Let’s face it, Dr Doolittle had it easy.
His dogs didn’t need to bark, howl or whine to tell him how much they loved him or how sorry they were about trashing the cushions.
And dog-to-dog chat isn’t hard either.
Pheromones, glandular secretions, scent cues, yaps, yips, and body postures all make sure the message and sentiment are clear.
For the rest of us though, understanding and adjusting a dog’s unwanted reaction to a stimulus boils down to establishing a two-way flow of communication and then using positive reinforcement to embed a desired reaction.
We often think of it like moving into a ‘new house’. All the familiar sounds, smells and surroundings that have triggered unwanted behaviour in the ‘old house’ need to be left behind and all the desired behaviours need to be packed up and taken to the ‘new’ one.
The doorbell chime, the bing-bong of the lift when it arrived outside the apartment, or the rattle of the Talabat delivery bike engine. They all triggered incessant barking because they were negative reactions to stimuli. And they can only be addressed when the stimuli are removed, and the new behaviour is rewarded.
So, in the ‘new house’, there must be a new doorbell chime. When the dog is calm and good-humoured, eye contact is made and maintained (this is a crucial requirement that gives us a signal that the dog is ready to receive instruction). The new doorbell is pressed and a ‘good’ or ‘yes’ positive reinforcement comment is made, and a reward is given. And then this new neural pathway is reinforced by repeating the procedure again and again. Gradually, the reward and the good/yes comment can be removed.
The same process can be applied to the lift with some simple soundproofing and perhaps some temporary white noise to camouflage the bing-bong. Ditto for a short break in home food deliveries while the behaviour is being addressed.
The secret is to remove the triggers while simultaneously establishing another behaviour in the place of the unwanted one. Once the new behaviour is embedded, old ones can be slowly reintroduced while cueing the newly trained response. So, although it may not be practical to permanently supress the lift bing-bong and manage without Talabat, a return to the ‘old house’ can be gradually made. If there’s any inclination to stay in the ‘old house’, rewind and repeat the procedure. The reward for changing will often be sufficient incentive to ignore the old and favour the new.
— Sean Parker is the General Manager of My Second Home