Friday, April 21, 2017

Reward and Redirect: Teaching This Old Dog New Tricks

Gone are the days of swatting a rolled up newspaper at a misbehaving mutt, or pushing a puppy's nose in his accidental puddle. That's old school. 

All of our puppy training has been about rewarding good behavior, and redirecting undesirable behavior. That sounded good to me, and reminded me a lot of my techniques as a mom and school teacher. 

"Catch them being good" was my motto. Whenever my class, or a child of my own, was working quietly or doing things well, I would praise them, and point out their good behavior. If children were fighting over a toy, I would offer a similar toy, or distract them with something else to do together. It often worked. 

Basically, we try to reward Bristol and Sam whenever they're doing something good, whether it's following a command, or sitting quietly while we have dinner, or ignoring distractions when we're outside. You know what they say, you get more of what you notice. 

But it's really hard not to notice your brand-new shoes have teeth marks, or that your carpet is sporting a big yellow stain, or that the noise level has gone up a few thousand decibels with the inevitable barking, or that there is a shedding force with which to be reckoned frolicking on your sofa. Of course, you NOTICE, but what's a puppy parent to do? Raising puppies isn't that different than children, with the exception of the language issue. I can reason with a human child. Talking to my canine children is not effective.

According to today's experts, give dogs a task to perform, or present them with a suitable alternative item on which to focus. The premise is to redirect all of that frenzied energy to something constructive. In theory, it's a wonderful idea.

With reddened cheeks, I must admit I still find myself blurting out, "NO!" in the heat of a moment. 

Bristol's playful batting and mouthing the lace curtain results in a big rip in the fabric? "Bristol, NO!" 

Sami slams into my bum knee during a moment of excitement? "Ouch! No, Sam!" 

The frenzied zoomies the puppies love to do all over the house, chasing each other at a dead run, leads to pandemonium, and loud thuds reverberating off the walls and furniture? "Puppies, NO!"

Bristol has his own way of saying NO. It's pretty effective. 

Ooh. Old habits die hard. When we first learned about redirecting the puppies' attention, I tried very hard to remove the negative word from my vocabulary. It was so much easier for me to help Chuck remember to give the puppies something else to do if they were doing something destructive, rather than just repeat the word no. Yes, it's always easier to see someone else's mistake instead of our own.

"Here, Honey, give Bristol this chew toy when he's chewing on your rawhide laces." 

"Chuck, just tell Sami to sit when she's leaping up on you." Oh, yeah, I thought I was all that, and a bag of chips.

Then days became weeks, and weeks became months, and I had to admit that the word NO was still in my vocabulary, too, as the puppies and I spent every single week day together while Chuck was at work. I still have so much work to do. 

"Stop Saying NO" is a quick half minute video from Urban Dawgs that explains the rationale behind using cues instead of saying no, which will only confuse a pooch. I have watched this a few times, trying to let the brief, but important message sink in.

I have been slow to grasp the concept of redirecting rather than simply yelling "NO," hoping against hope that our little canines can understand English, as well as the nuances of facial expressions and body language. Teaching this old dog new tricks won't be impossible, I just think it's going to take me a little longer to make redirecting my go-to response when our puppies need correction.


  1. 1. In the words of Inego Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." lol
    2. Caution: Perhaps unsuitable language ahead! Remember the Bill Cosby bit about his young life? He said he thought his name was Jesus Christ and his brother was Dammit. One day he was misbehaving, and his dad yelled, "Dammit, will you stop that?" (don't remember the infraction) Cosby replied, "No, Dad, I'm Jesus Christ."
    3. Such wonderful memes.

    1. Thanks for the laughs, Janet. I kept trying to work the Montoya quote into a meme, but couldn't manage. I recall the old Bill Cosby bits with a smile. Thank you for always being a voice of support and encouragement.


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