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Untraining Your Dog's Behaviors

Updated on August 18, 2015

There are eight methods a trainer can chose from when untraining a behavior. Four of the methods are negative and four are positive, and not all of the methods are fair to the subject.

Shoot the Animal

This is the most extreme method, but it always works. This method should be a last resort.

An example of this method would be:

You have a dog who barks nonstop at anything and everything. I mean this dog barks at a leaf on the ground. You've chosen to take the dog to the vet and have his vocal cords snipped.


Most of the time punishment doesn't work because it doesn't coincide with the behavior but after it. The subject learns two things: (1) alter the behavior to avoid the consequence and (2) try not to get caught. The animal really doesn't learn anything but how to avoid the punishment. Using punishment to untrain an undesired behavior may cause the subject to fear you because he may associate you with the punishment. If you use punishment to train an animal, you must arrange things so that the animal doesn't see the consequence associated with you.

For example, when trying to keep the dog off the couch, use mousetraps. When the dog jumps on the couch, the mousetraps will go off, pinching the dog. This punishes jumping on the couch and strengthens the behavior of staying on the floor.

Cats are perceived as untrainable because they do not respond well to punishment and threats. Birds frighten easily when threatened, so punishment cannot be used with birds.

The only way to stop a behavior with punishment is to catch the behavior early because otherwise it becomes habit

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is anything that the subject perceives as unpleasant, an event or a stimulus, that can stop a behavior. For example, a cow is in a field with an electric fence. When the cow touches the fence, she feels a shock, so she pulls away to stop the shock. The behavior of touching the fence is punished, but the behavior of avoiding the fence is reinforced. Negative reinforcement is used to shape a behavior, but it must be reliant to the behavior. Overuse of negative reinforcement can cause similar affects as punishment: a fallout effect where the animal feels fear and becomes passive.


Extinction is the process by which the undesired behavior dies down by itself with the lack of reinforcements. The trainer ignores the behavior.


Habituation is the process by which an unconditioned response is eliminated. If the animal is exposed to an aversive stimulus that it cannot avoid, eventually it's avoidance response will be extinguished

Train an Incompatible Behavior

Train the animal to perform another behavior that is incompatible with the undesired one. For example, a dog can't sit to greet a stranger and jump on them at the same time. Giving the dog an alternative behavior gives you more control over him, and it allows you to reward him for an appropriate response. You can try:

Greet visitors with a toy in the dog's mouth instead of jumping on them.

  • Go to his bed or mat when the doorbell rings.
  • Do a play bow when he sees another dog.
  • Retrieve a toy instead of barking at the window at a passerby.
  • Look at you instead of lunging at other dogs.
  • Target/Touch your hand instead of running away

Put the Behavior on Cue

When nothing else works, and you don't want to resort to using the ‘Shoot the Animal' method, this one works. This is the natural law to extinguish all kinds of undesired behaviors. Put the undesired behavior under the control of a cue; every time the animal performs the behavior begin to give it a cue and treat the behavior. Eventually, when the animal performs the behavior only when the cue is given, stop giving the cue. The behavior will stop.

Shape the Absence of the Behavior

This method is useful in the cases where you don't have anything particular that you want to train the subject besides to the undesired behavior.

Change the Motivation

This is the kindest and most effective of the eight methods. If you can determine the motivation that causes the behavior, change it by creating a new motivation. Sometimes the motive may be reassurance.


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    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      It sounds like a territory deal, which will take a little more training than someone with little experience can handle. I urge you to try to save the money for training classes via a professional or find a better suited home for the dog. I hate to say that, but sometimes it's best for the dog and you.

      By the way did you try to find the owner?

    • profile image

      Collin 7 years ago

      Hi, i also have a pit/boxer mix and my girlfriend found him in front of her apartment and we have taken him in and tried to help him. He is a great dog, but has one problem; She has another dog it's a multipoo, and it likes to jump on the couch, and when her dog jumps on the couch the other dog we found growls and tries to go after him, is there any way to fix that? Were trying the squirt bottle method now and don't really have the money for classes or behavorlist. Please help us, i don't wanna get rid of this dog.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Are you sure that he was trained to fight other dogs? Or is he just aggressive towards other dogs. There's a big difference. Also, many dogs try to attack other dogs through a fence, that doesn't necessarily mean they were trained to fight. I personally have 2 dogs who are great with each other, but try to attack dogs on the other side of the fence, and they were never trained to fight or be aggressive.

      Also, usually dogs who are trained to fight other dogs, do not necessarily hate people, usually they are still pretty fond of people. The dog could have been abused. There are just so many factors that could have happened, and unless you know the story first hand from the owners or saw the acts, you cannot assume what happened.

      I would suggest that you find a dog behaviorist and professional trainer (not petsmart or petco). Otherwise, keep the dog away from other dogs. Reinforce basic obedience. WORK with the dog. You can train leave it and sit/stay which will help a lot. But you have to work, reiforce, work some more.

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      Alex 9 years ago

      hey, my boxer/pit-bull was abused before i got him. he was trained to fight other dogs. at first he hated people but now he doesn't mind them, but he hates other dogs. i tried to get him used to dogs by going to a dog park and staying on the outside, but when dogs get near the fence he attacks the fence. how do i stop that. i want him to go in the dog park without attacking others.

    • profile image

      Oscar Jones 9 years ago

      Hi Whitney, if only more owners would take the time to understand how a dog thinks and operates and therefore how they need to form a hierachy to ensure the dog is put in the correct place with regards to authority, we could all avoid having to remove unwanted behavior in our dogs as they wouldn't be present in the first instance.