Inside the Mind of a Dog Trainer: What Should My Dog Do Instead?

Brown dog sitting in the grass

One of the most unique things about the Dog Trainer mind is their approach to behavior problems: dog trainers focus on what the dog should do versus what he shouldn't do.

This is a faster and less frustrating way to change behavior. If I want a toddler to sit in a chair at the coffee shop, it is much faster to tell her to, "sit in the chair," rather than listing everything that isn't sitting in the chair: "don't stand in the chair. Don't lie in the chair. Don't knock the chair over. Don't run around the coffee shop. Don't pull things off the shelves. Don't lie on the floor..." I think you get the point.

I could spend a lot of time listing everything that isn't sitting on the chair. I get what I want much faster if I'm very specific about what I want.

Additionally, without clear expectations, dogs make their own decisions about appropriate behavior. Many of their natural default behaviors are considered "bad" in our culture:

  • Foraging for food translates into counter-surfing and digging in the trash
  • Resting in comfortable places crops up as jumping on the couch
  • Enthusiastically greeting new people means jumping
  • Chasing after prey results in owners drug down the street in a quest for squirrels and cats

Sometimes it can be very challenging to identify a good behavior that could be used to replace the bad one. All you know is that you want the bad stuff to stop. 
When trainers are considering a replacement, they're generally looking for an incompatible behavior.

  • Instead of jumping on visitors, I want my dog to sit for petting
  • Instead of trying to bolt out the front door, I want my dog to stay on his Place while I answer the door.
  • Instead of crowding me when I enter the room, I want my dog to back up when I approach the gate.
  • Instead of my dog barking at other dogs on our walk, I want him to look at me.
  • Instead of jumping on the couch when I sit down, I want my dog to Down by my feet.

In my training program, we have a unique twist on "Leave It". Rather than just wanting the dog to avoid an object (which seems kind of ambiguous), I give them something to do instead. My "Off/Leave It" cue means: leave that alone and look at me instead.

What would you like your dog to do instead?