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Changing problem behavior: Foundation work!

Foundation work is the basis of all behavior modification training.   When I get a call for help from a potential client they often state they have 1 or 2 behavior issues that need addressing. In reality, it’s much more than 1 or 2 issues. That’s because behind all behavior is motivation and motivation is based on a feeling a dog is experiencing.

A good dog trainer knows that to solve the behavior problem we SEE, he or she has to look at 3 things:

What is motivating the behavior?
What is reinforcing the behavior and keeps the dog performing it?
What is the final result (for the dog) of the behaivor after it is performed?

Just like us, a dog will perform a behavior to cope with the way it’s feeling. Performing specific behaviors have the intention to do 1 of 2 things for a dog: something ‘bad’ to stop or something ‘good’ to happen…to them.

Let me use jumping as an example. When I see a dog jumping up on people there could be a few reasons for this:
The dog is feeling: Excited (happy). Nervous. Anxious. Frustrated. Fearful.

Ultimately, the dog is choosing to jump to cope with 1 or more of these emotions and on some level, in some way, jumping is helping them; it’s working so the dog continues to jump.  To change jumping, we need to eliminate or lower the emotion that is motivating the behavior and help the dog find another behavior to perform.

This is where foundation training comes into play.

Obedience for dogs

In 99% of the cases that I work with, basic foundation work is missing or not practiced enough. Guardians are not asking their dog for any basic obedience behavior in the home including basic Sit and Stay behaviors, therefore, the dog never learns to take direction from them, give them eye contact or to develop patience. Not practicing foundation work is akin to not teaching children how to cook, do laundry, pay bills or take responsibility. You are doing a child no favors and they will struggle when they go out on their own.

Foundation work and trust is at the core of changing problem behavior. Therefore, every dog needs to know basic life skills such as Sit and Stay and how to cope emotionally in a way that is acceptable to us. Many dogs lack patience and impulse control and can’t take direction outside of the home and if guardians are going to make changes in their dog’s behavior they need control. What that means is: your dog listens to and takes direction from you.

Foundation work is easy to implement each day, as part of your lifestyle.

It includes asking the dog to ‘stay’ before releasing to eat or ‘stay’ before releasing to go out the door (Yes, your dog can go out the door first, just give him/her permission).
Adding games and puzzles to slow down eating and mentally stimulate can also help develop perseverance and patience. Patience can keep them safe, it can get you more compliance when you ask for a behavior, and it can result in a calmer more content dog. Using puzzles and slow feeders have the added benefit of creating dopamine (important to learning) to help fearful dogs in addition to building confidence through problem solving. Even if your dog is ‘perfect’, you can make life a little more interesting by implementing games to challenge their mind and release some of that mental energy. Consider a dog ‘game’ like doing a crossword puzzle or if you’re a reader, it’s like reading the author, Eckhart Tolle. Yikes!

If you’re experiencing serious behavior problems, call in an expert who teaches with kindness and a do no harm approach then start adding some easy boundary training around the house and outside. Give your dog a reason to listen to you. Change will come but it starts when you change your behavior.   Start easy and start with the basics.



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