Wait a minute? Did a dog trainer just say that ignoring your dog is a way to train him?
Yep. That’s exactly what I just said.
Sounds crazy, but ignoring your dog can actually be the very best way to teach him some basic manners and learn to live comfortably in the human world.
Now I’m not saying ignoring your dog while he’s standing on the kitchen table helping himself to your dinner is a good idea, but there are plenty of situations where ignoring your dog’s behavior is the best treatment plan.
To know when this is useful you need to understand a little about how your dog’s mind works. It’s really very simple: dogs will do what’s rewarding to them.
So if you simply ignore what you don’t like and reward what you do like your dog, through repetition, will figure out what behaviors are scoring him the rewards and do them more often, while abandoning those behaviors that didn’t pay off.
The reason this won’t work in the above example is that if he’s standing on the table chowing down on your dinner he’s getting a pretty big reward (regardless of how good a cook you are). Ignoring your dog’s behavior will only work if there’s no reward being given.
And that’s the real tricky part for most people – they don’t really understand what’s rewarding for their dogs. Eye contact, for example, is a big reward for a dog that jumps up on you. So if you think you’re ignoring but are looking down your dog, you’re actually rewarding the jumping because your dog got the much desired attention he craves.
Identify the Rewards
The first step is to correctly identify what your dog values. This isn’t too hard because most dogs like the same things. Attention is a BIG reward for dogs (especially puppies) and any attention – even negative attention – is a reward.
So if your dog jumps on you and you yell, “Off!” congrats, you just rewarded the behavior. The best thing you can do in that situation is ignore the jumping and wait for you dog to what you want (like keeping four-on-the-floor) and then give attention, which is his reward.
If your dog goes nuts when you come in the house, ignore him until he’s calm. This is a tough one for most people because you probably miss your dog and want to say “hello” just as much as he does. I know this is hard, however, if you can work on this now you’ll soon be able to give all the affection you want when you come home (and you won’t have a annoying jumpy dog that has to be put away when guests come over).
I recommend coming into your house like you’re holding two big bags of groceries. Your hands are full and you can’t even look down at your dog. Walk over to your kitchen counter and look through your mail, read a magazine, whatever. Just don’t pay any attention to the jumping bean of a dog behind you. Eventually (it may take as little as 5 minutes or as much as 30) your dog will stand there wondering why you can’t see them, and that’s when you give them affection.
I don’t mind happy and waggy, as long as they have all four paws on the ground. And I’m not taking away your big, joyous greetings. I’m just changing when (the reward) is given so that it’s on your terms and rewarding behavior you want repeated.
Every time you successfully do this your dog will get calmer quicker, eventually allowing you to say hello as soon as you walk in the door.
Ignoring works well for a lot of annoying puppy behavior but as I mentioned is not appropriate all the time. It works best for situations where the dog is not being destructive or otherwise rewarded.
Take a good look at your dog’s day to day behavior and figure out where you can try to some ignoring and see how it works out. And remember, behavior is all about repetitions. So the longer your dog has been doing something, the longer it will take to shape a new behavior.
Good luck and happy training.