Is your dog demanding or destructive? Shape the absence of the behavior.

Destructive behaviors such as chewing on furniture or digging in the backyard are one form of inappropriate behavior. Demand behaviors are also inappropriate and are another way of describing a dog that is asking for something in a way that is deemed inappropriate. Examples include jumping for attention, play nipping for attention, barking for you to throw the tennis ball, or barking to get let out of the crate.

My strategies for working with dogs that exhibit destructive or demand behaviors are as follows:

  1. Teach them what behaviors you think are appropriate and reward those behaviors
  2. Teach them that just because they did the appropriate behavior does not mean they always receive what they want
  3. Use timeouts to stop the inappropriate behavior pattern

The first strategy is to teach your dog appropriate behaviors and reward those. To achieve this goal, one option is to shape behaviors by rewarding anything that your dog does that is better than the demand behaviors. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be something really specific such as sitting or lying down. 

I will use barking as an example. If barking is the inappropriate behavior, you need to create a list of behaviors that are more appropriate than barking. Your list of appropriate behaviors might look like this:

  1. Being quiet
  2. Sitting
  3. Lying down
  4. Chewing on an appropriate toy
  5. Walking by you
  6. Sniffing the ground
  7. Lying on his bed
  8. Wagging his tail

Your list of possible appropriate behaviors might be short because your dog doesn’t know a lot of behaviors.  In that case you should do more training. Options for more training include, go to bed, down, sit, roll over, take a bow, shake or high five. More training will help in a number of ways:

  1. You will be spending time with your dog and working to alleviate boredom – one common reason for destructive or demand behaviors
  2. More training results in your dog having a history of getting rewarded for appropriate behaviors, which will increase the likelihood that he will do those behaviors again
  3. Focused training sessions will hone your ability to read your dog’s signals and increase your ability to communicate with your dog

Notice that all of the behaviors listed above are not “training behaviors” such as “Sit” or “Down”. Chewing an appropriate toy is not something that you necessarily need to train, because it often happens naturally, but it is better than barking. What I want you notice and reward is ANYTHING that is appropriate.

With demand behaviors a dog wants something from a person and thinks that the behavior that he is exhibiting will result in obtaining what he desires. You should teach your dog that the annoying demand behaviors NEVER result in him getting what he wants but the behaviors on the list of “approved” behaviors MIGHT get him what he wants.

The reason I said “might” get him what he wants is that your dog needs to learn that just because he performed a behavior that is appropriate does not always mean that he will get what he wants. 

Even with puppies as young as 7 weeks old I often see demand behaviors starting after they learn that sitting gets them a treat. After a while, they will sit and bark – as if they are saying, “Hey, I sat! Where’s my treat?”

Note: consistency is incredibly important. If someone in your household lets your puppy out of the crate for barking, for instance, your puppy will keep barking because it has worked in the past.

The next step is to teach a dog that just because he performs an appropriate behavior doesn’t mean he will always get a reward. I accomplish this by working on duration of behaviors combined with timeouts. 

Duration of behaviors are important because you want to make sure that your dog does not think that being quiet for one second is all that is required of him. He should learn to be quiet for longer periods of time each session until he realizes that barking is just not an appropriate way to ask for things.

Note: barking is a complex topic. I, for one, do not expect any dog to be quiet all the time. Dogs do communicate by barking. With my dogs, I acknowledge their barking and then ask them to be quiet. I taught them this using timeouts. If you have more questions about barking, ask in the Forums. This post does not explain all of the nuances of teaching a dog not to bark in all situations, it is about barking for attention. 

Timeouts are used to tell a dog that his behavior caused all the fun to end. You can execute a timeout in a number of ways:

  1. Leave the room
  2. Put the end of the leash gently over a doorknob or under a table leg and walk away
  3. Put the end of the leash over a fence or around a tree outside and walk away
  4. Put your dog in a crate or behind a baby gate and walk away

There are a lot of misconceptions about using the crate for timeouts. I will write another post about timeouts at some point, but for now, just don’t worry about using the crate as a timeout as long as your dog is okay with the crate. It is not recommended, however, to put a dog that has separation anxiety and panic attacks in the crate. 

The final strategies can be accomplished by using my “10-minute Exercise”. I use this as a very structured way for my clients to easily practice all the strategies above. Continue reading, and you will find out a really great way to teach your dog not to be demanding.

10-minute Exercise
Once your dog performs an inappropriate behavior decide if you have 10 minutes of focused time for your dog. Being focused is important. If you don’t have the 10-minutes right now, put your dog in the crate to prevent him learning bad habits and work with him later when you do have more time. 

If you do have 10 minutes, do the following:

  1. Ignore the inappropriate demand behavior or stop the behavior if it is in the destruction category such as digging or chewing
  2. AS SOON as the inappropriate behavior stops, say,  “Yes” or ‘Click’ and treat if you are using a clicker
  3. Ignore your dog for 5 seconds, or you could say, “Good dog” during that time, if necessary
  4. After 10 seconds of appropriate behavior, ‘Click’ and treat
  5. Ignore your dog for 20 seconds and then ‘Click’ and treat
  6. If inappropriate behavior occurs during the time that you are ignoring your dog, say, “Timeout” and gently put your dog in the timeout area (have your dog wear a leash and trail it behind him if he has a tendency to run off when you say, “Timeout”)
  7. Leave your dog in the timeout area for 5-30 seconds and come back and get him
  8. If he is barking, whining or scratching, wait until he is quiet before removing him from the timeout area or you will be rewarding another inappropriate demand behavior
  9. After removing him from the timeout area, go back to a shorter amount of time (if he could not be quiet for 20 seconds, reward after 10 seconds)
  10. Continue doubling the time, rewarding for appropriate behavior and using timeouts for inappropriate behavior until your dog understands what behaviors are appropriate

Troubleshooting

  • Do short sessions – that is why I start with 10 minutes. Eventually you will realize that your dog is behaving for longer periods of time and then you can actually do much longer sessions, but start slow.
  • Talk to your dog if needed during the time in between full rewards. Verbal encouragement can help a dog understand what is expected, even if he isn’t getting the full reward that he wants.
  • Make sure you say, "Timeout" AS SOON as your dog does the inappropriate behavior and gently and quickly move him to the timeout area. Timeouts are designed to make it crystal clear what is inappropriate. This can only happen if your timing is good.
  • Work on your timing in general. Using a Clicker can help tremendously with this exercise. If you are not using a clicker, say, “Yes”. 
  • Be patient. If your dog has been rewarded in the past for behaviors, it might take a while for him to understand what the new rules are.
  • Be really consistent. If you don’t want your dog to jump, does a timeout happen if he leaves his feet one inch, or only if he touches you with his paws? If you can’t answer this question, it is impossible to be clear to your dog.
Focus on the correct behaviors and reward those. Often people just focus on the final, inappropriate behavior and miss all of the good behaviors their dog was exhibiting.
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