The general advice for extinguishing unwanted behaviors is to “ignore” those behaviors. I think that simply saying “ignore the behavior” is not exactly the right way to put it.

If your dog tends to bark or jump and you let your dog bark and jump and ignore those behaviors completely the dog might still bark and jump because the behaviors tend to be self- rewarding. Barking and jumping are fun for a dog who is otherwise bored and wants you to interact with him. Doing “nothing” might work in some instances, but doing something that makes the barking and jumping not pay off for the dog would be more effective. For example, if the dog notices that every time he barks you leave the room rather than give him attention in the form of a reprimand he would be more inclined to learn that barking has the opposite effect of what he originally intended with that behavior.

That seems logical. But you were also told: give the dog something else to do. Find a replacement behavior.

Let’s say your replacement behavior is “SIT”. Let’s say: your dog LOVES to jump on you and lick you. So you were told: when the dog jumps on you: simply turn your back to the dog. (I am assuming here that you have not been given answers such as: knee to chest and other ideas of physical punishment.)

Ok. So you turn around and show the dog your back. Then you were told to ask the dog for a replacement behavior. So you say: “SIT”.

The dog actually sits and you give the dog a cookie.

This happens every single time. Awesome. Strangely enough though you notice that the dog does not stop jumping up.


Because dogs are smart!

You have taught the dog the whole chain of behaviors. Dog thinks: in order to get a cookie I first jump up, then she plays the sit game with me and then I get my cookie.

In other words if you keep doing the same thing over and over it becomes as habitual as the behavior you would like to extinguish.

A different scenario might be: Puppy was not doing anything so you were not paying any attention to the pup…puppies are “good” when they are not doing anything. But puppy got frustrated and started some behaviors that definitely got your attention. Puppy barked and you looked at him and asked him to stop, or possibly thought something might be wrong and gave the pup attention. And puppy is thinking: wow: that got me some attention. Maybe I should try this again? Let’s see if it works… and yes, it does!

How do you avoid those traps?

In my mind it is best to think of the consequences that your own behavior has for the dog, rather than thinking of stopping the behavior in one fell swoop.

Either think of preventing the situation from happening altogether. Be aware of what your dog or puppy would be most likely do in certain trigger situations and then find a way to make the replacement behavior work.

When it comes to jumping up during greetings for example, throw treats on the floor or offer them in such a way that your dog’s paws remain on the ground.

Then you are able to pay the dog the attention he desires AND eliciting polite behaviors that you can wholeheartedly reward and reinforce.

Reward your dog for doing “nothing”. Remember to pay attention to your puppy or dog when your dog is quietly hanging out, offers a settle or a sit. Who doesn’t like a surprise present?

Elisabeth Weiss is a highly certified, experienced dog trainer in Manhattan, NYC. To learn more about dog training services, contact us by phone at (917) 783-1473 or our contact form.

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