Ignore at Your Peril – Whole Dog Journal

Ignoring ought to work, proper? One of the primary bits of conduct science that we decide up as canine trainers is that conduct is pushed by penalties. 

• If one thing good occurs after a conduct, that conduct is more likely to be repeated.

• If one thing dangerous occurs, the conduct could diminish. 

• And if nothing occurs in any respect after a conduct, there’s typically no level to the conduct. It could nicely fade away.

Those are all true statements. So if a canine greets us by leaping within the air and pounding us along with his entrance toes, or barks demandingly as we put together his meal, how come he doesn’t stop once we ignore the naughtiness?


When searching for to vary conduct, we begin by figuring out and describing the conduct. Then we search to establish the consequence that’s driving the conduct. We establish antecedents: We notice the conditions and environments by which the conduct is more likely to happen. We then create a plan to vary the results and/or the antecedents so as to change the conduct. 

I’m going to explain 5 explanation why “ignoring” could fail as a method; every corresponds to failures in a behavior-change plan. They could happen as a result of we fail to establish the results that could possibly be driving the conduct. They could happen as a result of we misidentified the emotional state of the canine (an error in figuring out an antecedent). Or they could fail as a result of our plan was not full or we simply couldn’t carry it out. Here are 5 widespread methods the “ignoring” plan can fail:

1. Other reinforcers are current. A quite common cause why ignoring fizzles as a method is that taking note of the canine will not be the reinforcer of the undesired conduct within the first place, or it isn’t the solely reinforcer. 

The basic instance of that is the conduct of leaping to greet. Surely a part of the explanation a canine jumps on his proprietor or arriving guests is to work together with them. It is so tempting to imagine that if we take away that interplay –
if we glance away, flip away, and don’t communicate to him – he’ll stop that annoying leaping. Good luck with that, although; it not often works by itself. 

The canines who proceed to leap when ignored – what are they getting out of it? One consequence is that they get nearer to our faces. We are vertical creatures and it takes a very good leap to rise up to the place the motion is! 

Also, we have now to contemplate that the conduct simply could really feel good to the canine, even when he’s being ignored. It’s enjoyable for canines to make use of people as a backstop or a launching pad! Jumping might also be pushed by nervousness or over-arousal.

If we use ignoring for the canine who barks demandingly for his meal, we’re much more off-track. What is the last word reinforcer that outcomes from meal preparation? Food! 

Wise trainers pay shut consideration to what their canines are doing for the interval earlier than such a giant reinforcer. Barking, twirling, head butting, hand nuzzling, getting underfoot within the kitchen, and leaping can all be fantastically maintained by the presentation of a meal’s price of meals on the finish of all of it. You can get any of these behaviors with out paying any consideration to the canine. Consequently, eradicating the eye does nothing to lower the behaviors.

2. People are confused about what, precisely, constitutes “ignoring.” It’s troublesome to outline and laborious to hold out! Ignoring may work in just a few extra instances – if solely we actually knew the best way to do it. Also, it’s laborious to outline the time period “to ignore” with out utilizing negatives; you don’t do that; you don’t try this . . . .

What you do is to proceed as if the canine, along with her annoying conduct, will not be there. That’s laborious, particularly if the canine is making bodily contact with you. And there’s some fact to the “don’ts” within the widespread definition. It can take as little as a fast look from us to attach with our canine. They are the world’s greatest noticers! That fast look, that “Oof” noise, that lurching physique motion you may make – all these might be responses to the canine. They affected your conduct and so they observed! 

And then there are the issues we typically attempt to get them to cease. Turning our backs simply offers them a clearer vertical floor to carom off of. Pushing them away – what a enjoyable sport! For some canines, even being yelled at is extra satisfying than being really ignored. 

There are some canines on the market for whom sure behaviors are so pushed by consideration that ignoring may work. But a very good coach would use it as solely half of a method for conduct change – and it nonetheless must be finished accurately. An amazing coach pal of mine teaches her purchasers a focusing on conduct when she implements that plan for canines who leap. But the conduct will not be for the canine; it’s for the particular person! She teaches her human purchasers to make eye contact along with her (if she is current) or learn {a magazine} (if the consumer is residence alone). It offers them an alternate conduct so that they don’t take a look at the canine. 

But that’s solely part of the coaching plan. The canine is studying a conduct, too. She and her consumer are engaged on reinforcing a extra acceptable conduct that doesn’t embody pulling down guests. 

3  We don’t ignore the canine for a sufficiently lengthy interval. Even in conditions the place ignoring may work, we have now a tough time sticking with it lengthy sufficient. 

Here’s a special behavioral instance: Let’s say your tiny canine has realized to get consideration by pawing at your leg. Perhaps she will get picked up, petted, spoken to, and even fed from the desk when she does that. How many tons of of occasions has that labored for her in your life collectively? 

Now flip it round. How many tons of of occasions have your responses to her been strengthened? Hundreds! Dogs are masters of unfavorable reinforcement. They study to bug us till we do one thing, then cease (for some time). That’s how your personal behavior of response obtained constructed and firmed up. 

It’s jarring for a few of us once we notice that to vary our canine’s conduct, we have now to vary our personal. After all these repetitions, how are you going to recollect by no means once more to reply to the cute paw-on-the-leg conduct? Perhaps you’ll blow it when you’re speaking on the cellphone or messing round on social media. There’s that little foot. You attain down and – darn! You stored the conduct alive.

Even in case you are an skilled at altering your individual conduct, if you can also make a plan and persist with it – how about the remainder of your loved ones and acquaintances? How are you going to stop them from reinforcing the canine for that little pawing movement? 

