When trying to address “problem” behaviors, most people look for ideas based on the appearance of the unwanted behavior. For example, if the person’s dog jumps on people, the person may ask, “How do I teach my dog not to jump on people?”
However, behaviors that look the same may be happening for different reasons. If you pick a training solution just based on the appearance of an unwanted behavior, you can potentially get into a lot of trouble.
For example, here are several hypothetical examples of jumping dogs:
Scenario 1: One dog may jump because humans often pet or scratch the dog when the dog jumps. Although people find the behavior annoying, the dog has become very successful at using jumping to get attention.
Scenario 2: For another dog, the owner may find the jumping frustrating. As a result, when the dog jumps, the owner may sometimes give the dog a bone to chew in order to get the dog to leave them alone. The dog has learned that jumping is a good way to potentially get a new chew.
Scenario 3: Yet another dog may dislike strangers. The dog has learned that when she jumps and bounces around, it is much harder for people to pet her and people eventually leave her alone. The jumping persists because it actually helps the dog avoid petting and scratches from strangers!
Imagine your dog is most similar to the dog in Example 3. But, you pick a shaping plan that is designed to teach overly friendly dogs how to interact with new people. You and your dog may get very frustrated as you try to implement this training plan.
Instead, your training will be much more successful if you start by identifying why a behavior is happening. This information will give you more insight regarding what is motivating your dog and allow you to create a training program that addresses your dog’s needs.