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That's Enough of "Bad Dog"

A client recently asked me about reprimanding his dog for undesired behavior. This is a common question and the answer is usually surprising to people who have tried traditional methods involving some type of aversive punishment.
 
Q: Should I ever say "Bad Dog"?  At night Ruby has started to huff 3-5 times when she hears a strange sound and then lets out a howl - should I get a shaker can and rattle when she does this?
 
A: Great questions! I don't like "Bad Dog" for a few reasons.

  1. It almost always contains an element of anger- not good for bonding.
  2. It assigns morality to a dog's actions. Dogs don't have a sense of right or  wrong. They are usually engaging in some drive related activity which, to them, makes perfect sense. Example: getting into the garbage is a scavenging behavior. Someone leaves the lid off the can and the dog follows his instincts; he's not thinking about whether it's right or wrong.
  3. There are better ways to deal with undesirable behaviors.

Drives are survival based behaviors that dogs instinctively perform. The six main drives in dogs are: barking, chewing, digging, dissecting, hunting, and scavenging.
 
Ruby's reaction to strange sounds is a great example. In the wild a dog who alerts other members of the pack to potential danger is more likely to survive. She is engaging in a normal drive behavior which, to you, is undesirable. To her it makes perfect sense. I don't recommend the use of a shaker at all; good for scaring your dog, bad for bonding, ineffective for "curing" barking.
 
Because Ruby has herding breed lineage (Border Collie), barking/alerting is a strong drive and almost impossible to quash entirely; you can't "cure" a drive. The good news is that Ruby is giving you fair warning before she starts to howl by huffing a few times. Here's what to do:
 
When you hear the first or second huff calmly but firmly say "That's Enough." If she stops barking/alerting offer her LOTS and LOTS of positive praise - "GOOD JOB! THANK YOU! GOOD GIRL!" etc. The positive praise is 100% essential and what makes this method work. My Flat Coat Retriever is an alert barker and I can assure you first hand that after trying everything else (including shaker cans), this is what finally worked.
 
If she does not stop barking then calmly but firmly say "Time Out" and put her in another room for 10-15 seconds (always keep “Time Outs” short or they won’t be effective). Repeat as needed. If you are still having trouble then try having some treats on hand; say "That's Enough" and throw some treats on the ground. As soon as she stops to get the treats lay on the positive praise. You aren't rewarding her for barking, you are interrupting her and rewarding her for stopping.
 
With my dogs I use "That's enough" as an all-around general warning for undesired behaviors always followed with either positive praise or a "Time Out" as needed. It sounds too good to be true but it really works. I ALWAYS lay on the positive praise and rarely have to give "Time Outs".

HAVE FUN TRAINING! - August Henrich, CCS
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