This is the state of affairs by which we should be cautious about variable reinforcement. It might not be the perfect resolution for constructing robust, dependable, cued behaviors in coaching, however it’s improbable for preserving annoying day-to-day behaviors alive. Variable reinforcement makes a conduct immune to extinction. So when your canine has nothing else to do, why shouldn’t she revert to one thing that used to work for consideration? Why not strive that little paw scratch yet one more time? You are again the place you began if you happen to reply!

One other thing about extinction: The conduct we are attempting to extinguish will typically worsen earlier than it will get higher. It will sometimes get extra frequent or intense in what known as an extinction burst. How many occasions do you punch the button for a “walk” sign at an intersection you need to cross? How many occasions will you click on on the “OK” field on the error message in your laptop, at the same time as nothing occurs, earlier than realizing your laptop has frozen up? When that occurs, do you ever deal with your keyboard reasonably roughly?

When reinforcement for a conduct is abruptly eliminated, it may be irritating. So with our little canine, the paw scratching could get extra frequent or more durable. The canine could begin including a whine. That’s typically once we cave, and that has dangerous penalties. We simply strengthened a protracted conduct chain of undesirable conduct as a substitute of 1 little scratch.

4  The canine doesn’t know what to do as a substitute; we’ve left her in a behavioral vacuum. 

Let’s say we have now accurately recognized that the only real reinforcer of an annoying conduct is consideration. We have realized the best way to ignore the conduct and been constant at that. We have satisfied each different particular person within the canine’s life to do the identical. We nonetheless have an issue, although. We have left the canine with a void. There was once one thing she may do to achieve reinforcement and it’s gone. What conduct will take the place of the one we have now discouraged? 

Left to her personal gadgets, the canine could provide you with one thing worse – and who can blame her? Being ignored is difficult for members of a social species. And performing a conduct that has efficiently served a goal for years with out getting the anticipated final result is disagreeable for anybody. 

In my opinion, this may be particularly laborious on canines who’re in any other case untrained. Let’s say a pet proprietor reads an article that she ought to simply “ignore the bad behavior” and provides it a strive. But she has by no means used optimistic reinforcement within the type of meals or play to coach her canine. Trained canines normally have default behaviors – behaviors they will fall again on which might be fascinating to people and can earn the canine some reinforcement. They have at the very least some clues about what to strive. But canines who get the “ignoring” therapy after they don’t have a clue what to do as a substitute are in an unfair, even pitiable place. 

The final result received’t probably be nice for the proprietor, both. Since she hasn’t educated the canine to relax on a mat or crate or sit to ask for one thing, the canine will probably provide you with a pure doggie conduct to fill the void. And it could be even much less acceptable than the primary one. Well-designed plans for conduct change embody the instructing and reinforcing of latest behaviors. 

5  The canine could also be too upset to care that you’re ignoring him. If he’s labored up about one thing, he might not be in a position to vary his conduct at that second. 

Until now, I’ve been discussing conditions the place the canine will not be scared or overwrought. But there are complete lessons of behaviors whereby the canine is present process a sympathetic nervous system battle or flight response. Thankfully, it’s unusual for individuals to advocate that we simply ignore our canines in the event that they lunge or pounce at one other canine on-leash or stalk people who’re unusual to them. But there’s a widespread, emotion-driven conduct the place ignoring is typically beneficial: barking. 

Dogs bark for thus many obvious causes. Certainly they bark purely for consideration typically, particularly in the event that they and their house owners have developed just a little reinforcement cycle for it. But canines additionally bark in pleasure, as a part of territorial aggression, and for a lot of different causes – together with worry.

Fear barking (which principally coincides with what individuals name reactivity) might be laborious for we people to establish. We might imagine the canine is being protecting of us. Or we expect that it’s “fun” for a canine to run by the home to bark on the mail service on the door or supply vehicles on the road. We say, “It’s the highlight of her day!” 

It took me two or three years to appreciate that my canine who used to bark in a frenzy when a supply truck was within the neighborhood was afraid. During these couple of years of my ignorance, her triggers expanded to incorporate a number of sounds. These included the truck engine sound, the truck doorways sliding open or slamming closed, the supply particular person strolling onto the porch, the noise of the mailbox lid or a field hitting the porch, and (the frosting on the cake) the voice of the actual mail service who had loud conversations on his Bluetooth headset as he delivered our mail. 

None of her barking was for consideration. I do know from my webcams that she did it once I was not residence. And I’ve noticed that the barking was negatively strengthened. She barked all by these scary stimuli, then the truck engine would begin up or rev (one other set off) and the truck would lastly go away. The aversive issues have been gone, and she or he stopped.

Since then I’ve helped my canine along with her worry and barking by way of classical conditioning. But I haven’t been in a position to utterly get rid of it, since I’m not at all times residence when vehicles come by. In any case, ignoring her barking had no half in our plan.


I can’t current a plan that may lower all annoying canine behaviors throughout the board – no person can! That’s the issue with “ignore the dog.” It’s a one-size-fits-all resolution that matches nearly no state of affairs. But we will lower most of these nuisance behaviors with a very good coaching plan: We have to establish the reinforcer of the conduct, establish what units the stage for it, and intention our interventions with full data of these issues. 

This isn’t at all times simple. Consider reserving a lesson with a force-free coach to maintain from losing time on non-solutions comparable to “just ignore the dog”! 

This article was first printed in Clean Run – The Magazine for Dog Agility Enthusiasts.

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