Leash chewing, paw licking, and poop eating are just a few examples of behaviors that may develop due to a very specific set of circumstance and then linger long after the underlying reason for the behavior is gone. What advice do you provide your dog training clients?
- Resolve the underlying reason for the behavior. Puppies chewing on leashes can be teething. Paw licking can be related to allergies, and poop eating a nest-cleaning instinct gone awry. Whatever the underlying cause of the behavior, if you don’t remove it then it will return.
- Train an alternate, incompatible behavior. A few examples include teaching a dog to hold their toy or tug in the mouth while walking for the leash chewer, and chewing a bully stick or bone for the paw licker.
- In moments where training fails, be ready to disrupt, distract, and redirect. Whether through management or training, it is very important that the dog not be in a position to practice the undesirable behavior. So be ready with management when you’re not actively training an alternative behavior. Providing great chews and interactive toys is one option, increasing exercise and mental stimulation will generally also help.
- Repeat for 2 to 4 weeks. Compare this to the amount of time you might expect a human to take to alter a specific undesirable habit like nail-biting.
The most difficult component of this is selling owners on a very high level of diligence for the 2-4 week period. Explain that by front-loading the owner’s efforts, they will resolve the problem behavior much more quickly. Allowing the dog to practice a particular undesirable behavior only lets the dog get cleverer about the behavior and makes it more difficult to extinguish later. Professional dog trainers frequently have to sell their clients on certain aspects of training. This is a very important skill to develop, because the long-term success and maintenance of the training is in the hands of the person who is spending time with the dog – and that is your client.