I was lucky enough to go on a 3 day seminar by Dr Susan Friedman who is a psychology professor. ‘She has pioneered the application of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to animals. ABA represents the scientifically sound teaching technology and ethical standard that has been so effective with human learners. ‘ It is used to help train animals. (http://www.behaviorworks.org/)

I work with animals everyday. They exhibit lots of different behaviours that when I first started working with them startled me! Who knew puppies had such razor sharp teeth, or that they would chew anything in sight or that dogs would hump your leg out of excitement? Not me! The thing is, just as a baby cries, these are things that dogs do. We can’t change the dog, but we can change the environment so we don’t have bleeding hands from puppy teeth (provide suitable chew toys and disengage when teeth touch hands), chewed up Jimmy Choo’s (put those beauties away), or scratched legs from humping (redirect to a toy before the excitement becomes too much). I think that’s a really vital thing to remember – we own the environment and can often change it and this is something I applied in my own life. For example, going for a run – I would always forget my headphones, this meant I had nothing to listen to other than my thoughts, which were: ‘I don’t like running! I look silly. Get me home into the warm for goodness sake’ To combat this I made sure I had a little running bag that head a charged ipod and headphones in it, I left it under my bed so I could always find it. Listening to good music makes the run much more bearable and I get that runners high after! If you’re training your dog then it’s helpful to have things to hand that you’ll need – treats and toys.

As Dr Friedman says, we own the environment we can change the conditions of the environment and everything that surrounds the animal. So if the dog jumps up and you’d rather they didn’t, then you could teach them to go on their bed when a visitor arrives and reward this behaviour. If a cat scratches you can have lots of different scratching posts dotted about the area and brain engaging tools like paper bags filled with their food 

Changing behaviour

We need to find out what the function of the behaviour is – what past outcomes have come about from this behaviour? Behaviour plus the consequences of that behaviour drives future behaviours. If a dog jumps up as a puppy and gets lots of attention and petting, then it’s likely to continue to do this into adulthood. After all, why wouldn’t they? Jumping up relates to good stuff! They don’t recognise that now they’re many kilo’s heavier that this behaviour is now unacceptable and painful!

With behaviour we don’t like we need to look and take note of

  • What they do
  • What we don’t want them to do
  • What we’d want them to do instead
  • How can this be trained

Another extremely useful tool is the ABC method:

  • Antecedents (environment, where does it happen, what things are around- people other dogs, noises etc)
  • Behaviour (Barking, howling, whining?)
  • Consequence (Does the barking get the scary thing (the postman) to go away? If so, this behaviour is more than likely to be done again.

Check out http://behaviorworks.org/files/worksheets/FAID.pdf. I thought this was such a clever method and way of looking at things clearly and concisely. 

Finding the time

Habit bull is a good tool. It’s an app you can download and it sends reminders to you.

You could do training while you’re listening to your favourite radio station, podcast, or audio book.

It can be reinforcing to cross things off calendars – you can mark it on the calendar and cross it off when you’ve done it.

Problems with labels such as naughty and dominant

  • They provide excuses to give up
  • They are labels – they don’t give a reason for the behaviour
  • They can give justification to use harsh punishing methods

Problems with using punishment

  • It doesn’t teach the animal what to do
  • It can damage the relationship with the animal
  • It only suppresses the behaviour meaning that harsher more aversive methods are needed (Screaming rather than shouting perhaps)

As with any change we try to implement in our lives, consistency, time and patience is key. Amazing results can be seen from positive reinforcement training… check out for more inspiration: https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/behaviorworks/. If you’d like to enlist the help of a trainer, or behaviourist then be sure to check out their qualifications, contact their customers and ask them what will happen if the animal doesn’t get the behaviour right. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure then keep searching. Anyone that suggests using pinning, hitting or shouting isn’t someone you want to work with. Read this for more information.

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