It is early in the morning and I am still in bed. My eyes are closed, yet I can still feel a pair of eye staring at me.
Then I hear a tiny whimper; and now I am pretending to be asleep. I keep my eyes closed for that effect and try hard not to crack a smile. Seconds later another little whimper and this time, I give in. Hop up, Rio, I tell her, and in an nanosecond I have a flying dog lying next to me on the bed.
Now I am fully-awake and engaging with Rio. This is one of the sweetest moments of the day for me; just hanging out on the bed with the dogs as I contemplate what’s on my plate on that given day.
Rio begins to lick my hands as her tail wags fast. I remove my hands in an effort to have her stop licking which I don’t like. This works for a minute. She goes back to licking my hands. I
now have my trainer’s cap on and I ask her instead to go get a toy. She jumps off the bed and she is gone for a few seconds. Ahh, she might not come back at all – I think. But here she is again! Jumping almost vertically on to the bed and missing me by a few inches.
In her mouth is a very “dead” alligator that has lost its inside a long time ago. Together we begin tugging at the gator and having some fun.
Redirecting our dogs to engage in a more “appropriate” behavior to have them stop one that we do not want is one of the best kept secrets of successful trainers. It gives the animal an equally (or sometimes even more) reinforcing behavior to engage in as well as preventing the frustration people feel when their dog is doing something they don’t like.
Redirecting, however, comes with a few rules:
1. We cannot ask our dog to do something that the dog has not learned yet. For example, asking the dog to go to his bed when no one has taken the time to teach the dog what that really means.
2. The alternative must be something that dog wants to do as well as (i.e.) finds the redirected behavior as reinforcing as item #1.
3. It must be very specific.
4. It must be reinforced.
In my bed situation with Rio, I asked her to go get a toy (her choice) because this is something that she has learned to do in the context of us coming in the front door after a lengthy absence. In the past she would get super excited; she would whine (she still does) jump either on us or up in the air – Kangaroo style. Now we ask her to go get a toy and she gladly complies because she has learned that we will engage with her either by tugging with the toy that she selected or we will throw it for her if it is a ball. She also got what she wanted which was social interaction. We have now translated that behavior to the morning-bed routine and again it works for both parties.
Another aspect that I consider important about protocol like the redirect or in behavior/training parlance a DRI (differential schedule of incompatible behavior), Rio can’t lick me if she is holding a toy in her mouth 🙂 It’s in fact that it slows us down to engage with the dog. We are having an engagement instead of just reacting and yelling impatiently at the dog STOP THAT NOW!!!!
And as a result of our yelling, we now have a dog that either is confused because he has no clue what to do instead or worse, a dog that is scared of us due to our over- the-top reaction. Voids are difficult for dogs. That is why they also get into trouble! They don’t know what to do with their “free-time,” with the person knocking at the front door, etc.
Whenever I use a DRI with my own dogs or I suggest and train my client’s dogs to an alternative, I feel very good about myself and the situation because I recognized that now the dog is getting something that he wants and it is something as well that the person can live with.
Try this at home: Next time you want your dog to stop some “obnoxious” behavior, suggest to him that he does something he can do and will want to do and go about feeling really good about yourself too!