I found a really cool article on Sacramento Dog Behavior on the 7 common mistakes people make in their Behavior Modification work. It’s really interesting. Check it out:
YOU’RE TOO CLOSE
Are you afraid of spiders? Me too. But I’m not running around and screaming because of the freakishly large spiders in South America. Why? Because they’re too far away to present a threat to me.
Distance affects reactivity. The closer you get to something you fear, the greater your level of stress. Once the stress reaches a certain level, the brain tells us to react in some way that increases our chance of survival, which can include avoidance…or aggression. The other thing the brain tells us is to stop wasting energy on non-essential functions in that moment. Like eating. Or thinking.
If your dog is exhibiting any type of avoidance or aggression in the presence of a dog, person, or other trigger, you are too close (early warning sign – your normally polite dog starts painfully ripping the treats from your hand). Anything you attempt at this level is only going to amount to temporary suppression of behavior, which is not the same as changing the underlying emotion behind the behavior.
Behavior modification happens at a distance the dog is aware of the trigger but not showing any negative reaction, often referred to as under-threshold. If your dog reacts, MOVE. Get her out of the situation and to a distance that she can give you a behavior you can reward.
YOU’RE TOO LATE
So, you don’t like clickers because they seem gimmicky, and you don’t want to say “Yes!” because it sounds silly. Frankly, I don’t care what sound you use, but if you’re going to be effective, you MUST have great timing. You will never have great timing with just the treat in your pocket.
The point of a clicker (or “yes!” or a click of your tongue, or whatever) is that you have a unique sound that marks the moment of your dog’s brilliance. That sound has been consistently paired with rewards so that the moment your dog hears it, the reward centers of the brain start churning out dopamine, which feels good. So, even if you are caught digging around in the pocket of your jeans for the treat, you’ve still captured the behavior the instant it happened, increasing the chance that your dog will do it again next time.
Why not just use “good dog/boy/girl?” Well, because it’s slower but, more importantly, you probably don’t give your dog a food reward after saying it, so it doesn’t have the association needed to have that feel good effect. Worse, if you say “Good boy” before patting your dog on the head, which he hates, you could be using a marker that has a bad association.
Things can happen quickly with a reactive dog and if you don’t instantly capture that brilliant moment your dog looks at you the moment he spots a new dog, you’re going to end up rewarding the wrong thing.