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Internalised habits

Extract from Aunty Kaye’s Doggy Dictionary of Training and Bheaviour

An internalised attitude, emotion or habitual behaviour is one that your dog has automatically, as a “default option” rather than as a result of being physically restrained or controlled by a command.

This is the third method described under the heading of “three ways of controlling a dog”.

It is achieved by controlling the consequences of what the dog does – rewarding the behaviour we want, and making sure that unwanted behaviour does not lead to any rewarding results for the dog.

It is up to the dog to develop self control and to offer the behaviour which “works”. In other words, to choose to sit and be allowed in, patted or given a reward. Choose not to sit, and the dog won’t get anything. The effect of this is that the dog internalises the behaviour. Sitting at the back door becomes a habit, the default option, not something the dog only does if physically restrained or given a command. This is preferable to having a dog who jumps up unless you can force or persuade him or her to do otherwise.

The desired behaviour is not achieved by restraint or by means of command, but by changing the dog’s emotions – conditioning the dog to feel differently and have more appropriate emotions, such as calmness or a friendly, relaxed state.

What problems do people have with their dogs?

Usually unruly behaviour, being over-excited – or being scared or aggressive, jumping up at the back door, running around in the house, jumping up on people, rushing out the door, pulling on the lead, not listening etc.

These are emotional states.

The problem here is not so much “does your dog know what sit means?”. It is more a problem of over-excitement, an emotional state which is learned by association, rather than a behaviour which is learned by its consequences. Your dog associates the park with great excitement, therefore training tends to go out the window and unruliness prevails.

How can you condition an emotional state and habitual behaviour resulting from it that is appropriate?

If you wait quietly, holding your dog on lead, but otherwise doing nothing, your dog’s excitement level must eventually subside. Trust me on this one. You just have to wait long enough. Then perhaps your dog will sit. That is the time to say “Good dog. Let’s  go” and step out the door to go for a walk. Maybe the first time, your dog will just stand quietly, and that is enough. Later, the sit will become automatic. What you are achieving here is not simply a sit or stand position, but an internalised state of reduced excitement. You dog will still look forward to going for a walk, but with a little more self-control and calmness.

To prevent jumping up, we concentrate on establishing in your dog the habit of sitting in every day situations such as greeting people. Sitting is an alternative to jumping up. Of course, you can also sit your dog by use of commands. These two approaches are complementary, not mutually exclusive. However, by internalising the habit of sitting, you make it the “first resort” behaviour and at the same time encourage a calmer state.

The command, signal or cue is built on the foundation of internalised behaviour, such as calming down and waiting to be asked to go out or come in. It’s not very effective to try to use commands to counteract an imminent avalanche of excitement and movement. Commands in those situations usually degenerate into reprimands – leaving you only a short step away from bellowing ineffectually as your dog bursts through the doorway.

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