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 Dog Behavior Library


Behavior Modification
The Invisible Dog

What is the Invisible Dog?
(A = It's a strategy)

Dogs who are adored by their owners, quickly find out how to get what they want. They they begin to do these things to get whatever it is they want at the time.  When they become invisible, they quickly find out how to deliver what  the owner wants, so as to become visible again.

The "Invisible Dog" is a behavioral modification technique recommended for some dogs.  The goal of this technique is to avoid the need for punishment by making human attention more valuable.  If the dog can get human attention at will, that attention becomes less valuable, and therefore less of a reward. 

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

Essentially, the Invisible Dog means that for 1 week intervals, (until the dog can pass the test below) everyone in the home pretends the dog is invisible, unless it is doing "work." (work is explained below)

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

During this period, unless the dog is working, the owner must act as if the dog does not existPretend the dog is invisible.  This means:

  • do not greet the dog at the door (just walk on by if the dog cannot SIT to earn a greeting)
  • do not pet the dog when it lays its head in your lap - or any time it "asks" [1]
  • do not play with the dog when it brings you a toy
  • do not make eye contact with the dog (unless the dog is working)
  • do not speak to the dog (except to give a Instruction)
  • do not respond to any request for attention or interaction
  •  do not punish the dog (if necessary put the dog in time-out)
  •  provide food and water without comment at the normal times
When can I give attention during this period?
(A = when the dog is working for praise)

You can give the dog attention only WHILE the dog is working.  A dog "works" when he or she is doing something you asked the dog to do.

You can talk to, reassure, and pet the dog while it is actually

  • doing a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay you requested
  • in the act of responding to any Instruction you give
  • resting quietly in the pet's portable kennel or any other place you designate
  • "close tethered" while quiet and relaxed
  • chewing on an approved chew
  • waiting to go through any exterior door

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

The dog "earns" becoming visible again, by demonstrating that it will work for praise in a novel situation.  Here is the test:

Take the dog to a safe off-leash area where you do not commonly give Instructions.  A specific area in the back yard or an unused tennis court works nicely.  Without any food treats, ask the dog to perform every Instruction it knows, but at least Sit, Down, and Stay.  The only reward is your praise, and the dog must happily respond within 2 seconds of each Instruction.  If this test is passed, then the dog becomes visible for a month.  If the dog does not value praise enough to do these simple jobs, (during any test) he or she returns to 1 additional week of being "invisible" and learning that human praise and attention are very valuable commodities.

It is too difficult - I can't ignore my dog!

This technique is often difficult on owners but is a very important step in the behavior modification recommended for your dog.  Many dogs for a short period do get worse before they get better.  When he or she gradually realizes that their happiness is "earned" it will get easier.  It is in our nature to occasionally make mistakes and be frustrated.  Be strong and stick with the program!

[1] At greetings, ask the dog to SIT.  If it does sit, then crouch and greet briefly.  If the dog cannot sit, just walk on by.

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