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Why Label a Behavior You Don’t Want to Happen?

As Canine Behavior Coaches, we are often asked to work with canines to eliminate unwanted behaviors such as pulling on leash, counter surfing, or jumping on humans. Pet Parents will often ask us, “what should I say to my dog if he does one of these unwanted behaviors?” Our reply is, “why label a behavior we never want to happen in the first place?” If our goal is to extinguish or eliminate a particular behavior, it does not seem useful or helpful to put a label on it. We suggest that you only label behaviors you want to occur, such as coming when called or 'sit'.

Dogs can certainly learn a cue like “off” when they jump on us, but that is only useful if the dog is allowed to jump on us some of the time. If a pet parent wanted a cue for jumping up, we recommend you have a cue for inviting the jump instead of asking your dog to not jump all of the other times. See the difference? Otherwise, your dog will learn that jumping is allowed sometimes and not others, so he will just have to jump on you to see which it is. Dogs do not understand ambiguous rules, only those that have a very clear cause and effect. To them it is either “yes” or “no”; they do not understand “maybe” or "it depends." So what should you do if your dog jumps up uninvited? One option is to ignore the behavior if possible, and then praise the behavior you want, such as having all four paws on the ground. Another choice is to ask for an incompatible behavior such as a sit or a 'go to your bed'. Teach your dog the behavior you want her to do. Reward that behavior. Most likely, your dog will choose that behavior again instead of the behavior you don’t want because it was rewarded.

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