After we wrote last week about Johnnie’s love for jumping up on people and how we wanted to teach her a better behavior, many of you had great advice. We put a few things into action over the past week since that post, and we’ve seen some success! Here is what we’ve done so far.
Management. Dogs often perform problem behaviors because they feel good to them. Johnnie loves to jump on people, so every time she does she gets reinforced for it, pretty much no matter the consequence (one reason why punishment can be ineffective). So what we have been doing is making sure she doesn’t even have the opportunity to jump in the first place by keeping her on leash when people come into our home or keeping her much closer to us when she’s meeting strangers in public. Many of you might be thinking, “Well if it was that easy, why don’t you just do it forever?” While we are keeping her from jumping, it’s still not her own decision – meaning if we didn’t have the leash on her, she’d still do it – and we don’t want that!
By preventing her from practicing the behavior of jumping, it becomes less of an engrained immediate response from her. This alone will not stop the behavior though, which brings us to the second action we’ve taken to begin teaching Johnnie that there are better decisions than jumping.
Teaching an incompatible behavior. If we only told Johnnie “don’t jump,” we’d be leaving her with all sorts of guesses for what she should be doing. This is why we teach her what behavior we want instead, and we make sure this behavior is not something she can do at the same time as jumping (hence why it’s called an ‘incompatible behavior’).
Ideally, Johnnie would see a stranger and think, “Oh yeah, when I see new people I’m supposed to sit on a designated spot away from the door because that’s what gets me yummy treats and then the fun new people say hi to me!” We’re not quite there yet with J – in fact, we’re pretty far from it. But what we have found does work quite well is giving our guests or strangers some treats and having them ask Johnnie to sit before she gets to say hi to them (and, ideally, before she gets the chance to jump). This goes back to my last post about figuring out how to intervene so the humans get the treats before Johnnie gets to the humans. So far it has been pretty successful because we are also giving the humans an incompatible behavior to allowing Johnnie to jump up on them :-)
Right now we are working towards Johnnie being responsive when people she doesn’t know ask her to sit. She is doing well, but she can still get too excited to pay attention. Focus will be our next task, followed by what I mentioned before about truly teaching her an appropriate incompatible behavior for meet and greets. Slow and steady wins the manners race! We are getting there!
To adopt Johnnie Cash and help her learn awesome new behaviors, email firstname.lastname@example.org.