The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

August 5, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Fixing dog's behavior requires setting goals

JOPLIN, Mo. — This week's column is not going to be a typical advice column dealing with pets. After last week's column, I received a lot of feedback from many of you on ways to address undesirable behavior and to work past issues that I am having with my dog.

I think by asking for advice I may have put the cart before the horse. I took the emails that everyone sent me, noted your names and printed them out to put in a folder on my desk. I made it a point to not read them before I had time to sit down and think of where I go from here.

Before jumping into fixing things, I need to evaluate the situation. My main focus shouldn't be how to fix bad behavior -- it should be identifying goals for my lifestyle and how I want my dog to fit into that.

After writing last week's article, I had some time to think about what kind of changes I want to make with my dog's behavior. I also had an evaluation of the things I have been doing wrong. In typical Ryan Richardson fashion, I made two lists with those exact headers. After an hour passed and two pages were filled, I realized I was writing variations on the same theme.

I want my interactions with my dog to have a purpose again, but I don't want my dog to be the center of everything I do.

While I looked over my list, I realized that I have made a few mistakes that have caused issues with my dog. Sure, there are some things on my list that I need to focus on that are strictly dog behavioral issues, which need training to overcome. But a lot of the things I've come to dislike are a result of me enabling my dog.

When I think back to my psychology class in college, I remember the story of Pavlov's dog and classical conditioning. If you don't remember the story, Pavlov was conducting an experiment where he rewarded dogs with the ringing of a bell and then a treat. After a while, the dogs would pair the bell with a reward, even without the actual reward being present.

That story reminded me a lot of what I have been doing wrong and how I've trained my dog to react in ways that are undesirable. When I come home, my dog loses her mind until I let her out of the kennel.

Historically, my first response is to interrupt what I am doing, let her out of the kennel, immediately take her outside to relieve herself and then feed her immediately to calm her down. The dog has paired her response to me letting her out of the kennel. She gets her reward immediately, and I still have to deal with the annoyance of her barking.

I noticed this behavior extends to when I leave the room and she knows that I'm in the house. The way that I have rewarded her for basically acting out has made her do it more.

Since Monday, I've come home and put my bags down from work. I go and fill her dish and then I turn on the television and plug in my laptop. I'll pour a drink and change clothes.

Once I'm ready, I acknowledge her. I let her out of the kennel and clean up any mess she made. I make her sit using just her name and the command "sit." Once that command is followed, I put on her leash and take her out for a bathroom break. Only when she is calm and has followed directions does she get rewarded.

The change hasn't taken place in her yet, but the change in my behavior is starting.

I will respond this weekend to the stack of letters and calls that I received from readers this past weekend. Judging by the response I received, I have a feeling that many of you are weighing in quickly on this subject. I look forward to hearing your advice.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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