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Positive Interrupter - What it is & why you need it!

Lets talk about a new & positive way to stop our dogs unwanted behaviours. Remembering that dogs will be dogs and most unwanted behaviours are natural for them. They bark, run away, steal socks, dig, play too rough and get super excited. Sounds familiar right?

We often tell our dogs ‘NO’ or ‘UH AH’ or punish them to try to stop the behaviours that we don’t want, forgetting to reinforce the ones that we do want. Negative words and reactions can stop the behaviour absolutely, but watch your dog’s body language every time you tell them ‘NO’ or ‘UH AH’. Their ears will flatten, they might shy away from you, they might yawn or do a lip lick – these are all fear-based responses – and we NEVER want our dog to be afraid of us.

So how can we prevent these behaviours without instilling fear?

Let me show you a different and much more positive way to interrupt & redirect your dogs unwanted behaviours.

It is by using positive interrupter cues. These cues stop unwanted behaviours by interrupting, distracting and redirecting your dog away from what is infront of them and towards something else.

Firstly, what is a positive interrupter cue?

A positive interrupter is a noise or a word that we use that we train our dog to understand means ‘stop what you are doing and come to me immediately’. It doesn’t matter what your dog is doing, it could be chewing your couch, digging in your garden, barking at the neighbour’s dog or even running away from you when they have escaped out the front door. Whatever it may be, you want them to stop and come to you immediately.

First things first, we need to choose a positive interrupter cue.

Often the word ‘NO’ or ‘Leave it’ can be said forcefully or in a negative way, so we want to pick a word or noise that is really difficult to make sound negative. Some examples are:

- Woohoo

- Cupcake

- Sprinkles

- Rainbows

- Treats – a lot of dogs have already learnt what TREAT means so why not use it to reinforce positive behaviours?

Make sure when using your cue you are sounding excitable when doing so, the key is to be more excitable than barking, digging or whatever it is they are doing. Be sure you are not using your dogs name when doing so also.

Now you have chosen your positive interrupter cue, let’s grab some lotto-winning food to start training it. Such as bbq chicken, chopped-up hot dogs, cheese cubes or cocktail sausages. Something that your dog will find super yummy to highly motivate them. We must be paying our dogs handsomely for stopping what they are doing and returning to our side so make those treats the best you can find.

Like any new training, we always start inside the house so the dog can get it right. Start in a room with no distractions, give your dog the space to sniff and look around. Say your interrupter cue when you see they are busy exploring and when they look up at you, encourage ‘YES’ and give them a treat. This is loading the positive interrupter cue into their brain. At this time you are just showing your dog that every time you use your interrupter and they look at you they are rewarded.

Do this a few times in a row, then stop and do it again an hour or so later. Remember our dogs have short attention spans so short training sessions are what works best. Once you have a success rate of 90%, start to use it randomly during the day. When you are working on your computer/phone, when you are cooking dinner, sitting on the couch and they are playing with a toy, use your interrupter when the dog looks at you or comes to find you and be sure to reward handsomely.

Now start practicing outdoors. When you have a 90% success rate inside, head out to the backyard where the distraction levels are a little higher. I recommend training all new cues this way – inside with low distraction, then in the back yard with a little more distraction, then the front yard, then a big empty space/park with no other dogs. Ensure your always training your dog on lead to begin with to set them up for success.

Put your dog on lead, wander around the yard and when they are busy sniffing the air or the ground, use your interrupter cue. When they are successful in your backyard consistently, remove your dog’s lead and practice without. Ensuring to reward every time they return to you.

An interrupter cue only stops the behaviour, we need to follow up by asking them to do something else instead. Which is to come to your side. To encourage this, you can drop some treats on the ground next to you when using your interrupter cue, so they know that is where they are expected to be when the cue is used.

With time and practice, they will come to you for their reinforcement every single time the positive interrupter is used.

We recommend not using your interrupter to actually stop bad behaviours until you have done atleast 3 weeks of training with it to ensure your dog has a full understanding of their expectations when it is used. This sets them up for success. 3 weeks is the average timeframe it can take a dog to learn a new cue. When your dog is stopping and coming to you every single time that you use your interrupter, that’s when you can start to put it into action to interrupt their unwanted behaviours.

What happens if you’ve used your interrupter cue and the dog returned to your side, you paid them handsomely… but then they just go straight back to what they were doing?

This is what we call a behaviour chain, and we need to break that.

So firstly, we do the cue again to ask the dog to return to us. Once they have, we remove the dog from the situation, close the door or blind, take them inside or separate them from their friends for a little break. This will stop the dog from reengaging in the behaviour. This is called management – management and training go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other. While we are shaping the dog and encouraging good behaviours, sometimes we also must manage the situation.

We want to ensure that all training is done positively and force free. Our dogs should want to do what we ask of them, not simply doing as we ask out of fear. We want to build a relationship where there is something in it for them and for us.

We also want to set our dogs up for success. When they don’t get it right, we need to ask ourselves:

Did I make myself clear? Did I break it down into basic enough steps? Have we done it enough times for them to remember?

Are they too tired to train? Is there too many distractions?

Be clear, consistent, and patient and you and your dog will get there together.

Happy Training!

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