Does your dog have behavioral problems you don’t quite know how to identify or address? If so, you’re not alone.
A recent study found that about three-quarters of domestic dogs exhibit at least one behavioral problem. Furthermore, many owners aren’t sure what to do about it. One thing is for sure: traditional dog training isn’t cutting it.
If this sounds familiar, you’re going to want to stick around. Today, we’re going to take a look at behavior modification as a tool for helping dogs with behavioral issues.
What is behavior modification? How does it work and how do you know if it’s right for you? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
What Is Behavior Modification?
When we think about dog training, we usually think about the command and reward process. During this type of training, you might teach your dog to do tricks such as sitting, staying, or heeling (walking close to your side rather than ahead) in exchange for treats. When we use this method, we reinforce positive behaviors (the tricks) by offering a reward (usually a treat).
If you’re used to this type of training, behavior modification may seem a bit strange. At times, it may even look like you’re rewarding your dog for “bad” behaviors. However, behavior modification is a research-based method that uses a variety of reinforcements to help your dog make long-term adjustments to her behavior.
Behavior modification is the process by which you assist your dog in forming new reactions to situations that once caused behavioral problems. Oftentimes, when our dogs begin to misbehave, we react by telling them, “No!” or trying to restrain them. The problem is that for some dogs, these punishments provide further stimulation that increases the negative behavior.
The idea behind behavior modification is working with a dog’s psychology, rather than using force to stifle their reactions. To get a better idea of what it is, let’s take a look at some of the ways it can work.
Examples of Behavior Modification Methods
As we look at some of these methods, you may be surprised to find that some sound familiar. That is because behavior modification isn’t a treatment used exclusively for dogs. Therapists and other psychology workers often employ behavior modification methods when helping human patients, too!
Counter conditioning is one of the most classic behavior modification methods. It is also the one that may, on the surface, look as though you are rewarding the “bad” behavior.
Counter conditioning involves providing a positive experience when your dog’s “bad” behavior is triggered. For example, they may bark every time someone approaches the front door because this approach feels threatening to them. By giving the dog affection or treats when someone approaches the front door, they will learn to see this approach as a positive experience.
Habituation is somewhat like immersion therapy. The idea is that you get your dog used to whatever situation brings out her “bad” behavior through repeated exposure.
For example, your dog may bark and whine when you leave the house, disturbing your neighbors. This is a sign of separation anxiety, something many dogs struggle with. One way to modify this behavior is to leave your home often for short periods of time in order to show your dog that you will always come back.
Extinction is a behavioral modification method that does not involve rewards. Instead, it involves removing the reward your dog expects to receive in response to her “bad” behavior.
Many people practice the extinction method when dealing with a dog who jumps on people. Chances are, the dog jumps because when she does so, she receives attention and pets. To practice extinction, it is important that no one ever pets her until she has all four feet back on the ground, showing her that jumping doesn’t get the reward it once did.
How Do You Know if Behavior Modification Is Right For Your Dog?
If you want to give behavior modification a shot, it is useful to work with a behavior modification service. Many of these training methods require experience and observation. You can find out more about behavior modification services by visiting the right place.
Now, let’s talk about the kinds of dogs that can benefit from behavior modification. The reality is that all puppies and most adult dogs do have at least one behavior that you’ll want to work on. However, there are some instances when behavior modification is crucial.
You may need behavioral modification if your dog shows signs of:
- Aggression or fear-based violence
- Separation anxiety from you and/or other members of your household
- Extreme reactions to specific stimuli such as riding in the car
- Difficulty with people or animals
In these instances, learning a handful of commands like “sit” or “stay” isn’t going to get to the root of the problem. Dogs who exhibit behavioral issues are often experiencing fear, stress, or confusion. Behavioral modification will help them lessen these feelings and find less harmful coping mechanisms.
(Another sign that working with a behavioral modification service is the right choice? If your standard trainer tells you that your dog is too stubborn or smart for training, it’s time to up your training game.)
Behavior Modification May Be the Solution to Your Dog’s Behavioral Issues
If you are concerned about one or more behavioral issues your dog is exhibiting, you are not alone. In fact, the vast majority of dogs show signs of at least one behavioral problem. Fortunately, behavior modification can make a huge difference in your dog’s emotions, reactions, and behaviors.
If you want more answers about your pets, you’ve come to the right place. Take a look at our Pets and Animals section to get the latest on training, health, breed traits, and more.