by Beth McEwen
Many of us who have dogs feel they are a member of the family; a furry child, of sorts. In many ways, that is an accurate representation of the bond we form with our pets. Nonetheless, just like our children, we likely have certain things we just love about our pets and other behaviors that we are less fond of. While there may be no silver bullet for behavior problems, there is one concept that applies to nearly all the challenges we dog owners face: the importance of “instead.”
It is easy for us to tell Fido, “No.” Think about how frequently the average dog hears this word in his or her lifetime; they hear “no,” or variations of it, consistently: “no,” “don’t,” “stop.” There is even an old joke about a dog who introduces himself to his canine friends as, “My name is No-No-Bad-Dog.”
The challenge with “no” is that it creates a behavioral void. Dogs do things for a reason. Maybe that reason is boredom anxiety or excitement, but all of those reasons carry some energy. When we tell our dogs to stop doing something, where are they supposed to funnel all of that energy?
Fill that behavioral void with, “Instead.” Dog trainers will often call this concept of “Instead” a re-direction or a replacement behavior. The idea is to channel that energy into something we find more appropriate than whatever it is we want our pooch to stop doing.
Every time you are tempted to tell your dog “No!” or want them to stop doing something, think about what you would like them to do instead. Then, help your furry friend to make the right choice and reward them when they do.
“When we tell our dogs to stop doing something, where are they supposed to funnel all of that energy?”
If your pup is chewing on something inappropriate, give them a dog toy to chew instead. Let’s say your dog jumps to greet people entering the home; teach him to sit and “shake hands” instead. Is your pooch a barker? A puzzle game will put that energy to a much more socially acceptable use!
This concept applies to more challenging behavioral situations. Maybe your dog is reactive to other dogs when out on walks. That reactivity is coming from somewhere (anxiety, excitement, etc.), and there is a lot of energy associated with it. We can redirect that energy by teaching our dog something we would rather they do instead, such as give us eye contact.
The higher the level of arousal, the more concrete our “instead” needs to be, and the more we need to acknowledge and reinforce Fido for performing the “instead” behavior.
You don’t need to be a professional dog trainer to start addressing your pooch’s challenging behaviors! Simply remember that next time you catch your dog doing something you don’t like, help him make better choices by showing him what you would like him to do instead, and you will be well on your way to helping your pup mind his manners!