Dog Days for Friday, October 7, 2011

The best way to teach your dog to beg: Give in occasionally. Ignoring your dog’s pleas may make you feel like a jerk, but giving in is the most effective way to turn your terrier into a terror. If you can’t get Fido to stop assaulting senior citizens, hogging the couch or treating the kitchen counter like a self-serve buffet, you may need to re-evaluate your own behavior.

Although happiness may be a warm puppy, critters mature. When your puppy grows into an adult bowling-ball, AKA bull terrier, or an out-of-control Aussie, undesirable behaviors are not so easily tolerated. For some people, this point doesn’t come up until the grandparents announce they’re coming for a visit or a baby is on the way. But as they say, it’s a lot harder to teach an old dog new tricks.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner found that intermittent reinforcement results in greater resistance to extinction. In other words, letting your pet engage in undesirable behavior sporadically is the most effective way to get it to purrsist.

If you want a well-mannered companion animal, it’s important that you and your fellow pet caretakers determine exactly what the rules are and consistently reinforce them. Is the cat allowed on the dinner table? On your plate? Can the dog sleep on the bed? On your head?

After determining the rules and getting all the humans on the same page, consistently reinforce them. Your furry friends need to know what is acceptable and what is not. Make sure the guidelines are ones you are prepared to enforce. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to start with just a few rules. 

Examine any incongruities. Is the dog allowed to jump on you unless you’re wearing your Sunday finest? Is it only okay to get on the furniture when your spouse is out of town? Can your cat lie on the kitchen table except when you’re eating? Caveats like these can confuse your companion animals.

When meeting with your fellow homosapiens, also determine the words for commands and the behavior expected. Does a sloppy sit count? Does “down” or “off” get your pooch to stop jumping on you? Remember, if you use “down” for that behavior you will need a different word to get your pup to lay down, or boogie down for that matter.

Don’t drop the ball when you have houseguests. Explain the house rules to any visitors, such as paws on the ground, no table scraps or no pets on the furniture. Heck, this may even result in better behaved houseguests! When your pooch pays more attention to the hors d’oeuvres than your orders, take the time to reinforce your guidelines if needed.

Many people don’t enforce commands in public because they find it embarrassing. Be brave, Scooby-Doo. You want your pooch to respond to your cues at all times. After all, it may be critical the next time your Fido spots a Felix across a busy street.

Consistently adhering to the rules does more than just ensure obedience. Sticking with a set of guidelines helps our pets learn what is expected of them so they don’t have to guess. This creates a stable environment that allows them to feel safe. It decreases anxiety and even resentment. Ultimately, it creates a stronger and healthier human-animal bond.

B.F. Skinner said that the conditions of operant conditioning are universal. It’ll behoove you to keep them in mind whether you’re dealing with canines, felines or even fellow humans. A begging pooch really begs the question: What are you waiting for? Consistency will nip your buddy’s actions in the bud.

• Moksha McClure, is the founder of Whiskers Resort, a pet hotel in Lihu‘e .Visit or call 241-PETS.


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