The Bar Is Open
Classical conditioning can be a very powerful tool in getting faster and more reliable results in your training program. The Bar Is Open, the Bar Is Closed technique uses the principles of classical conditioning to change the way your dog feels about other dogs on leash. Classical conditioning deals with associations.
The presence of other dogs means that the bar is open and all kinds of good things happen, including affection, attention, and treats, regardless of the dog's behavior. She can be lunging or barking hysterically and you continue to drop treats like it is her birthday. When the other dog disappears, so do the treats and games and attention; in fact, the handler gives the dog the outright cold shoulder.
When using classical conditioning to change your dog's behavior, you'll want to be sure you keep your distance so that the other dogs can't come right up to you. Be sure your dog is on leash and at enough of a distance so as to give her every opportunity for success.
Classical conditioning tries to change the way a dog feels about having other dogs around by associating other dogs with good things. The drawback of this technique is that it takes the animal time to realize the association between the good stuff and the offending presence of another dog.
The way to use this technique effectively is to practice frequently to give your dog an increasingly big bank account for liking the sight of other dogs. Eventually your dog will like having other dogs around because it means she is going to have access to all the things she loves.
Here's how it works in real life:
Choose a spot where other dogs are likely to pass by. Bring all of your very best reinforcements. This can range from cheese, liver, and hot dogs to tennis balls, tug toys, and squeaky toys.
When other dogs are within sight, regardless of your dog's behavior, the bar is open. You bounce the ball, throw it, roll it, and shower your dog with treats, toys, and attention. As soon as the dog is out of sight, the bar is closed. You put your goodies away, step on the leash, and ignore your dog completely for at least two minutes.
When another dog comes by, you again open the bar; when it disappears, close the bar.
After repeating this over and over again, your dog will learn a new reaction to other dogs. She will learn that when other dogs are present, good things happen, and when they go, the fun is over.
Lunging and on-leash aggression are fairly serious behavior problems that require lots of consistent practice to change. These behaviors will not go away with just a little training, and good leash behavior needs to be constantly maintained. Dogs revert back to old habits if you don't consistently reinforce the right behaviors. Consider this behavior problem one that needs constant maintenance to ensure that the dog adopts the new behavior as a habit.
Remember that bad habits are hard to get rid of because they are comfortable. (Think of eating the wrong foods or smoking.) If a new behavior is going to replace an old one, there must be some planning involved and time set aside for practice. Keep in mind that as with any old habit, there will be regression and mistakes. Plan for them so they don't derail you and you can easily get back on track. With time, patience, love, and training, you can make any dog a better companion.