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Your Relationship Bank Account.

It might be stating the obvious but relationships that have more negative interactions than positive ones are less satisfying, less happy, more stressful, and more prone to breakdown.

Maybe we don’t tend to think about our relationship with our dogs in the same way as with our relationships with our fellow humans, but the same things apply. We need trust, respect, bonding, closeness, fun, and safety.

Every positive, fun, and enjoyable interaction we have with our dog represents a deposit into our relationship bank account. Every negative, stressful, and scary interaction we have with our dog represents a withdrawal from our relationship bank account. If the balance shifts to more negative than positive interactions, then we will end up overdrawn and ‘in the red’ – not a good place for a bank account or a relationship!

Any kind of ‘correction’ or punishment is a withdrawal from our relationship bank account.

So, what do we do when our dog is doing something that is undesirable for us, or maybe just not listening to us?

As humans, we often use an aversive to control what others do. We have rules that when not followed result in consequences. This is fine for us humans because we have the capacity to understand the consequences of our actions. We understand that if we steal something and get caught that there will be consequences, often a punishment of some kind, and that stops most of us from stealing. We can cognitively understand that stealing is morally ‘wrong’.

Our dogs don’t have this cognitive ability. It may seem as if they are learning when we punish them for something we don’t like them doing, but in reality what is happening is that the dog is learning that when he does a specific thing that results in us getting mad and maybe even hitting the dog, that he just has to avoid doing the thing in front of us to avoid the punishment.

This doesn’t stop the dog from doing whatever it is when we’re not around, and it has a negative impact on our relationship. The dog begins to feel stressed and anxious when he’s around us, constantly looking out for signs that we are going to react in a negative way. This diminishes trust in us.

When we are saying ‘no’, ‘stop it’, ‘leave it’ to our dogs, often in a harsh voice, or even shouting, we are effectively using an aversive to control our dogs’ behaviour. This doesn’t result in the dog learning what we do want them to do. Another thing that happens with the use of an aversive and punishment is that over time the level of punishment has to increase to get the same effect.

One effective way to deal with this is to use something that the dog has associated with something positive as an interrupter to the undesired behaviour and then to reward the dog for doing something that we do want.

This requires ‘priming’ an interrupter sound with something positive to build a positive association with the interrupter sound. This sound can be anything really – ‘pup, pup, pup’ in a high-pitched tone or a ‘kissy’ noise. To ‘prime’ the association we make the sound and when the dog looks at us, we mark it (‘yes’ or a clicker, if we use one) then food reward. This is repeated over time until there is a solid association between the sound and the dog looking at you for the reward.

This creates a situation where every time the dog hears the sound, he will immediately look at you. This breaks his focus on the undesirable behaviour and shifts his attention to you. At this point you can then ask for another more desirable behaviour which you can then reward, or you can move the dog from the situation that is causing the difficulty.

Most importantly, using the interrupter sound doesn’t create any stress in the dog because he’s associated the sound with something pleasant happening.

Interrupter sound ‘YAY’ food coming Redirection of focus onto you

This is not the same thing as using a noise to startle your dog from an undesirable behaviour. Causing a startle response in your dog is stressful for them, and this is not what we want to do.

This is a kind way of dealing with undesirable behaviour without causing distress to your dog and adds a deposit to your relationship bank account instead of a withdrawal. Working in this way creates a healthy relationship bank balance!

If you want to explore this way of working with your dog and your relationship, get in contact:

07544 729237

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