One of the most important skills for preventing your dog’s misbehavior is knowing how to redirect them before they act. Redirection simply means taking their attention away from whatever they’re focused on and bringing it back to you.
Don’t confuse redirection with blocking. The former is for use when your dog’s energy level is lower and does not involve touch. The latter is necessary when a dog’s energy level is above a five out of 10, and does require touch.
Cesar’s “Tsch!” sound is redirection, while his touch with three fingers in a “claw” is blocking. This article will be dealing with how to redirect your dog.
The idea of redirection is to provide a stimulus that will distract your dog from whatever they’ve fixated on, whether it’s another dog, a person, a squirrel, or a noise outside. Ideally, you’ll want to associate whatever sound you use for redirection with a reward, whether it’s a “tsch,” a clicker, the dog’s name, or some other verbal or non-verbal cue.
- Create the positive association
In order for redirection to work on your dog, it has to get your dog’s attention, and the best way to do this is to associate it with a reward through positive reinforcement. The goal is to get your dog to always turn to you when they hear the sound because, to them, it means they’re going to get something good.To build the association you’ll need a reward, which depends on what motivates your dog. For some dogs, treats work. For others, it can be a favorite toy or just praise. Once you have the reward, start making the sound and begin rewarding when your dog turns their attention to you.Gradually escalate this until the sound gets your dog to focus on you and sit, using short training sessions repeated daily. Also practice using the sound to call your dog from another room, and reward her when she does so.
- Reinforce the stimulus without reward
Once your dog is responding the right way to the sound whenever you make it, it’s time to start mixing it up by not always giving a reward other than verbal praise. The goal here is to get your dog to respond to the sound every time whether he gets a treat or not. You’re teaching him that there’s always a chance of a reward, so it’s always a good thing to look to you when he hears the sound.In this phase of the training, provide the reward at random until your dog’s response to it seems to become automatic, treat or no treat. One thing to watch out for, though, is your dog starting to perform the desired behavior without the stimulus, in which case he’s trying to use his behavior to train you. If you’ve ever trained a dog to “shake,” then had him start putting his paw up as soon as you move toward the goodie jar, then you know what this looks like.If your dog does start anticipating, then you need to show the reward but make them not do the desired behavior until you tell them too. This will reinforce the idea that you’re the one in control, and not your dog.
- Learn when to use it
The most important part of redirecting a dog is knowing when and when not to do it. You want to use it to prevent unwanted behavior while avoiding using it just to get your dog’s attention, or when a dog might be about to engage in acceptable behavior.For example, you should redirect your dog if they’re about to jump on someone, bark when you don’t want them to, approach another dog in too forward a fashion, and so on. You don’t want to redirect your dog if they’re about to greet another dog in a friendly way, or if they’re just showing curiosity about something without showing aggression or fear. You definitely don’t want to redirect a dog just because you feel like it in the moment — this will lead to inconsistency and confuse your dog.
The ideal time to use the redirection is just as your dog’s mind is committing to the unwanted behavior. If you think of it as your dog climbing a mountain, give the redirection right as the dog is reaching the peak, not before and not after she’s started down the far side.
- Practice, practice, practice
Keep refining your timing of the redirection and learn how your dog indicates when he’s about to engage in unwanted behavior. Be consistent and occasionally reinforce with a reward. Most of all, remember that redirection isn’t so much you telling the dog, “No!” Rather, it’s you saying to the dog, “Ignore that and look at me.” You’re not punishing the dog for what he might be about to do, but rewarding him for not doing it and, if you’ve done the other steps properly, you have become your dog’s reward.
What sound, word, or gesture do you use to redirect your dog? Tell us in the comments.