Posts Tagged ‘dog obeying rules when I’m not home’

How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 2

June 19, 2010

After a long day at work, cuddling on the couch with Hazel is heaven. But what if you don't like your dog up on certain furniture? Read on.

The Myth: Dogs know the same rules apply whether a human is present or not.

The Real Deal: Dogs can easily learn that a specific experience has a different outcome when you’re absent vs. when you’re present.  They will then behave according to which outcomes work best for them in the moment, not according to “rules” you have set.

Let’s get back to this great question by Real Deal reader, Tracy.  She wrote:

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

In part 1 of this post we talked about why Tracy’s dog, Chiller, goes on the couch only when she’s not home.  We also examined the simple rules dogs learn from their experiences and how these drive their behavior.

Now, using this example, let’s talk about how to prevent unwanted behavior when you’re not home and what Tracy can do about the fact that Chiller’s already learned: the couch is wonderful – as soon as everyone leaves.

First, the best time to establish rules such as “don’t go on the couch” is right at the beginning of your relationship. If you have a puppy or newly adopted adult dog, it is MUCH easier for him to learn a rule if you start from the beginning and then stick to the rule.

Sticking to the rule means that you don’t allow the rule to be broken when you’re not watching. This is probably the biggest mistake dog owners make. I suspect this is how Chiller learned that the couch is a delight as long as no one else is in the room.  Remember this: Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding. MANY experiences can be rewarding WITHOUT you being there to provide a reward.  Rewards come from everywhere – not just you!

Here are a few classic examples of rewarding experiences that dogs have when unsupervised, all of which can lead to unwanted behavior patterns:

  1. Peeing on the floor/carpet: dog feels, ahhhh, I’ve relieved myself, that was rewarding! I LOVE peeing on this surface, it’s always SO RELIEVING!
  2. Jumping on the counter and eating a sandwich found there: dog feels, YUM, that is the BEST thing I’ve EVER tasted!  I love jumping on counters – I can’t believe I haven’t tried this until today.  I’ll check this spot every day!  Hell, I’ll check it THREE TIMES a day!!!
  3. Resting on forbidden couch or bed: dog feels, mmmmm, this is SO COZY!  Whenever no one’s around to disrupt me, this is heaven!!!

Are you seeing how it works?  It’s when we’re not paying attention that dogs learn these behaviors pay!  Behaviors unwanted by owners end up being rewarding behaviors for our dogs.  So what do we do?  Let’s start with problem prevention (always the best way to raise great dogs).  We’ll use our couch example.  Here’ a recipe for getting your dog to permanently follow the rule of NO couch, whether you’re home or not:

  1. When you’re in the room you ALWAYS body block your dog’s access to coming up on the couch or immediately put him back on the floor when he tries to come up.

    X-Mat: Just leave this bumpy mat on any surface you don't want your dog to rest on.

  2. When you’re not in the room, you put up a barrier to deny access to the room OR you make the couch otherwise inaccessible/unpleasant.  You can use these bumpy X-Mat to do that.  No dog wants to lie on THAT.
  3. Give your dog an alternative option that is always available, very comfortable and ALWAYS rewarding (a cozy dog bed or old blanket).  Of course it is always rewarding if it’s comfortable, but you can enhance the experience even further by giving your dog positive attention when he is lying in his bed (belly rub!) or calmly bringing him a treat/chewie/stuffed Kong when he is relaxing on the bed.  This will seal the deal that this dog bed is THE PLACE to BE.

If you follow this recipe and maintain consistency for several weeks then your dog will quickly eliminate the idea of couch chillin’ from his behavior repertoire.  Your dog will essentially look at it this way: There’s a couch.  That’s something people sit on.  Dogs don’t go there.  I never have.  Any experience I’ve ever had trying to go on there has been unspectacular at best, a waste of time.  That’s just another dull object in the room.  Now here’s an idea, I’ll go lie on my comfy bed or my favorite spot in the sun by the window.  That’s a great place to be.

