The Secret to Breaking a Bad Habit2 minute read
In any relationship, whether with people, dogs, or yourself, you'll want to get someone to stop doing something.
It could be your dog jumping up on house guests. It could be getting your husband to stop putting his shoes on the couch. It could be getting yourself to stop looking at Facebook the second you get bored. You want to break a bad habit.
How do you break a habit? You don't.
Anything that has become a habit exists because, for one reason or another, it's been beneficial. It works. Telling someone to stop doing something almost never works.
What's the secret? Replace it with another habit.
We help them replace the bad habit with a new, good habit, and we make sure they're rewarded for it. Specifically, we want them to create a new habit that is incompatible with the old one. That means it's impossible to do both at the same time.
Back to our pups. If they're jumping up on house guests, then let's first decide on the one thing we would rather them do instead. This should be something that's impossible to do while also jumping up on our human friends. It could be laying down when they hear the doorbell or resting on their bed or special place when instructed. Either way, it's impossible to do this and jump on folks at the same time. So far so good.
Next, we need to reinforce (i.e. reward) that new behavior. For most dogs, that involves food rewards, but you may modify with more play, touch, or praise depending on your pup's motivations. Start, like with any behavior, by rewarding the smallest steps in that direction. Let them make a choice and reward their progress.
Then, make progress towards introducing the cue which prompted the old habit. Reward good choices, ignore the bad ones, and use repetition to build a feeling in your pup that this new behavior is more rewarding than the old one.
The next time you want your pup (or anyone!) to break a habit, don't focus on what not to do. Don't nag. Don't scold. Focus instead on what you want them to do and make it worth their while.
That's the secret to breaking a bad habit. Replace it.