Years ago, when I was a mobile groomer, I had an appointment with a Yorkie for grooming. When the owner brought him to me, he told me that his dog hated to be groomed and he had a method for calming him. His method was to give the dog a treat every time he snapped. I stood there with my mouth open. He was actually rewarding the dog's bad behavior. So of course the dog was going to try to bite like crazy; those treats were good!
A friend of mine had a particularly aggressive Chihuahua (yes, they can be quite aggressive. I know because I've owned a couple). When people came to the door, the dog rather viciously attacked their legs. The owner's answer was to pick the dog up and cuddle it. The same little dog used to sleep in bed with her owner, and if the owner moved during the night and disturbed the dog, the dog bit her. I kid you not....so the owner, instead of removing the dog from her bed, quit moving around at night.
These two people were rewarding their dog's bad behavior.
Begging at the table is rewarded with food. The dog is conditioned to make a fuss and beg because he gets food when he does. Think Pavlov's dogs.
Ivan Pavlov won a Nobel Prize in 1904 for his work with dogs. He noted that dogs salivate when presented with edible items. It was previously thought that this salivation was an automatic response, but he found through his experiments that it was a conditioned response. Everytime he feed the dogs a treat, he made a sound. He found that the dogs began to salivate just from the sound, even when the treat wasn't present. Their response was conditioned through repetition. This is called classical conditioning. We as dog owners can use this knowledge when training our dogs today.
Even negative attention can reward bad behavior. It's just like the little child who behaves badly in order to make her mother reprimand her. Sometimes they just like the attention. This could be the dog who barks constantly and gets yelled at. Or the dog that pulls furiously on the leash and suffers her owner's wrath. The dog who pees in the house and gets yelled at.
So be mindful of your dog's bad behavior and don't unintentionally reward it. We'll have more about training in a later blog. In the meantime, monitor your reactions and call The Dog Whisperer.