There’s a television show I watch called Hoarding (my guilty pleasure is now out) that involves people with serious psychological disorders who hoard massive amounts of stuff. The stuff that they collect may even include garbage. I was watching one episode that involved a particularly gross kitchen. Immediately after that visual of filth, a commercial came on for a cupcake store. I don’t think the cupcake store had a lot of appeal at that moment and probably didn’t get the positive reaction that it had hoped for.
Since timing is a fundamental of dog training, it seemed like a good idea to talk about it.
Let’s say you get home from work and when you open the door, your dog is sitting in the doorway waiting for you but next to her is your chewed up television remote. You understandably go crazy and start screaming “bad dog” and waving the remote in her face. I’m not sure what your dog will have learned from this interaction -maybe that she shouldn’t go the door when she hears your car or maybe that you don’t like her to sit. However, the one thing I am confident about is that she hasn’t learned that you had a problem with her eating your remote. Instead, as hard as this is, you need to just move on and recognize that because you didn’t catch her in the act, she has no idea what she did wrong. In fact, you might be discouraging her from doing a behavior you want – like greeting you nicely at the door.
Studies have shown that period to be 1.3 seconds. What that means is if they learn a behavior it must be immediately followed with a reinforcement – whether it’s a marker word (“yay”, “yes”, “good girl”) or a click from a clicker. Ideally, we’d always have a treat ready to give to the dog in that 1.3 second period of time, but that’s not always going to be possible. In addition, a marker word helps us phase out treats when we’re ready to do that. One effective way to handle a situation where you catch your dog chewing something she shouldn’t it is to teach “drop it” – go up to her and offer to replace the item with something more appropriate and pleasant like a good toy or a treat. When she drops the remote you say “yay” (or whatever marker word you are using) and give her the treat. Then, pick up that remote and read Greg Raub’s blog on prevention!