When you enrolled your dog in training, you didn’t expect miracles. You just thought that after a few weeks, you would have a well trained dog. You were probably excited that you didn’t have to brace yourself anymore when you walked in the door… or were looking forward to peace and quiet instead of a dog that barks every time a leaf falls.
But instead… the reality is that the barking has gotten worse, your dog jumps on you more than ever, or they’ve now added pawing at you to beg at the table. You’re frustrated, you aren’t sure what you’re doing wrong, and you’re worried your dog is untrainable. Dog training can be challenging, and identifying the problem can be hard. Today we’re going to clue you into some of the challenges you might face while training your dog and how to move past them.
What is an Extinction Burst?
If you’ve been working on training an unwanted behavior out of your dog, like jumping on people or begging at the table, you might be shocked to hear it gets worse before it gets better. At some point in your training, your dog will suddenly double down on the undesirable behavior, they may bark louder and more frantically. They may jump on you every time you walk into a room instead of just when you walk in the door. Their behavior might cross over from annoying to shockingly bad.
Don’t panic. This isn’t because of anything you’re doing wrong. It gets worse because of what you’re doing right. If your dog is used to barking or jumping for attention, or getting things when they beg, then you’ve been training them not to do it by ignoring the behavior. Your dog is acting out like a toddler who has been told no. You used to respond, and now you aren’t, and your dog is confused. They think that maybe increasing the intensity of the behavior will get them what they want.
This behavior is called an Extinction Burst. It’s your dog’s last effort to get your attention by using their old undesirable behavior before it sinks in that it no longer works. Soon after this increase in negative behavior, you should start to see it decrease and finally go away.
Even though this is totally normal, this can be an extremely frustrating period in your time with your dog. Don’t give up! At some point in time, this behavior may have been reinforced, and relearning what to do takes time. You’ll get through this. You just need to hang in there and frankly… be more stubborn than your dog.
Is Something Sabotaging Your Training?
You’ve been ignoring your dog every time they set their chin on your lap while you’re eating, but they just keep doing it. They’re still jumping when you walk in, and nothing seems to be improving. Is this an Extinction Burst… or could it be something else?
Do you live alone, or do you have family or roommates? If there are other people around, your training efforts may inadvertently be being sabotaged. If your family or friends think your dog jumping up is cute, or they just can’t resist that chin in their lap and those big eyes gazing at them, they may be reinforcing the behavior by giving them the attention you were trying to take away.
Your dog doesn’t know that they’re being pulled in two different directions. They only know that the behavior is still being reinforced. To solve this, everyone needs to get on the same page, so no one is being jumped on unexpectedly, and your dog is learning manners.
Some people enjoy being greeted enthusiastically at the door. Instead of allowing this behavior, teach your dog to “greet” someone only on command. You can do this with any behavior that you don’t care for and someone else doesn’t mind. Teach your dog that some actions are by invitation only. In addition to keeping everyone happy, this gives your dog boundaries to follow when meeting new people. Your dog will know that a jumpy “hug” is only okay with permission.
While your dog will eventually figure out they can’t get away with jumping on you or begging at your end of the table, consistency in training is important. You and your dog will be much happier with one set of rules that are followed by everyone in the household.
Our behavior toward our dogs reinforces the behaviors they think we want to see. They’re attempting to navigate a human led world that is confusing for them with limited ability to communicate to us that they don’t understand what we want them to do. Communication breakdowns are bound to happen, with us accidentally rewarding behavior we find undesirable and wondering why our dogs are acting up.
Petting your dog when they bark at the door is giving that behavior positive attention, even if what you’re really doing is trying to distract them. Tossing scraps to your dog to get them away from the dinner table is teaching them that they’ll get a reward for bugging you while you’re eating.
If you’re attempting to train away certain behaviors, and having little success, it’s time to examine your methods. Are you really ignoring unwanted behavior, or are you accidentally encouraging it? If you find you’ve really been reinforcing behavior you thought you were training away, it’s time to start over.
Make sure you only reinforce behaviors that you find desirable. Don’t give your dog attention for doing things you don’t want. Instead, reward them for sitting calmly and not jumping. If someone comes to the door and they don’t bark, give them a treat. Even if you aren’t in a training session, your dog is taking their cues from you.
It’s hard to change behavior, whether it’s yours or your dog’s. With work you can change both so you work together flawlessly.
What kind of challenges have you faced while training your dog, and how did you work through them? Comment below and share your thoughts!