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Action Prompting – Part 2
In my last post, I talked about what Action Prompting is and what you can do about it.
Today, let’s delve into more detail on the four strategies that you can employ to address this struggle:
If your dog isn’t spending 70 – 90% of their day in calmness, you will see more disco pants type behaviours because a lack of rest and/or constant high arousal may be an underlying driver of the behaviour.
To learn how to grow calmness, download this free ‘Calm’ ebook from Absolute Dogs.
When your dog is anticipating excitement, you are going to tell them that instead of party time, it is PJ time. For an experienced dog, hop them onto their boundary, and work on the calmness protocol. For inexperienced dog, perhaps a calm massage or calm stroking. You could put them on lead and make it a non-event by employing them with a calm feeding activity.
The Witching hour is a great example of a time when your dog has on their disco pants with a brain wired for excitement. If you know when the witching hour starts, be proactive and put your dog or puppy into their crate, an xpen, a room with a baby gate, or put them on leash. Once confined, employ your dog in a calming activity using a portion of their daily food allowance. Activities such as a lick mat, a bully stick, a stuffed Kong, or a scatter feed are a few ideas.
The more your dog rehearses calmness, the more calmness you will get.
Action prompting is often the result of a dog who, based on a predictable series of events, starts to anticipate an exciting outcome.
Leash walks are a great example. You go to the door, get your dog’s harness, put on the harness, put on your shoes, fill your treat pouch, put on your treat pouch, grab the leash, attach the leash to the harness, open the door, and the walk starts.
At some point during that chain of events, your dog starts to anticipate the walk and you get high arousal often accompanied by barking at you to ‘hurry up’ (action prompting)!
To break this cycle of predictability and stop the demand barking, ditch your routine.
Identify which routines lead to an exciting event and start to change the routine. Be spontaneous, mix things up.
Here are some ideas for ditching your walk routine.
Sometimes a walk happens, and sometimes a calm ‘non-event’. Your dog never knows for sure, the arousal doesn’t increase, you will get more calmness.
The car ride to the local off-leash area is another common routine that builds arousal and action prompting behaviour (think whining, and barking in the car). Does your dog start to get excited at the sight of the car keys?
To ditch this routine, you could:
Note: anytime you leave your dog in the car, make sure that the temperature inside the car stays cool
Ditching the routine will grow calmness and reduce action prompting because your dog will no longer anticipate that A leads to B leads to C. If there is no predictable series of events that lead to an exciting outcome, you can reduce anticipation which will reduce arousal, promote calmness, and stop the action prompting.
You’ve ditched the routine, you are practicing calmness but what do you do when your dog bumps your arm to be petted, barks at you for food, drops the ball at your feet because they want to play?
It is okay for your dog to want your attention and affection but when they are action prompting it probably isn’t just about you. It is about you plus their disco pants are on and they want to party.
To bring about calmness in those situations, it’s time to bring out the consolation prize.
What is a consolation prize? Think of a consolation prize as acknowledgement of your dog’s actions but instead of giving them what they want, you give them the next best thing.
The consolation prize acknowledges your dog but guides them toward the behaviour you want in that specific situation. It removes the ambiguity, shows your dog what you want, and makes it easier for your dog to make the correct choice the next time.
Shortly after Piper joined our household, she started to whine in her crate around 6:00am because she wanted to go downstairs to snuggle on the pillow with dad. Because I didn’t want to encourage this form of action prompting, I employed a consolation prize. When she started to whine, I got out of bed, put on her collar and leash, walked her outside on the assumption that she needed to eliminate, brought her back in the house, put her in the crate and went to back to bed. I acknowledged her communication with a consolation prize. The whining stopped and now she is calm until I get up to let her out of her crate. After a few minutes of calmly getting scritches from me, she heads downstairs to snuggle with dad until he gets out of bed. A win for everyone!
By removing the ambiguity, you will grow their confidence (I know what to do in this situation) and their optimism (doing this predicts a good outcome for me).
After you have ditched the routine, and are giving consolation prizes, what can you do to grow the behaviour that you want? By identifying how you want your dog to communicate with you in that situation, you can start to reinforce the behaviour you want them to do.
Begging is a great opportunity to reinforce the behaviour that you want. Both Marley and Piper will beg (action prompt) my husband to give them food and he does. When they come to me and give me ‘the look’. I will acknowledge them with a scritch, but not give them food. As soon as they direct their attention away from me by doing something else, I will get up and give them a piece of food. My dogs have learned that to get food from me, the best approach is to ignore me and lay down on the couch, floor, or mat instead.
If your dog action prompts for attention, and you give a consolation prize. Also look for the times when they approach you calmly for attention. They might sit beside you and make eye contact. Reinforce those times with attention and interaction and your dog will offer more of those behaviours.
When I am sitting in our LazyBoy chair, Piper will come up beside the chair, give me ‘the look’, and I will lean over and scritch her tummy. This is action prompting but it is a communication method that is calm and polite and I have chosen to reinforce it with the attention and petting that she wants.
Inappropriate action prompting from your dog can have a negative impact on your relationship. Knowing how to handle the inappropriate behaviour and grow calmness and appropriate interactions will strengthen your relationship, increase the communication between you and your dog, and improve the household harmony. A win for everyone!
Adapted from teachings and various Facebooks lives by Dr. Tom Mitchell of Absolute Dogs.
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