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Buyer beware! Quick Fixes and Magic Wands

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Story time!

The other day I was sitting at my desk throwing a ball into a glove while Dustin looked on. He was mesmerized by the ball, his head moving from left to right, staring at the ball as I threw is back and forth. Soon he approached me and started barking at the ball. Being the amazing disciplined trainer that I am, I found the behavior amusing, and I took a cute video (even posting to my personal Instagram with a funny comment about how bossy Dustin can be).

After barking at the ball for a few minutes I eventually, *gasp*, threw it for Dustin to fetch! He happily ran after it and brought it back into the living room.

So, a quick review of what just happened. Dustin watched me throwing the ball, he then came and stood near me and barked as I continued to throw the ball, then I threw it for him to fetch. He loves fetch and finds it highly rewarding. Oh no. We’re in for. I inappropriately rewarded an undesired behavior. There’s no turning back now, he’s going to forever and always bark whenever I throw the ball.

Now this blog post isn’t about rewarding behaviors. (But, for the record, you should avoid rewarding behaviors you do not like and reward behaviors you want to see again) This blog post is about quick fixes. You see, a mere 4 minutes after the video of Dustin barking at me I took a second video. The second video shows Dustin calmly lying on his bed while I again throw the ball into my glove.

Let me tell you, I could make a super AWESEOME promo video convincing you all that I can magically fix behavior problems in a matter of minutes. But that’s not how behavior works. It takes time to truly change behavior. I did not fix this problem in a matter of minutes. In the moment, all I did was ask Dustin to go lie on his bed, and stay there. And yes, this does only take a few minutes. But what allowed me to change his behavior quickly was his extensive training foundation, and a long history of rewarding him for lying on his bed and doing what is asked. He knows how to go to his bed, and he knows how to stay. Have we practiced saying on his bed while I throw a ball into a glove? No, we never have practiced this specific situation.

Additionally, I made a couple of quick and easy changes to set him up for success for the second video. First, I rewarded him for being on his bed. Second, I temporarily decreased the intensity of the ball throwing until he was settled into his bed and I was convinced that he was not going to jump up and start barking again.

What I want to emphasize with this story is that his behavior did NOT change in the 4 minutes that elapsed between the two videos. You should ALWAYS beware of things, people, or services that promise to change behavior quickly (for dog and for people). It simply does not happen! Will Dustin bark at the ball being thrown again? Maybe, I honestly don’t know. Will he go lie on his bed the minute I get the ball back out because I created long term behavior change? Absolutely not! I could easily teach him to lie on his bed when I am playing with the ball, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that I did not teach him to do that in the 44 seconds I worked with him on it in the above video.

© Leash and Learn 2019

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