Behaviour Modification

18 Jan

Behavior modification is what many of you will probably consider to be training. Essentially, that is what it is, but here is a definition anyway: The alteration of behavioral patterns through the use of such learning techniques as biofeedback and positive or negative reinforcement”.

So, basically, if your dog has one or a number of behaviors that you consider to be inappropriate and need to change, you will need to use some method of behavior modification to go about it. That’s why i got the idea to give you a quick run down of the different types of behaviour modification out there. Much of this comes from my coursework for my Canine behavior psychology diploma. Which i forgot to tell you all, that i got a distinction in by the way! 🙂

Behaviour modification:

Conditioning: Where the behaviour of an animal is modified by learning that a specific stimulus requires a certain response is known as conditioning. In other words, when a human gives a visual or verbal command, the dog would learn to respond in a particular way, or move into a certain position. For example, the dog could learn to assume a sitting position and a relaxed state of mind when the owner clicks his/her fingers and points at the dog, if this is what it has been conditioned to do. This particular stimulus/response is something I myself have conditioned my own puppy to do. Reinforces are often used in order to aid this method of behavioural modification as a reward for carrying out the desired behaviour.


Counter conditioning could be considered to be the opposite of conditioning. This type of behaviour modification is used when the dog responds to a stimulus is a way that is considered to be undesirable by the owner. For example, when the doorbell rings it might bark excessively or run around the house in an excitable or fearful manner. Counter conditioning involves learning in order to replace the unacceptable behaviour with one that is desirable. Like with condition, reinforcement is used to reward the acceptable/desired behaviour. In this instance the dog should realise or learn that it is not able to react negatively. During this process it eventually associates the reward with the stimulus and the unacceptable behaviour is no longer carried out. A dog that does not like the sound of the doorbell and reacts inappropriately by running around and barking might benefit from counter conditioning, by teaching the dog to associate the doorbell with something positive i.e. the reward and therefore teaching it to react in a way that is deemed acceptable.


Desensitization is also known as systematic desensitization. This is a method that is commonly used to correct behaviour in dogs that are showing an excessive amount of unsuitable reactivity or fear to a particular stimulus. This method slowly introduces the stimulus in such a small amount that the dog shows no reaction. The stimulus is increased gradually, eventually reaching the point that the dog is accepting of the stimulus and no longer shows any response. Adding another stimulus such as play at the same time as the stimulus is being increased is often used as a kind of distraction from the stimulus, allowing the dog to act in a normal or positive way around the stimulus. Counter conditioning is also often used alongside this method.


By removing any and all reinforcement, certain behaviours can be completely eradicated. Behavioural problems can often be the result of accidental reinforcement from the owners. People are not always aware that the way they react to their pets can affect the pets behaviour in a way that owners do not appreciate. A dog that barks a lot will consider the attention from the owner to be its reward, and therefore it will continue to bark. In order to eradicate this behaviour, the owner ignores the dog, following the “no talk, no touch, no eye contact” rule strongly suggested by dog expert Cesar Milan. Eventually the dog learns that barking does not result in receiving attention from the owner, and the behaviour stops. Another example would be for a dog that jumps up when “greeting” its owner. By following the “no talk, no touch, no eye contact” rule, and only giving the dog attention when it is in a calm and submissive state, the dog will cease jumping up on people.


Flooding is not usually a recommended technique for dog owners seeking solutions for inappropriate dog behaviour problems. This method consists of the dog being continuously exposed to the stimulus that causes an undesirable response until there are major improvements in the dogs’ reactions. If this technique is not carried out correctly, it can make the problem significantly worse. Flooding is now commonly known as “exposure” and is similar to how humans overcome their own fear. For example, a person who suffers from arachnophobia might start the process of overcoming their fear by being near a spider and then eventually holding one. Once they recognise that there is nothing to be afraid of, they are able to overcome their fear.

Changing the environment:

Changing dog behaviour does not always require behaviour modifications though learning, but can require alterations to be made to the environment or providing appropriate enrichment. Managing the environment could allow for normal behaviour to continue, but in a way that the owners consider to be acceptable. For example, owners who complain about a dog keeping them awake at night because of it moving around and grooming, could try allowing the dog to spend the night in a different room. In this way the dog is able to continue behaving normally, whilst allowing the owners to sleep at night in peace.


Although dogs are fast learners and could be said to “aim to please humans” by quickly learning to carry out behaviours that they have learned, the main part of their behaviour is controlled by their instincts. When determining the best method of behaviour modification, it is therefore important to understand a dogs instincts and how these affect their behaviour.


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