Being a Good “Leader” for Your Animal
By Barbara Bingham Deutscher, CPBT, CPBC
Harmony Animal Behavior
Being a good leader to your animal does not mean that you dominate them but rather that you motivate your pet to make good choices and clearly communicate and teach your idea of “good” behavior.
Consistency is essential in training an animal. Everyone in your family should be consistent in the expectations, signals, and cues. Your animal should be able to count on your reaction to their behavior. Clear and consistent consequences will allow your animal to learn choices in how to behave.
Reward good behavior. Think ahead to redirect or change situations before “bad” behavior occurs. Reward and encourage correct choices through positive reinforcement using praise, attention, toys, play, food, etc. Catch your animal being good!
Every interaction is teaching your animal. Be aware of what your animal is learning by your reactions and then be fair in your assessment of their behavior. For example, if your dog wants attention and pushes your arm with his nose, and then, mindlessly, you pet your dog – don’t get angry when your dog does this again while you are holding a coffee mug and your coffee spills. You already taught your dog that nosing your arm results in the attention they were seeking.
You get what you reinforce – not necessarily what you intend. For many individuals, your touch or attention is as reinforcing as treats or praise. Think about the animal is doing and what is happening in the environment immediately before a misbehavior. Be fair in the judgment of your pet’s behavior. Take responsibility for the huge influence that you have in your animal’s decisions on how to behave. Teach your animal how you would like him or her to behave.
Your pet is doing their best to live in your human world as you have set it up for them. Do not yell at your animal and never hit or spank your pet. If you are frustrated or angry, put them safely and quietly in their cage or crate, and walk away until you have calmed down and thought of a positive way to handle the issue. What do you want your animal TO DO? Your patience and thought will result in better trust and learning from both non-human and human animals.
Make the correct choices easy for your animal. Watch for and reward good behavior with praise, attention, touch, play, or treats. Do not wait until for a misbehavior to pay attention to them. Remember most individuals find any attention – even negative attention – better than no attention. Animals are constantly updating their learning of what gets them attention and rewards. All animals behave for a reason – to get or escape/avoid something in their environment. Give your pet plenty of praise and attention throughout their day when he/she is being good. Make time for your animal! Create a happy and positive environment where your pet will succeed.
Creating new patterns of behavior takes time and effort. Like humans, your animal will not be perfect and some days will be easier than others. You are likely to encounter times when your animal just cannot keep his mind on you and what you did so easily the week before seems frustratingly impossible. Go back to the basics and keep your focus on your long-term goals realizing that with your patience and perseverance, your success will be achieved over time. Training is a natural evolution – a process – keep focused on your goals, be positive, and enjoy the journey!