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Treating Each Dog as an Individual

Reinforcement Drives Behavior

Dogs as Individuals

Here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from fostering almost 300 dogs (mostly pitbull type dogs but there’s been a few little chihuahuas and southern mutts thrown in there). Every dog is an individual with it’s own personality, and potentially, it’s own set of issues. Your dog isn’t broken just because what you did with your last dog isn’t working, I promise! Every dog has a different thing that motivates them. Positive reinforcement is about what the DOG finds reinforcing, not what we think should be reinforcing. And that’s the most important thing in training. There is no “one quick fix” for every dog.

What does this mean for training? Well here’s an example: enrichment toys- I have probably about 30 different enrichment items for the dogs. NONE of them work for every dog. Each dog is motivated by something different. Some like to use a snuffle mat, some like to rip apart boxes, some like their food scattered on the ground, some love kongs. I love finding out what really makes a dog tick, and then you can use that to your advantage in training!

Another example: usually, I start every dog that comes here in a crate. But for some dogs, this isn’t ideal. Sadie, who I am currently fostering, presented with severe separation anxiety but may really be more of a confinement phobia. So for her, I want to keep her stress as low as possible. That’s always number one for me. So we moved things around and now Sadie can be in a room on her own without being crated and her separation issues have already improved! Then, I have been separately counter-conditioning her reaction to the crate. Good things happen in there. Example: her enrichment toys and bones go in there and I take her out before she’s even done with them so she’s always left wanting more. I can now use the crate as a management option for when she can’t be out with me but the crate is in the main living area so she can still see me and tada, the crate isn’t so bad any more. She learns she doesn’t have to be RIGHT next to me and right on top of me. I can walk into another room without her panicking.

Some dogs love praise and pets as their reinforce, for some dogs- this is a negative thing. For a really scared dog doesn’t want to be pet from me after they sit, this could actually make the behavior less likely! Instead, I’ll try to use food and a clicker or a verbal marker. For a really reactive dog, I use distance from the trigger as a reinforcer for good behavior. When you’re quiet and non reacting, you get the space you need! Every dog Is different and every training plan should be tailored to the dog in front of you. No protocol will work with every dog nor does one style of education work for every kid. Let’s think outside the box!

This goes deeper than training, though. It goes to what we expect from a dog just because of their breed or our past experiences. Just because you have a shepherd doesn’t mean it’s going to enjoy protection sports. Just because you have a shit tzu- doesn’t mean it won’t enjoy protection sports! There is something that makes every dog tick, we just have to find out what that is.

Dogs are very adaptable and can move forward quickly with the proper guidance. Let go of your dog's “past,” let go of making up stories of its abuse, and move forward with training the dog you’ve got!


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