This post is a follow-up to a comment on last week’s Thousand Treat Challenge post:
“Do you think it will work if you just treat for good behaviour? My parents have a 1 year old Rottweiler who is getting a bit out of control and I am afraid he is getting more negative than positive attention. I thought if they can look out for any good behaviour and treat that, maybe it would help calm/focus the dog.”
Yes! I’ve been meaning to write about Kathy Sdao’s terrific book Plenty in Life is Free – Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace and your question is a perfect fit for her SMART x 50 program. Kathy Sdao is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who teaches seminars around the world – and those pet owners lucky enough to live close enough to work with her in Tacoma, Washington through her Bright Spot Dog Training business. Her book is so beautifully written that I had to start reading really slowly so it wouldn’t end too quickly. Definitely get the book for a better understanding but I’ll give you an overview of how Kathy’s SMART x 50 will give you a framework for just what you are thinking of doing.
What is SMART x 50?
Kathy’s Get SMART protocol refers to:
Excerpted from Plenty in Life is Free:
“…Capitalize on the numerous desirable behaviors and animal performs over the course of an average day by:
- noticing them
- pointing them out to the animal (“mark” with a click or “yes”)
- then giving the animal a reward in order to increase the strength of those behaviors”
Practically speaking, SMART x 50 is a simple way to get started on noticing the behaviors your dog already does that you’d like to see more of.
Kathy says, “We could envision that a significant portion of the good behaviors we want to develop are already in our dogs. By saying ‘yes’ to these, over and over, we encourage our dogs’ cooperative, calm, controlled actions. Our frequent, precisely timed, meaningful reinforcements — our ‘yeses,’ each followed by an event the dogs considers rewarding — will etch desirable behavioral grooves into our dogs’ repertoires.”
How to Do SMART x 50
- Count out 50 small, healthy treats each day
- Set them out on the counter in a bag or container for easy access and a good visual reminder
- When see your dog doing something cute or useful, mark the behavior (with clicker or just use a word like “Yes” or “Yep;” the precision of the clicker isn’t necessary)
- Give your dog a treat
- Use up 50 treats per day
The beauty of SMART x 50 is that you can do it anyway you want. Just do it! You can choose one or two particular behaviors over the course of a week and see for yourself that your dog ends up doing MORE of those specific behaviors or you can look more generally for various behaviors you like. In my Dogs and Babies class, I tell expectant parents to even start with any behavior that is simply not annoying. If it’s 2:00 PM and your dog’s behavior is not annoying you, go see what he’s doing and mark and reward. This is the behavior you will want more of when you are busy with the baby!
I love how Kathy says (paraphrased): Look, you don’t even have to do fifty treats if that seems overwhelming. You can do SMART x 25 or SMART x 10!
“Whatever the accommodation, it’s crucial that the objective remain ambitious (or ‘aspirational’ as one colleague put it). It should be challenging enough to foster continuing behavioral development for the dogs, but not so discouraging that the humans give up trying.”
Back to the Original Question…
Noticing and reinforcing the behaviors you want to see more of will never hurt and will probably give your parents better results than seem possible from such a simple approach. However, a one-year-old dog will also need help building a repertoire of specific behaviors to go with different contexts — what to do when people eating dinner, what do to when the doorbell rings, what to do when the leash comes out, etc.
Some of this will come from training and some will come from how your parents set up his options. For example, it’s perfectly fine to use a leash to prevent jumping on guests. This gives them the opportunity to see, mark and reward calmer and more attentive behavior at a bit more distance without allowing him to rehearse jumping behaviors while everyone tries to get him to stop.
And, of course, young dogs really do need exercise and mental stimulation and things to do. This stuff really isn’t optional.
SMART x 50 will always be helpful, but it needs to be in conjunction with meeting the dog’s needs and setting him up for success. Give it a try! Let me know what you notice after two weeks.