No, you cannot simply ignore bad behavior

Ignoring bad behavior is a really bad idea if the behavior has any self reinforcing component – which is a lot of them.

The advice to “ignore bad behavior” has gotten’s wings in the dog training community and we need to address it.

It is perfectly fine advice if the behavior is not self reinforcing in any manner. Examples might include…. barking at the door to go outside, which is never reinforced by opening the door. Jumping up at a handler holding something the dog wants, if the dog never gets it.

HOWEVER, If the handler either variably rewards the behavior, OR if the dog enjoys the activity itself, (barking and jumping are self reinforcing for many dogs), then the behaviors will continue, and quite likely grow stronger over time as they become habit.

You can only ignore bad behavior if it has no self reinforcing components.

You can also ignore bad behavior that is primarily associated with young puppies and that typically goes away if it is not inadvertently reinforced by the handler. A classic example is mouthing.  I ignore mouthing; I simply take my hands away and don’t make a big deal out of it. I will redirect the puppy to a toy (if helpful), and if the puppy is tired and on a rampage then I put them to bed.  But in general?  I ignore it.  Once those baby teeth are out they stop finding it reinforcing and move on.  Of course, if it comes to pass that your puppy is something of an exemption and the mouthing doesn’t go away? Then you can’t ignore it anymore; time to manage, redirect, prevent, and train!

If you know that your dog is going to bark at the door to go outside or jump at the handler in the hopes of getting something, and if you know that these behaviors are potentially self reinforcing, then you have options – all of them include stopping/redirecting the behavior if it is occurring and then structure or training to prevent it in the future! Ideally,  identify the moments before those behaviors occur and provide an alternative. You can ask for an incompatible behavior such as sit or go to mat when the dog is in a situation that often leads to jumping. You can train in an incompatible behavior like ring a bell when the dog wants to go outside.  But you cannot simply ignore the behavior and then expect it to go away.   Any more than you would ignore your dog peeing and pooping all of your house and then being surprised when it doesn’t go away on its own. You structure your dog so it doesn’t happen!

Choice is fine and well but not until the animal is capable of making good choices. Until that time, do not allow for choices that have bad options, which then become habits, because you’ll have to deal with it at some point.

Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be.

 

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