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Leadership Do's and Dont's
Learn to Earn

Pet Perception Management by Dr. Rolan Tripp

Invisible Pet - Dog or Cat


Pets who are adored by their human families, quickly find out how to get what they want and then begin to do whatever they want. When the pet becomes invisible, they quickly find out how to deliver what the pet parent wants, to become visible again.

What is "The Invisible Pet?"  (A = It's a strategy)

The "Invisible Dog" or "Invisible Cat" is a behavioral modification technique recommended for some pets where the owner pretends s/he can't see or hear the pet. The goal of this technique is to avoid the need for punishment by making human attention more valuable. 

If the dog or cat can get human attention at will, that attention becomes less valuable, and therefore less of a reward. 

The Invisible Pet is also useful during some behavior modification strategies as a time buffer between the OLD way things were, and the NEW way things are going to be.

Essentially, the Invisible Pet means that until the pet can pass the test below everyone in the home pretends the pet is invisible unless the pet is doing "work." (Work is explained below.)

If it is necessary to interact, (e.g. grooming, or pick up pet to put into the car) then just,
"Act Like A Robot" (i.e. do whatever need be done, but show no emotion). If the pet jumps in your lap, calmly put the pet back on the floor with no emotion (like a robot).

Exactly what do I do? (A = It's what you don't do that counts)

During this period, unless the pet is working, the pet parent must act as if the pet does not exist

Pretend he or she is invisible.  This means:

  • do not greet the pet at the door (just walk on by and then ask for a SIT to earn a greeting). If the pet does not sit on the first instruction then turn a cold shoulder and pet is invisible again.
  • do not pet the dog or cat when it lays its head in your lap - or any time the pet "asks"[1]
  • do not play with the dog or cat when he or she brings you a toy
  • do not make eye contact with the pet (except as a reward for following an instruction on the first request)
  • do not speak to the pet (except to give a instruction such as "sit")
  • do not respond to any pet initiation of attention or interaction
  • do not correct or punish the pet (if necessary put the pet in time-out for 5 - 10 minutes)
  • provide food and water asking for a sit first or without comment at regular times

For how long? 

Unless directed otherwise, begin with 3 days of complete Invisible Pet. This means that there is NOTHING the pet can do to get your attention.  It takes about this long for the pet to realize this is a pattern.  After 3 days, begin the "Learn to Earn" program where the pet can "earn" 7 seconds of praise, before reverting back to "Invisible".  It is a gradual process of returning to normal, with the pet learning to earn everything (food, greetings, play, etc.) and as the behavior improves, there is less and less earning required.

When can I give attention during this period? (A = when the pet is working for praise)

You can give the pet attention only WHILE the pet has Learned to Earn it.  A pet "works" when he or she is doing something you asked them to do. You can talk to, reassure, and pet the dog or cat for 7-8 seconds while it is actually doing a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay you requested

  • in the act of responding to any cue you give  Dog Cues
  • resting quietly in the pet's portable kennel or any other place you designate
  • ""Close Tethered" dog while quiet and relaxed
  • a dog chewing on an approved chew; cat scratching a post, eliminating in the box
  • waiting (not dashing) before going through any exterior door

How does the pet become "visible" again? (A = By passing a test)

The pet "earns" becoming visible again, by demonstrating that he or she will work for praise in a novel situation. 

Here is the test:

DOG: 

Without any food or treats, ask the dog to perform every instruction it knows. The pet must respond to a minimum of following instructions for Sit, Down, and Stay for at least 10 seconds (without you moving away - the pet must not move).The only reward is your praise. The dog must happily respond within 2 seconds of each instruction. If this test is passed, then the dog gradually earns more privileges in proportion to the responsiveness.  If the dog does not value praise enough to do these simple jobs, (during any test) he or she becomes "Invisible" except for working the "Learn to Earn" exercises.  This emphasizes that human praise and attention are very valuable commodities. To shape any new behavior - such as the accepting of gentling exercises - go back to "Invisible Dog" until you see cooperation when coupling new exercises with treats and praise. If the dog is just not responding, then request additional consulting.

CAT: 

The cat must consistently do any positive behavior that you are targeting to replace a negative behavior. The cat will sit and/or come more than 50% of the time when requested. The cat must allow gentling exercises without tenseness or aggression.

If this test is passed, then the cat gradually earns more privileges in proportion to the responsiveness. If the cat does not value praise enough to do these simple jobs, (come and/or sit half of the time) he or she returns to being "invisible" and learning that human praise and attention are very valuable commodities.

It is too difficult, I can't ignore my pet!

This technique is often difficult on pet parents but is a very important step in the behavior modification process.  Many pets for a short period do get worse before they get better. When your pet gradually realizes that his or her happiness is "earned" you will see life with your pet will get easier. 

It is human nature to occasionally make mistakes and feel frustrated. Do not take any frustration out on the pet. Take a time out for yourself, and just keep going with the program. Call 1-800-372-3706 ext 87 for support and assistance.

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...::::::: Copyright 2000-Present  All Rights Reserved by Rolan Tripp, DVM  and Susan Tripp, MS, Animal Behavior Network and Associates :::::::...