On the Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training facebook page, I often engage in modified “microblogging,” a quick paragraph with a tip that I think my clients, colleagues, and dog-loving friends may find useful. Today’s tip was:
TIP: Freedom is a privilege, not a right. If your dog routinely engages in unwanted, self-reinforcing behaviors (counter-surfing, bolting out the door, barking at passersby, etc.), the prognosis for successful change in behavior is inversely proportionate to the opportunities the dog has to practice these behaviors successfully. Every time he jumps on your guests or steals from your counter, he gets better at it. Eliminating reinforcement for unwanted behaviors is every bit as important as identifying and reinforcing appropriately alternative, incompatible behaviors.
This addresses one of the primary myths about positive training, that “positive trainers allow their dogs to run slipshod all over them and just toss food when the dog happens to not be “misbehaving.” There must be consequences for both desirable and undesirable behavior. Generally, we use negative punishment (“taking good stuff away”) or extinction (“ignoring the behavior”) when the dog offers the unwanted behavior. Extinction doesn’t really work well for self-reinforcing behaviors (if the dog LIKES doing it, ignoring it won’t solve anything), which leaves us with negative punishment.
While negative punishment can be extremely effective, it is a reactive training technique and relies on giving the dog the opportunity to make poor choices. An even better plan might be using management to prevent the problem entirely.
One of the most common issues clients have with their dogs is unwanted barking at passersby (human, canine, feline, squirrels, etc.) at doors, windows, gates, and fences. Can you improve this problem? YES. There are two basic options, each with pros and cons.
OPTION A: MODIFY THE ENVIRONMENT
What it involves: use of management tools to prevent the dog from rehearsing undesirable behavior. Privacy fences, baby-gates, and/or one of my favorite management aids, window clings! (More on that in a minute)
- easy (apply one time, then fuggheddaboudit!)
- very effective (close to 100%), almost immediate results. Dog owners that want the “magic” quick fix to stop the problem today? Here it is.
- immediate reduction in unwanted behavior and stress for dog and owner
- cheap! Pay a trainer for a couple sessions versus months worth of desensitization sessions
- a lot less work for you
- can actually be very attractive aesthetically if you shop around a bit
- a little inconvenient (you have to order/install window cling, etc.)
- owners may not like the thought of management as a permanent solution, worry about the look, not like the thought of being unable to sit on the couch and enjoy a view of the street (something they likely cannot currently do anyway, because of the barking!)
OPTION B: TRAIN THE DOG
This usually involves embarking on a behavior modification plan which may take weeks or months.
- Build a great bond and trust with your dog
- Learn to read and understand canine learning, body language, and emotions better
- Teaches you to be a better dog owner and friend to dogs with fear issues, problem solve in other situations where your dog may misbehave, etc.
- Enhances focus to handler
- Can be a lot of fun!
- resources intensive – it will take time, and likely quite a few sessions with a trainer, to work through this issue successfully.
- you may “always” need to have treats available throughout the training period
- during the training period, you will need to use the management strategies discussed anyway for the reason mentioned in the “TIP” at the top of the page. You cannot allow your dog to practice this behavior at times when you are unable/unwilling to train with him. This may mean lots of crating, tethering, baby gates, etc., while new behaviors are installed.
- you are working against your dog’s nature – we have intentionally selected for millennia dogs that alert us to intruders. Your dog may always want to give you a few “woofs” to let you know, “hey, someone’s out there.” If this is unacceptable to you, management may be your best bet.
Many of my clients, after examining the pros and cons, determine that management is actually the best solution for their family. When that is the case, window clings are one of my favorite products to reduce alert barking.
What are “window clings”?
Window clings (also known as “stained glass clings” or “window film”) are sheer plastic coverings that can be applied to your windows to block your dog’s visual access to the street and thus, reduce or eliminate barking entirely! They can be cut to fit any window and are easy to apply, requiring little in the way of tools or expertise (I am NOT handy and even I can do these). They also come in dozens of different patterns, to suit nearly any decor (from stained glass to frosted glass to rain patterns, etc.) They are not generally expensive, and will still allow lots of natural light into any room.
One of my clients has this beautiful window cling installed on her picture window – she has not sacrificed the natural light of the room (her houseplants are still doing wonderfully, I admit with envy). You can find window cling at local hardware stores, but may find that the best selection is available online. DecorativeFilm.com is a fantastic resource with a variety of different designs, sizes, and options to choose from.
If you like their selection, you can order up to five free samples to see which might look best in your home and check the quality before buying!
Let us know what you think of their selection – is this something that you could or would use in your home? Have you used window clings to successfully reduce or eliminate your dog’s unwanted alert barking? What other management solutions can you think of to reduce the amount of stress and unwanted behavior you’re seeing from your dog? Are there times when you’ve chosen management over training as a lifetime solution? We’d love to hear more about your experiences in the comments.
To learn more about management and its role in successful dog training, you may enjoy the following resources:
Is Training Always the Answer? Training vs. Management (Casey Lomonaco for PetExpertise)
Why Management Is a Critical Part of Solving a Dog’s Behavior Problems (Diane Garrodd for Helium)
Until next time, happy training!