Tuesday Training Tidbits: Is Behavior Too Difficult to Change?

E pluribus unum is Latin for “out of many, one”.

It’s a phrase that you’ll see on the Seal of the United States, but it also applies to behavior: From many small movements, one big behavior.

Sometimes behaviors seem too difficult to change. They’re too big, too complicated, or too fast. For example, perhaps a dog rushes out of the crate, ignoring the handler’s signals. If the dog is not listening, how do you communicate with it? How can you change this behavior?

Breaking down canine behavior

“Rushing out of the crate” is not just one behavior. There is no button on the dog marked “rush out of the crate”. Barging out of the crate is actually comprised of dozens of individual behaviors, which, though they can pass in the blink of an eye, can be captured by the trainer, interrupted, or otherwise used to alter the behavior of the dog.

Breaking down a movement
Source: Jean-Yves Lemoigne

Look at this time lapse photo of a tennis swing — how many component behaviors can you see (“move ankle *this* way”, “tilt wrist *that* way”, “lean at *this* moment”, “kick off from *this* leg”) that you could alter to change this “tennis swing” behavior?

Likely, the dog’s “rush out of the crate” behavior probably contains a bunch of component behaviors, especially before it even appears to begin.

Before the dog starts running you will see behaviors that are part of the rush:

  • Eyeing the crate door
  • Crouching
  • Pawing
  • Tensing muscles
  • Other movements indicating the dog’s intention to rush

Puppy in crate

Can you think of a way to stop or change the “rushing out of the crate” chain by using any of these individual component behaviors? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Extra credit: take a look at this awesome slow-motion footage of a dog leaping for treats. and see how many component behaviors you can see that make up the “leaping for treats” behavior!