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Reinforcing Bad Behavior in Dogs

Do Unto Dog What You Want Dog to Keep Doing

I've done what passes for dog training and I've only just grasped the basic concepts. The idea of obedience training is to trim unwanted behavior and reinforce good behavior. It's half training Maui how to do act on certain commands, and half teaching him the concept of obedience itself. Maui has been moderately cooperative with the training and I want to believe it has something to do with his breed, being half a shepherd dog. Closely following their owners must be in their blood, and keeping potential predators at bay. This is probably why Maui is still at odds with the cats and is quite noisy about it.

One thing I started to notice is that he's starting to somewhat forget some of his training. On some occasions, he doesn't pee where he should, and the last leash training was far more chaotic than my first experience, I had to also keep in mind the methods I've learned about basic leash training. 

I also had to be careful about physical punishment. I've read about gentle methods that mimic dominant behavior in dogs, such as putting them down on the floor and mildly but firmly shaking their scruff. There's also the Positive Punishment methods of distracting them with something noisy, or the good'ol squirt bottle with cold water. I have to understand that none of these methods should be used in training, which is a problem if something "punishment-worthy" happens during a training session. 

I'm probably overthinking, but I realized that virtually everything I do with him reinforces some kind of behavior, whether it be good or bad behavior. For example, he pees on the designated spot, but all he knows is that this spot 'among others'is where I can pee. He seemed interested in marking his territory in certain parts of the house, particularly, the wall where the windows are, specifically, the window where Saturn, my big white glutton of a cat, likes to watch me. 

If I don't do anything about it fast, my inaction reinforces this unwanted behavior. The same goes for when he barks at the sounds of the cats, especially when that meowing battle against encroaching outsider cats. If I don't act against it, Maui will think it's fine to do and may increase the intensity because probably he thinks he's doing the right thing for the "herd".

There's a training method to optimize it, and it has to do with Positive Punishment and Positive Reinforcement. Even here, the concept of training creeps in. My tool of choice for his punishment is the small squirt bottle. Once used to tend to the air plants, now used to deliver judgment.

I suppose I should take my word back about training sessions not having punishments, but to nitpick, this is not a training session, unless I can make him pee on the wall consistently somehow.

To break it down to the technical steps, whenever Maui performs any kind of inappropriate behavior, I have to apply positive punishment, which is adding an undesirable stimulus in the form of a firm verbal scold, and a cold squirt of water. It should not be just the water squirt because I need him to associate the scolding with an unpleasant stimulus. I don't want to somehow make him fear squirting water because that will punish me when I give him a shower. 

The correct response is for Maui to simply stop the undesirable behavior after Positive Punishment.

Since he did a "correct response" I do Positive Reinforcement by adding a food treat. Since I don't want a bowl of fresh liver to go stale while I wait for undesired behaviors to happen, I'll be using dried liver. 


I also found a great way to trigger negative behavior. I told my daughter to play with the cats using the toy mouse on a string. The resulting ruckus causes Maui to start barking, cats get some entertainment, and my daughter enjoys herself. Win-Win-Win.

Less than a minute after they start playing, Maui sees the cats running around and displays aggressive behavior, which then resolves to barking. Immediately, I say "Bad!" at Maui, then squirt him with water. It worked, making him stop and look at me, albeit with a hint of disdain. 

Since he stopped, I quickly took some dried liver from my pouch, praised him, and gave him the treat. He's starting to prefer liver as his favorite treat, which works for me because it's quite affordable and, as I keep telling my daughter, VERY nutritious. 

At this point, my wife suggested that I start the punishment as soon as Maui shows a hint of the undesirable behavior, rather than during. It's a bit harder, but she's right. I'd also rather stop Maui just before he pees rather than during the deed. Less work for me after.

With this suggestion, I let Maui watch the cats run around. Soon enough, Maui started showing signs of aggression. Stiff body and ears, sharp focus, and a high tail. I said, "Bad!" firmly, then squirted water on him again in a different spot. He stopped again, and a second later, I praised him and gave him a treat. 

Sadly, the cats are starting to get tired of catching the catnip-infused toy mouse and started to do their own thing. I have to wait for Maui to do something bad, which means I have to keep the pouch and the squirt bottle around me.

Reinforcement Training is a bit different than your usual kid raising, since kids learn and understand fast, as long as you're clear enough (and sometimes, it's the kid that holds the squirt bottle, ready to punish you for not being prepared for a surprise water fight). Despite domestic dogs evolving to be more favorable to humans, they only understand us on a fundamental level and they are still dogs, living in a human's habitat. They need to adapt, and I believe we can only blame ourselves if they adapt poorly. 

On that note, I'm pondering on buying a specific training tool for reinforcement, especially since Maui's still pretty young. I'm talking about a shock collar. In my "research" which mostly involves watching videos and wiki-walking from one article to another, shock collars are mentioned to be one of the most efficient tools out there, second to positive reinforcement. I have to do my own "research" on it though because owning something that discharges electricity is a big responsibility, but it could be worth the cost and effort. 


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