Behavior is lawful. Three words that can change your training effectiveness and efficiency and contribute to a more ethical practice. All behavior is a response to, and product of the environment and events occurring in it. There is no need to wonder which protocol, method or technique to use to train any behavior. The lawfulness of behavior means we can use an individual’s history and responses to reinforcement or punishment to predict how they are likely to behave when faced with similar conditions. We can come up with kind and effective ways to teach new skills and behaviors.
For those who do not have access to a trainer who understands the lawfulness of behavior, and is committed to not using force, fear, threats or pain to train dogs, here is the anchor you can apply to get started on the right path with a vulnerable, scared dog.
1. Keep the dog feeling safe. No animal who feels threatened is going to be able to learn new skills optimally, unless those skills involve the continuation of protecting themselves from perceived threats. Most don’t need any more practice at doing that.
2. Countercondition to the scary stuff. Change associations. Change what upsetting events or objects predict.
3. Train using good positive reinforcement mechanics. Establish clear criteria for the behavior you want the dog to perform. They’re not mind readers and we can save them the effort of guessing what we want by being clear in our own head what it is we are trying to get them to do. Use an adequate rate of reinforcement for the dog. Young dogs, novice dogs, unsure dogs will likely require a higher rate of reinforcement than a dog who knows how the training scene works. Be prepared to provide high value food reinforcement either during or immediately following the desired behaviors.
I hope you are excited to get started on learning more about science-based interventions to be more successful with the most at-risk animals.