Dogs love attention and will do different things to get it, this can be jumping on you, begging at the table, whining when placed inside a box or even biting your arm. Many people reward such unwanted behaviors in dogs without knowing the consequences of their actions. For example, when your dog begs at the table and you feed him, the food that you give your dog reinforces that behavior and your dog will continue begging. Now, if you decide that you won’t feed your dog when it begs at the table, it won’t stop that behavior instantly, it will continue for a while. But since you are no longer giving in, your dog will give up and that behavior will go away and completely extinguish over time.
After reading this, you might find that you’ve been rewarding a bad behavior for a long period and you are now deciding to stop giving in. This is good as it is an important step in behavioral extinction therapy but you should be ready to deal with what happens next.
When you decide to stop “feeding” the barking behavior of your dog, you will note something very interesting at the first stages. You will note that your dog increases the begging behavior. For example, your dog will start pawing at you, a classic sign of insistence or he may turn in up a notch and start barking. At this point, your dog’s increased behavior will make you feel like you are doing something wrong, this is what is referred to as extinction burst.
Many people find this concept hard to comprehend and it’s not always the best way to deal with certain types of unwanted dog behavior. However, for some behavioral problems, it works like a charm. The fact is, behavioral extinction is not easy to pull off but it’s almost impossible to ignore a misbehaving dog.
Why does this reaction occur? Well, to find out, you have to understand dog psychology. Your dog whines to get your attention and receive food; your dog is used to this because you feed him every time he begs at the table. All of a sudden, you start ignoring this behavior by not giving food. What occurs next, your dog will start being upset. In his mind, your dog is thinking:
you always give me food when I beg and whine, what’s happening today? Maybe you didn’t notice me whining so I will turn it up by doing something else that will definitely get your attention, barking!
This situation is also present in people, especially little kids who throw tantrums when you refuse to buy them candy at the supermarket. If you continue to refuse your child’s advances, he or she will start crying. To avoid causing a scene at the supermarket, you may choose to give in and buy what your child wants. Your child learns that he or she can get anything by whining and crying and start doing it every time they want something. One day you decide enough is enough and introduce new rules, no more candy. When your child starts whining after spotting candy at the supermarket you say no and move on. After a while, your child will make a frowny face and start making some funny sounds. You grab your child and exit the store to avoid causing a scene, this is behavioral extinction because your child will learn that whining or crying won’t get him or her the candy.
The first time that you take away the reward will not be easy because your dog will push you to the limit to get it. You will experience extinction burst when you’re trying to eradicate a bad behavior. The only thing that you should do is to stay focused and don’t allow your dog to win. Avoid giving in even for one day because your dog will know that she can get rewarded and this will motivation to keep trying.
Not As Easy as 1-2-3
By now you already know the concept behind behavioral extinction therapy. However, it can get a little tricky when put into practice due to the following:
Identifying the reinforcer
this can be tricky because you may not have a clue of the reward that keeps the bad behavior going.
Dealing with extinction burst
the behavior will worsen before it gets better.
you will find that your dog doesn’t remember anything from the last training session.
Partial reinforcement extinction effect
getting rid of bad behavior can be harder or easier depending on how it was reinforced.
Identifying the Reinforcer
If a behavior happens in dogs often, it shows that its being reinforced. In our case, the reward is obvious, the dog was begging at the table and was given food. All you have to do to put to and end to this is to stop feeding him at the table.
However, it’s not easy to identify the reward in other cases of bad behavior. For example, when your dog jumps on people, it’s after attention. As a dog owner, you might think that attention involves patting or talking to the dog and this is not true. Attention is any kind of interaction such as eye contact, pushing the dog and even yelling NO! These are negative types of attention and will not get rid of the problem. To eradicate this behavior, you must ignore your dog completely. Do not touch or look at your dog, actually look away or turn around and fold your arms.
The situation becomes tricky when the dog is barking because it can do so due to a number of reasons, some of which we cannot hear or see. If you notice that your dog is barking because it is bored, you can try to distract it by showing other things to do, to avoid being bored.
When eradicating a bad behavior, you must find the reward and remove it.
Don’t mistake this with forgetting because the old memory is still in your pet’s brain. During behavioral extinction therapy you will notice that your dog has improved in one training session. But on another session, things will be so bad and it’s like your dog didn’t learn anything at all.
This is normal and what you need to do is to be consistent and keep trying. With time, the bad behavior will be less clear and one day, it will be gone forever. Spontaneous recovery can occur due to:
- Change of location.
- Failure to conduct behavioral extinction training consistently or changing the time of day when training occurs.
- Introducing a different person to train the dog.
Partial Reinforcement Extinction Training
Sometimes, your dog’s behavior can be strong to the point that it’s hard to extinguish it. Just like spontaneous recovery, you have to be patient, consistent and don’t stop training, keep trying.
When you notice an undesirable behavior in your dog and you want it to go away, follow these steps:
- Investigate to find out what the reward is
- Remove the reward completely
- Do not relent
If the behavior doesn’t seem to go away, you probably didn’t find the reinforcer; or maybe, the behavior is the reinforcer.
Keep training and be patient, this will help you to go through hard periods such as spontaneous recovery and extinction bursts.