By Sue McCabe
Recently, while out with my gang, two dogs rushed a fence, barking their hairy heads off as we passed. I clicked and rewarded my dogs even though they did nothing. Later on the walk, two horses passed us and my dogs looked at them. Again I clicked and rewarded them for doing nothing. Them as Jellybean stopped to sniff a couple of doggy friends, I clicked and rewarded him doing nothing.
Did I truly click the dogs for nothing? Of course not. There is never an absence of behaviour.
Clients often ask me ‘what do I do when…?’ and the end of the sentence is typically a description of what the owner sees as inappropriate behaviour. Lunging, barking, growling etc. My response to them is always ‘what do you do on the occasions the dog doesn’t show these behaviours?’ And the answer is always ‘we don’t do anything’.
We know that rewarded behaviour gets repeated. We know that the things we click and feed become habit. The reason I click and reward my boys for apparently not reacting is precisely because the absence of reaction deserves to be rewarded.
Try reversing the feedback loop! Put all the focus on the behaviours you want to see more of and heavily reinforce these. Try to click/feed when your dog doesn’t react or before he reacts. This lack of reaction is what you will see more of. In other words, stop focusing on what he’s doing wrong and try clicking your dog for doing nothing for a change. The results may just surprise you!
About the Author
Since 2005, Sue McCabe has provided behavioural advice and training for dogs across Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland and North East England. Her business, Muttamorphosis also offers puppy, clicker and Kennel Club Good Citizen training classes. Sue provides trained dogs for photoshoots, TV and film work. She also runs masterclasses including canine first aid courses; specialist seminars and workshops.