I am behind closed doors taking some quiet time in. My rambunctious board & train just realized that I am in my bedroom and she is adamant to get in. I do my best to ignore her barking at the door. I begin counting:
1,2,3,… I manage to not acknowledge her barking. She stops the barking but begins to whine. Her whining sounds so miserable, that one would think someone is really inflicting some bodily harm to this girl. I go back to counting as I try to breathe deeper. Once again she stops. Good! I think now I can go back to “quiet”.
Seconds later she decides that she will try yet another strategy just to make sure I know she wants in.
This time she begins scratching at the door. Okay, I lose it here. I definitively don’t want nail tracks on my wooden door. I yell at her to go lie down and… the scratching stops!
Minutes later when I come out from puppy-hiding I see her lying almost asleep just outside my bedroom door… good dog! I tell her. We resume with our day.
It is the nature of behavior to have different manifestations or responses that while manufactured by a given motivation have different expressions. Dogs behave following this rule. They try different strategies to what they want or need. Once they realize a strategy is not producing the intended results they try something else. Sometimes they will escalate the response just in case it works this one time as it did before. This is called an extinction burst. In essence, there is an escalation (I know real fun sometimes) of the behavior or strategy before it is abandoned completely by the dog because it is not working.
What does this mean to us- keeper of pups? It means that we can pretty much pick and choose which of their responses work for us. If I had let my B&T in the minute she began to bark at the door what have I just reinforced? Her barking. So now whenever she wants closeness or my attention she will try that first. Laws of learning point to the fact that whatever behavior we reinforce we will see more of so be mindful as dogs are learning all the time, not only when boarded with a trainer or in a training class, let’s say.
Now, the example above is a really good one because it illustrates how “messy” life can be.
My board & train tried three different strategies, none of them were successful as I did not open the bedroom door. Instead, I asked her to do something else that suited my purposes but perhaps not hers.
Why then do you think that she finally chose to lie down after I asked her to do so? Well because lying down has worked for her in the past! Having a dog lying quietly on their bed when I am trying to work or cooking is high on my list of trained behaviors. In her case, we had practiced over and over again with her lying down as a requisite for my attention or a piece of whatever I was cooking – if appropriate, etc.
As I teach new behaviors to a “green” dog- that is a young dog or one that has not had a lot of “formal” learning I must make sure that I do not just ask, but instead that I set things up so that the dog can be successful in understanding what I am asking her to do.
As the dog learns a given behavior in one context, say in my example lying down on the bed provided when I am in the kitchen so that she is not underfoot, I can begin to ask for that same behavior which is now fluent in the first context; in new context or situations. As I do this, I need to consider that while the dog has learned this well in one specific situation it is as a brand-new request in a different context.
Practice does make permanent. Once a dog can perform a behavior in different contexts we can say with certainty that the behavior has generalized- something dogs do not do well.