~

This will work without fail for any new dog.  A new dog is especially easy to set rules with.  Ah, but what if it’s NOT a new dog?  What if it’s a dog who already has the unwanted behavior pattern of going on the couch only when no one’s around?  Like Chiller does.  That’s a little trickier, and I’ll cover it in Part 3 of this series.

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How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 1

June 17, 2010

Here’s a great question that came up in recent conversations I’ve had with Real Deal readers on my Facebook page.  Dog owner Tracy wrote: 

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

When it Comes to Snuggling or Snoozing - Dogs Can't Resist a Soft Couch


The Myth: My dog knows better than to do something “against the rules” when I’m not home.

The Real Deal: He doesn’t.  Your dog simply does what he has learned works best for him in the present moment.

Let me explain how Tracy’s dog appears to “know” he is wrong for being on the couch when no one is home, and how in fact he does NOT know.  Then I’ll tell you how to get your dog to stop “breaking the rules” when you walk out the door!

Let’s give Tracy’s dog a name to make this explanation easier.  We’ll call him “Chiller,” since he loves to chill on the couch (once they leave).  Tracy says Chiller would NEVER go up on their living room couch when they are home.  This means that anytime Chiller has tried to go on the couch when a person is present, he has been stopped or reprimanded in some way that he finds unpleasant (this does not have to be mean, just clear).  One way or another, the people of the household have gotten the message across to Chiller that it’s not worth the effort or comfort to get on the couch when people are home.  It is LESS FUN for Chiller to get on the couch than it is to find some other spot for his chillin’.  He knows this.  He has learned it through experience.  What exactly has he learned you ask?  Here’s the simple RULE in Chiller’s mind: 

Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (so pick another spot)

Now, there’s something else that I’m willing to bet Chiller has learned.  I’m willing to bet that Chiller has learned that chillin’ on the couch is a sublimely comfortable experience. And I’m willing to bet he discovered this more than once.  This happened in one or all of the following ways:

  1. Some people in the house have let Chiller up on the couch sometimes. Sometimes even when they are present in the room.
  2. Chiller has gone on the couch on his own when no one is in the room.  On at least a few of these occasions, he was then reprimanded upon discovery.  However, this was after the fact (once he had already experienced how comfortable the couch was).
  3. Chiller was NEVER, ever, allowed on the couch, not even for one second.  BUT, he could not resist his natural desire to rest on soft, elevated surfaces so he tried it for the very first time when no one was home (this is the least likely of the three scenarios, but possible).

We can safely assume that one or more of the above scenarios took place.  It would only take one or two occurrences to create Tracy’s problem.  That is because once Chiller learns that sometimes being on the couch is enjoyable, the only thing left for him to figure out is: WHEN is lying on the couch enjoyable and WHEN does it suck?

Well, that’s easy for him to sort.  He tries going up on the couch at different times, in different situations.  After a few trials, he can plainly see that the couch is perfectly enjoyable when no one is around and it sucks when people are present (because they immediately kick him off).  He’s now got two SIMPLE Rules he can trust:

  1. Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (pick another spot)
  2. Me on the Couch + NO ONE in the Room = Joyful Peace and Comfort (relax on the couch)

So, Chiller has learned that the couch is bliss when no one is around – Rule #2.  When he hears a signal that someone will come into the room (garage door) he follows Rule # 1.

Tracy, your smart dog IS obeying rules.  They’re the rules he’s learned from his own experiences.

Did he deviously strategize any of this?  No!  Is he a bad boy?  No!  Does he have spite?  No!   He just knows the simple rules above. He does what works for his happiness in the present moment. Just like every animal. Just like you and me.

~

In the next post I’ll tell you how to solve Tracy’s couch problem and prevent your dog from following different rules when you’re present vs. when you’re not.  Hint: The problem above comes from the fact that Chiller was given an opportunity to experience the joy of the couch – sometimes – and when no one was there to teach him otherwise.

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