Redirection–Bad Dog Behaviors turned Good

4December 2015

Many times when a dog misbehaves, people focus on the bad behavior.  Often times when I am called in to help a dog with bad behaviors, people love to tell me the numerous stories about the dog’s repeated bad behavior.  This example, that example, oh this one time…  Although some of this information is helpful in deciding on a training program, every single owner focuses only on what the dog is doing wrong.  Instead of focusing on the bad behavior, I like to ask them, “What would you like the dog to do instead?”  

That is the question you should always be asking yourself when your dog presents an unwanted behavior:  
“What is it I would like the dog to do instead of this current bad behavior?”

This is called redirection.

When a dog misbehaves, it is best to apply what we call a No Reward Marker, meaning to the dog…”I do not like what you are doing right now.”  

No Reward Marker:
This is what we do when the dog does not do what we are looking for.  Try using an “Uh-oh” (for mistakes during regular training sessions) or “Eh-eh” (for behavioral issues such as barking or chewing).  This will let the dog know that the behavior just performed is not what we wanted.  

For example, for a barking dog, I recommended doing a loud clap and an “Eh-eh” to snap the dog out of the behavior.  Then immediately redirect the dog to a behavior your would like them to do instead.  For example:  go lay on your bed, chew this bone or toy, etc.  You may need to begin by using a food lure to get your dog’s attention on you and not the thing that is making the dog bark.

Another Example:  If your dog is chewing on something inappropriate such as furniture (like the dog in the first picture), first mark the behavior with your “Eh-Eh,” then redirect them to chew on something appropriate, like a toy, bone, or Kong filled with yummy treats.

If your dog is aggressive, move away from the person or dog that your dog is aggressing towards.  Move far enough away that you are able to get your dog’s focus back on you with a Sit and Look.  This is how we redirect our dog’s behavior onto something good (instead of aggressing, come with me and pay attention to me).  The distance between the dog and whatever s/he reacts to negatively, is what we call a threshold.

Another helpful tip for an aggressive dog is (after moving away), is to toss food on the ground for your dog.  Be sure to use high value rewards.  This will give the dog something positive to focus on instead of the other dog or person.  You can use this technique and slowly try and move closer the object/dog/person over time.

Food Lure:
This is something we use to teach many new behaviors and commands.  A food lure involves getting the dog to follow your baited hand into a desired position.  It is basically “attaching” your dog’s nose to the food and encouraging them to follow it.

Although it is important to mark bad behavior, it is more important to mark the good behaviors.  We must teach our dog what behaviors are considered good and/or acceptable by us (you and your family).  To mark good behaviors, use a Marker Word.

Marker Word:
Use your chosen marker word:  “Good” or “Yes” (or the Clicker).
This is the word (or sound) that says to a dog, “Yes! That is exactly what I wanted you to do!” and is then followed with a reward.  Rewards do not necessarily have to be food.  Rewards are different for each dog but can include:  toys, bones, petting, praise, and even your calm energy.  


When you have successfully redirected your dog’s bad behavior to a good behavior, be sure to mark that behavior as “GOOD!”  This is so important.  The more we mark good behavior, the more your dog will want to engage in good behaviors.  Dogs enjoy pleasing their owners, we just have to learn to communicate with them in a way they can understand.  You can achieve this goal by marking your dog’s behaviors in appropriate ways.