follow the link and go through the presentation - and look at the solutions which also apply so well to training our dogs.

#1 Relying on willpower for long-term change....this sounds suspiciously like "my dog should just behave because he wants to please me".  Positive reinforcement of desireable behaviours is the key to effective behaviour change for our dogs.

#2 Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps... the essence of successful shaping of new behaviours is splitting the behaviour into tiny steps.

#3 Ignoring how environment shapes behaviours...an important principle of behaviour change is to change the antecedents (the context) in which the behaviour occurs.

#4 Trying to stop old behaviours instead of creating new ones....teaching what "not to do " is much harder and less durable than teaching our dogs a new "to do".

#5 Blaming failures on lack of motivation ... in the canine world we often blame it on stubborness or disrespect - or a host of other qualities we use to label our dogs. Make the right behaviour easier is another key principle in changing canine behaviour.

#6 Underestimating the power of triggers... we might prefer the term 'elicit' rather than trigger but the principle is the same.  Another key principle in behaviour change: address the triggers.  Identify and modify, eliminate or change them into a cue for a different (desireable) behaviour.

#7 Believeing that information leads to action...ever heard anyone say about their dog's misbehaviour "he should just know better"? If this does not work for us humans, why on earth would we expect it to work for our dogs?

#8 Focusing on abstract goals more than concrete behaviours... How true!   Abstract goals usually end up being 'labels'.  Labels are dangerous things - they mean different things to different people and they often imply fixed qualities.  They  make behaviour change overwhelming.  An example might be helpful:  We all want our dogs to be calm when it is time to invite visitors into the house - what many people have is a frenzy of barking when the door bell rings and a flash mob at the door (especially if there is more than one canine occupant!). Instead of asking for "calm" (which means precisely what?) how about a clearly defined behavioural goal? I want my dog to sit quietly on his mat while I open the door and let people into the house..  Now there is an achieveable goal and one that I can now develop a training plan to build.

#9 Seeking to change a behaviour forever, not for a short time....I can hear people saying...but isn't the point of changing our dog's behaviour to make it a permanent thing?  Yup - almost always. But the point here is that we need to sustain the behaviour over the long term - remembering the role of antecedents (including context and elicitors)  and positive reinforcement to maintain the value of the behaviour for the dog.

#10 Assuming that behaviour change is difficult....  So right - it is mainly the mistakes we make (#1-9) that make it difficult.

For more on this see tinyhabits.com

What behaviour would you like to change?  Right now I am working on not having all 4 of my adult dogs try to charge out the door at the same time.  When I get home from workk they are all so excited -  the best way to get rid of the excess energy is to send them outside.  I have fallen into the trap of reinforcing the behaviour by allowing them to crowd the door and jostle for position to be first out (because getting rid of the noise and exhuberance by sending them outside is positively reinforcine to me

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