I posted yesterday about Logan’s penchant for killing traffic cones. A common method for a dog who wants to do something which we either don’t like or which isn’t good for them is to find a replacement behaviour which fulfils the same need. Some examples of this would be giving your herding breed an opportunity to herd footballs rather than cyclists or a dog which likes to chase other dogs the opportunity to chase a ball instead. In the second example, we can replace that behaviour when your dog sees a running dog in the park if safe to do so.
What happens when we can’t offer the dog the opportunity to do that behaviour at that time? What do we need to teach the dog? After I posted the video, someone commented that I may be able to get Logan to chase me and play with a plastic toy which was covered with peanut butter. This is a good suggestion and may work well for other dogs. However, I don’t want to use this strategy with Logan for a few reasons. The first one is that at the moment, I can offer no reinforcement which compares, in that moment to the cone. He seems to find grabbing it, collapsing it, puncturing it and tearing it from the base incredibly enjoyable. What would I be able to offer in that moment which is anywhere near the same?
When working with a bulldog, there are a number of reasons we play tug. One of them is to give him an outlet for his “tugginess”. He needs to play tug. He also needs to play it in a controlled manner, keep his arousal under control, be able to listen to me and not lose his mind when the game ends. Understanding both the cues and reinforcers for this behaviour are hugely important. Cue the start, breaks in, and end of the game. Once he understands this, we can then transfer that skill to other environments. It’s not time to play tug now, it’s not time to kill the traffic cone etc.
I am doing my best to teach him what is available for reinforcement and whether that means now, later or not ever. He is learning that traffic cones will never be his for killing. Yes, I have taken away that thing he loves, so I need to fill that void with a tonne of stuff he likes; tug, ball chasing and grabbing, belly rubs, clicker training etc. He learns when he is working and when he is not. What is available to him and what is not.
If you need to take away one thing the dog likes, make sure you replace it with loads of other stuff. When we stop smoking (many smokers love smoking) we need to fill it with something else.
It took me a little while to get my head round this concept when I learned it. If you are interested in learning more, google “the matching law”. Replace stuff we remove.
Please let me know your thoughts.