"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
I am often asked: "How do I stop my dog from jumping/barking/digging/chewing/chasing/escaping/[insert your own word]?"
And that is indeed a great question...and yes, how do you stop your dog from performing a behavior, which you dislike??
Well, first and foremost we need to first look at WHY your dog is choosing to perform this behavior in the first place.
And when doing so, I always think of this very well known saying :"Reinforcement drives behavior", meaning that most likely, your dog finds some kind a value in performing this behavior. And remember, finding value in doing something, is always a great motivator.
We also know, that "Practice makes Perfect", or maybe I should say "Practice makes Permanent", due to the fact that through the process of repetition, this practice will eventually become a habit, an automatic action that requires little or no front of mind awareness. And that is thanks to the neural pathways. Practice over time causes the neural pathways to work better, and faster, thus becoming the new default behavior. Which makes absolutely sense from a neuroscientific point of view. However, it can definitely still be very frustrating, when your dog once again jumps up and almost knocks over aunt Suzie.
And to our dismay, unfortunately the neural pathways do not distinguish between "wanted" and "unwanted" behaviors. Nope. Neural pathways have absolutely no regard to whether you, as your dog's owner, actually approve of these behaviors.
The good news is, we can change it (Thank God for neuroplasticity and yes, old dogs CAN learn new tricks! ).
Which now leads us to the concept of Behavior Modification.
When wanting to change or modify a behavior, it is a two step protocol:
But please know, that this takes time. Especially if your dog has been allowed to repeat the unwanted behavior for many years. More practice equals stronger and faster neural pathways. So, in order for a behavior modification to be successful, it is of outmost importance, that you do NOT allow your dog to practice the "old" behavior, while you are still working on adding value to the new wanted behavior. In short, management is still important, as well as high value rewards and repetitions.
Here is an example:
Ranger (Labrador puppy) loves to chew on paper towels and be anything than helpful, when cleaning up a mess on the floor.
In the video below, I show you, how I am teaching him a desired behavior versus his own "go-to" choice. By starting slow, and reinforce the desired behavior (laying calming down), I am helping him making the right choice, which eventually will be his own choice, with less management from me. Why? Because he has learned, that not only is this the default behavior, I will ask for, when I sit down to clean up a mess with paper towels, but it is also rewarding for him when doing so.
A calm down has proven to be a very rewarding choice for him.
This method also works with vacuum cleaning, shoveling snow, sweeping the floor, and so on.
Give it a try, stick to the protocol, don't allow your dog to practice the unwanted behavior, when you are not there, and you will see progress.
Well, in behavioral psychology, “reinforcement is a consequence that will strengthen an organism's future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus”. 
Therefore, in positive reinforcement training, we like to use primary reinforces (such as food and play) to strengthen the behaviors, which we would like to see our dogs continue to offer.
But our dogs don’t only find reinforcement in playing and getting food from us when training. There are multiple scenarios throughout their day, which they find reinforcing. And this often lead to behaviors, which we (the owners) regards as highly unwanted in our daily lives with our dogs. Here are a few examples that I often hear from clients:
My dog jumps on me and/or visitors.
My dog runs along the fence, barking at the neighbor dog.
My dog gets in the garbage.
My dog jumps on the counter.
My dog chases the cat.
and…well, you get the picture.
We might not like these behaviors, but for some reason, our dogs find value in practicing these behaviors – he finds it reinforcing - because frankly, otherwise he wouldn’t continue to do it!
Jumping: Your dog gets excited, when you get home (or when you have visitors over) and his first instinct is to greet by jumping towards your face. For him it is highly reinforcing to greet you like this. Oh and all the attention that goes with it..whoop whoop.
Running and barking at neighbor dog: Oh, the thrill of running and barking – so exciting, best game ever!
Garbage: yes, score – yesterday’s chicken pieces.
Counter surfing: Mmmmmm…butter.
Chase cat: Cat runs..yaaa the chase is on. Again, super thrilling and fun.
My point is, that your dog will continue a behavior if he finds it reinforcing. And he will NOT stop it UNLESS you understand how to modify a behavior through management and training.
Often (unintentionally) we are the ones helping to create these “rude” behaviors by allowing our dogs the “freedom” to practice these unwanted behaviors. Our dogs only do what comes natural to them. Think about the greeting behavior for a moment: Our dog rushes to the door, super excited and shows his excitement by jumping. We react AFTER the fact he did the unwanted behavior and we correct the dog. But next time, we again allow him to rush to the door and since he doesn’t know what else to do in his level of excitement, he jumps again. And time after time, we correct him, yet still nothing works. Why? Because we don’t teach him that there is another behavior that is more reinforcing. And until we do, he will continue to repeat the same behavior over and over again.
Now, I know some of you will say, well just knee your dog in the chest or step on his paws. That will make him stop. I’m sorry, but that is just lazy and rude. Instead, let’s teach him the behavior we WANT him to perform at the door. A sit maybe? or just keeping all four paws on the floor? No matter what our goal behavior is, first we need to change the current set-up and routine. Why? Well, this quote I love might explain it best: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In this case it is us, the owners, who are clearly the definition of insanity, when expecting our dogs to behave differently even though nothing changes in the environment or set-up. So, to modify an existing behavior, we need to approach it in two steps:
First, manage dog so he can’t repeat the same behavior. Often a leash on or a barrier, such as a baby gate or exercise-pen, will help stop the dog from repeating the unwanted behavior, because now he can’t rush to the door. But this is only management.
Secondly, let’s train and reinforce the behavior we do want. Teach your dog, that when sitting, or just standing calmly, you or your visitor will walk closer towards him to pet him. But as soon as he pulls on leash, jumps, gets up from the sit, you (or visitor ) stops moving forward towards him. You don’t have to say anything. Your reaction to his action is an instant consequence which doesn’t work in your dog’s favor. And he gets that fast. As soon as he is calm or sits, you can now start walking forward again. He will quickly realize that there is a pattern: When sitting or waiting calmly, he gets what he wants, which is your attention and petting. When jumping or pulling, he gets nothing.
It is our responsibility, as dog owners, to help our dogs navigate through our set of expectations and rules by teaching them, what behaviors we want in different scenarios. And then reinforce the shit out of them, so our dogs learn these new skills and can be successful next time.
And in regards to the garbage can….just put it away. Problem solved.
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.