How To Deal With Your Pet's Misbehavior (Do's and Don'ts)

Your pet is doing something you don't want him to do. How should you respond?

I hear this question all the time:
"I get how to use positive reinforcement to teach my dog a new trick, like sit or high five. But how can I use it to teach him NOT to do something?"

This is a tough concept for a lot of people - it's definitely counterintuitive to think about REINFORCING behavior in a situation where the natural inclination is to punish.

But the good news is that you don't need to yell or yank to improve your pet's behavior.

There are four general steps to using positive reinforcement in this type of training scenario:
  1. Observe the contexts in which the behavior often occurs
  2. Prevent your pet from rehearsing the bad behavior
  3. Teach the behavior you want to see instead
  4. Reinforce that new behavior A LOT.

Within this framework, the specific details you fill in to make your training plan just depend on which behavior you are trying to reduce and the context(s) in which it occurs!

Need a cheat sheet?

This infographic lays out some things to remember when working on behavior modification. And if you're finding it tough to implement these concepts on your own, contact a positive-reinforcement-based trainer in your area for help designing and implementing your training plan!

Originally published on May 21, 2018; revisions made May 17, 2021.


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