Alexandria, VA – It may sound too simple, but the best dog training tip is this: Catch your dog doing something right.
We busy humans can easily get into a pattern where we pay the most attention to our dogs when they’re bugging us. In contrast, when our dogs are acting exactly as we’d wish them to, our attention stays rooted elsewhere: work, family, Netflix, scrolling…
Reverse that dynamic! Pay attention when your dog is awesome, and ignore rough spots. Do it enough, and you’ll start seeing more of the behavior you want.
Even if the “catch them doing something right” approach intuitively makes sense to you, it will likely slip your mind during the day. The brilliant solution is “SMART x 50,” See Mark And Reward Training, developed by acclaimed behaviorist Kathy Sdao. Here’s how it works:
- In the morning, count out 50 tiny treats. (Could be kibble, could be more exciting like a pea-sized bit of jerky, or bacon flavored training tidbit.)
- Put them in a visible, easily-reached container on the counter. (Even keep a jar upstairs, or wear a treat pouch.)
- Use them, one by one, to reward your dog every time you see her doing something good without you asking for it.
- Mark with a calm “yes” or “good” then follow with a low-excitement delivery of the treat. (Meaning: Don’t be so enthusiastic you pull your dog out of that nice relaxed behavior!)
- Make sure that jar is empty by the end of the day.
Result? When you start to see and reward the good, there’s more and more of it.
Here’s what a SMART x 50 day might look like.
If one time your dog was barking out the window, or you have muddy paw prints on your shirt, you’re not angry because there were fifty times you noticed your dog was:
- Lying calmly on his bed during your Zoom.
- Checking in with you using eye contact during a walk.
- Lying calmly on his mat while you cooked dinner.
- Keeping four on the floor when somebody entered the house.
- Lying calmly at your feet while you read to the kids.
- Sitting quietly nearby while you fed the cat.
- Lying calmly at your feet while you chatted with the neighbor.
- Making eye contact with you while you waited at the vet.
- Checking in with you rather than barking at the dog across the street.
These seemingly small, natural behaviors are gold. Ignoring them is a huge mistake. Handled right, these moments are clues to help your dog make sense of our silly human world, where jumping and mouthing and barking are – oddly, to him – not prized. Give him that bright light at the end of the winding human tunnel.
“Bad” Behavior Fades Away
Note that a dog who is lying quietly, sitting peacefully, or keeping four on the floor is very likely not pulling, chewing furniture, counter-surfing, or doing any of the things trainers like me are called in to fix.
Catching your dog doing something right is the easiest, cheapest training available to you. It takes no planning, no set-up, no classes, no thinking “I have to train the dog.” It’s as easy as filling a jar, and paying attention.
To me, the very best thing about SMARTx50 is the fundamental shift it creates in a human’s head and heart. With Kathy Sdao’s approach (detailed in her book Plenty In Life Is Free), you take a step back from the old mindset of “heavy-handed training” for your “out of control” dog, appreciate that they are a different species, and give allowances for that. My clients tell me nothing has ever worked faster to get them the behavior they wanted to see.
P.S. It works on spouses and children, too.
Alexandria trainer Kathy Callahan (CPDT-KA, FDM) loves to help people and their dogs live happily together. Through her business, PupStart, she offers private dog training and puppyhood coaching. She writes monthly for Whole Dog Journal on dog behavior, and she’s the author of 101 Rescue Puppies. Her family has fostered more than 200 dogs. Follow those adventures on [email protected]. More at www.puppypicks.com.