8 min read

Can we teach “stop doing that”?

For all of us rearing young dogs, there are times we need to be able to say “you cannot be doing that”. Yep, me too. Either we see there is trouble ahead if you carry on doing that, or that it is unacceptable behaviour when you live with people in this house or this community.

For anyone who teaches puppy class, or works with clients with dogs that have “issues”, we are usually faced with an immediate “I just want to stop the dog / puppy from…..”. We are reared to see what needs correcting, eliminating, what is naughty, unacceptable. It takes a more thoughtful understanding to see “naughty” as quite normal, and an investment of time to build a new thinking habit of seeing what can be achieved as opposed to what we do not like. Many years of mental discipline can change our historical view even though some folk never seem to get there.

Every puppy will arrive with behaviours that can lead to trouble ahead. From peeing in the house to jumping up with muddy paws to counter surfing, stealing, biting clothing, screaming when abandoned. Behaviours carry multiple viewpoints. The view from the person that they are undesirable, naughty, bad dogs, and from the puppy quite normal, often necessary and usually good fun. Originating from instinctive responses they will get stronger unless the function is diverted into another direction.

Puppies prefer not to pee in their own nest, but if the bladder cannot hold any longer what are they supposed to do? My youngster is now exposed to dark evenings from 5pm, not light until 7am combined with fear of the garden in the dark. At 10 months we have gone back to some uncomfortable “discussions” which now involve me standing in the dark, wet and cold garden with seriously large torch. It can take her 20 minutes to feel comfortable enough to curtsey.

Adolescent dogs, particularly the large, fast growing males of all species live in perpetual hunger. They need regular visits to the pantry or fridge and hunger exists for the in-between moments when they are not thinking about sex. If an opportunity for either presents itself, then opportunity is going to be taken. Your sandwich, lunch on the coffee table, open waste bin, unguarded pizza will be gone before you turn around. They are not stealing, or counter surfing, just trying to survive the best way they can.

Teaching our youngsters to seek behaviours that promise a fulfilling future with people, and avoiding the chances of no future with people became our responsibility the minute we took on caring for that individual. They arrived with raw, unshaped instincts for survival in the best way they can. They will call upon their inherited skills, their species predispositions and have no thought to where this will take them. These skills have a logical function that has not been superseded by moving into urban life.

Their future is like a fast flowing river. That future will progress forwards and find its own channel. Our influence is about shaping the course of that river, not trying to stop it. It will go somewhere.

As teacher-trainers we seek every opportunity to channel the lifeskills for the future with us, such as peeing in the garden not the house, with the additional option of “now, please?” We teach them their food not our food, we teach them how to play with us without harming us, how to greet and re-connect, how to show affection, how to manage excitement, when to let off steam, when to rest and relax.

But there will be times when we simply need to say “no, you cannot do that anymore”.

Can we teach them an effective Cease That behaviour?

Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead. Proving an easier channel for the river.

Each moment when you feel the need to say “no”, or “stop that”, your first question, not your first instinct, should be whether they know what to do instead, can remember what to do instead, and have been sufficiently rewarded for doing that – to the point where the reward for the “instead” far outweighs all other options. It becomes their first choice.

Zip is a pup that needs very regular and high levels of affection and approval. She enjoys both, and without either can become panicked. When in need she will jump at me. For many months, nearly 6 now, she has been given continuous rewards of many varieties for interacting without jumping at me. This is more than jumping up, this is jump AT, with a fair power behind it.
If I travelled down the avenue of ignoring this behaviour, and at times when my hands are full I have to ignore it, it escalates to more power and frustration. She is unable to find alternatives to her needs at that time.

Ignoring a behaviour is not a solution if the function of that behaviour does not resolve.

We have been practising “go to station” instead. At every moment she begins the jump, I firstly give her the signal to cease, which is my palm of hand facing her, and then we go to a station where I have previous stashed easy access to a reward pot. By the fridge where food is in a bowl on top, to the grooming table where food is in a tub, to the back the car, if open, where a tub is waiting. I have about 6 stations. The key point is that the stations are not me – no food on me. We need to travel away from me, I follow, to the station and then we can get treats for the behaviours she is learning. None of which are smashing into me.

Firstly – Be Clear about blocking

I have taught her the open palm, like a “stop” signal, means food is coming to you, likely to land on the floor, and this will arrive quite fast.

more about teaching “block” signal

I put this on a verbal cue as well. For me it is “off”, and so far I have used this for running towards the wrong sheep (another dog), going to jump into the car before the door is open, biting the hosepipe. But, I am disciplined to find something to reward her response.

Two of these behaviours are innate (herding moving dogs, biting the snake) and these will have copious amount of self-reward internally and need an exceeding amount of external rewards for alternatives – probably for life.

Do This

I am careful to teach the dog what is required, not just use a “leave it”, “no”, “stop that” blanket response. When they have the required behaviour on cue, use that by preference.

For walking on pass vomit on the pavement “walk with me”, not “leave it”.

For chasing into another dog “go out”.

For grabbing at toys in my hands “wait there”, not “leave it”.

For a need for affection or social approval – “station”.

Secondly Going to station

This is taught from starting at the Station as a Really Great Place to Get Good Stuff. Food and affection are top of her list.
This is easy to teach alongside the fridge, or pantry, as these are filled with food sources and we regularly visit. For every visit, let the pup engage, and frequently reward waiting whilst we go about our shelf-seeking behaviour.

The pup will learn pretty soon that when we look at the fridge, head towards it with purpose, that there may be a Cool Thing arriving for them. As they begin the process of anticipating these patterns, I begin to add the “station?” as a cue. You can label each station individually, or regard them as one “go to a great place” generic cue. Each environment can have their own station.

Thirdly – train train train

She gets many regular training sessions, sometimes for only 60 seconds, sometimes for 16 minutes. During that time she enjoys full focus from me, much concentration on developing her skill of finding solutions and hundreds of small treats. She is getting a bucket full of approval for future behaviours in an intense one-to- one situation. We are connecting, she gets to see me enjoying her company and achievement. This is building our future.

She is learning heel positions, waiting, follow, the difference between standing, sitting and bowing, putting her feet in the pot, rotating, pivoting, turning, going around. None of these are “tricks” for my benefit, they are all designed for her benefit. Increasing an awareness of herself relative to me, how to position her body under specific conditions, interacting with objects, learning through luring, learning to remember what gets food, listening to verbal cues, seeking visual signals.

This is her schooling.

This is lifeskills for a future with me.


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of yogis, dogs and humans

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