Replace Bad Behavior with Good Behaviors!

Jennifer Thornburg
You will hear me talk a lot about teaching and reinforcing incompatible behaviors to replace everything from barking to counter-surfing.

Here’s why!
Telling your dog “No” or using punishment doesn’t provide information about what you would like for them to do instead. And it feels yucky for both humans and dogs. 

If your dog is performing an incompatible behavior, they’re not able to complete the jerky one.

Reinforcing and incompatible behavior lets us use positive reinforcement while also reducing the problem behavior (which is wonderful for humans and dogs!)
Step 1. Identify the jerky behavior you want to replace.
 When your dog engages in the behavior, give him zero attention. Not even a “No.” Even negative attention is attention.Example: Your dog jumps, you turn away, walk away. The critical point is: away.

Step 2. Pick your shiny, new behavior.
The behavior you choose to train must be incompatible with the asshole behavior, of course. It should also be something your dog enjoys and can do easily. Example: When your dog is going to a mat or bed, getting a toy, or performing some other trick, he is not able/inclined to jump on your or your guests.

Step 3. Set your dog up for success!
It’s crucial to prevent asshole behavior as much as possible, and the shiny, new behavior should be made as easy as possible to perform.

Example: Have your dog leashed or behind a gate when guests arrive. The less the jerk behavior is rehearsed and rewarded, the more likely it will eventually go away. In this case, you need to do your best to prevent jumping. Make a mat or bed available for your dog.

Step 4. Reinforce the heck out of the new shiny behavior.
Work on it lots and make it your dog’s favorite thing to do. Reward the heck out of new behavior while completely ignoring the jerk behavior.

Example: If your dog makes the fantastic decision to go to the mat, it needs to be raining rotisserie chicken on their head. Now is the time for memorable pay-outs.Don’t forget to ignore the obnoxious behavior while you are reinforcing the replacement behavior! Sounds simple, right? It really can be as easy as that!

Some of my favorite incompatible behaviors are:
  • Go to the Mat for jumping and for begging at the table.
  • Sit or Down for begging at the table.
  • Reward anything else for puppy mouthing
  • For jumping up, teach Four on the Floor
  • Back Up for crowding doors and general excitement
  • Paws Up for reacting to dogs on walks
  • 180 U-turn for reacting on walks
  • Go Sniff for reacting on walks
  • Eye Contact for most anything
  • Hand Targeting for everything
  • Get a Toy for anxious greeters
  • Spin for anything off-leash
  • Come when Called for fence barking

Come up with your own, use fun tricks, get creative. Have fun!
And find out more about incompatible behaviors in our Mischief Managed: Behavior Problems in the Home online course.
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