Lucy the dog developed an annoying habit of jumping up at the food dish as I carried to the tha back door. I wanted to get rid of it but for the longest time I was afraid to put it on stimulus control (on cue) as I worried she might do it more often instead of less often (add it to her repertoire).
I decided it couldn’t get much worse and so tried putting the unwanted jumping behavior on cue using clicker training. These are the steps we did and the outcome. I had a pleasant surprise by the end of training.
Generalizing the new cue out of context first was important so she had a strong understanding of what I was looking or before I ever re-paired it with the food dish.
Training for stimulus control works on behaviors that are (ideally) not self-reinforcing but may also work on some that are, depending on the severity of arousal level and how controllable the environment is. (It may work on some barking if the dog is still able to acknowledge/respond to you but may not if the dog is frantic when barking in the situation). Arousal level and awareness of their own behavior is key. If you can control the environment (move the person or dog that triggers barking) further away so the animal’s arousal level is lowered, success will be greater. Then you can increase the level again, no different from training an animal to function amid distractions. In this case, the trainer can control the key aspect of the behavior, – the value of the food. Start with a lower value food then as the dog shows she can control herself, increase the value of it while using the cue. In this case, I put cheese in the bowl and worked our way up to what she considered more valuable as she succeeded.
Considering the definition of ‘self-reinforcing’ is important as well. Laying down can be self-reinforcing if the dog is tired of standing. This approach is often used in training horses. Stopping for a rest after trotting for a time is self-reinforcing for horses.
Part of the definition of ‘stimulus control’ not often acknowledged is that the animal only does the behavior when cued-DURING TRAINING SESSIONS. This does not mean the animal cannot do it when the trainer is not interacting with it. Take the case of sit or down on cue. If they are under stimulus control, during a training session the dog will only do these if cued. However, when not in a training session, the dog is free to sit and lay down whenever she wants to.
The same applies to barking etc. If the trainer starts interacting with the animal, it should stop doing the behavior unless cued to do so. However, for some behaviors, it is also helpful to train an ‘off switch’ cue such as “quiet” that is paired with ‘bark’.
Another important part of the not doing the behavior when not cued. Here’s how you can capture that in dogs that have impulse control issues or love to offer behaviors.
Want some help to coach you through the process? Contact me at www.dhill1.wix.com/donnasdogs