Dog’s Eye View: What’s the function? |

Dog’s Eye View: What’s the function?

The WTF, or what’s the function, “trendy” acronym was shared by the professor teaching a course on Applied Behavior Analysis called “Living and Learning with Animals.”

Sandra Kruczek, my co-writer for this column, and I have taken this class through her consulting company called Behavior+ Works. Dr. Susan Friedman is our esteemed instructor and mentor. You can find out more about her amazing class by checking out her website,

Every behavior has a function. Good behavior presented to us from our companion animals serves a function. If your dog lowers her head, flattens her ears and wags her whole body as well as her tail as she approaches us, we see this as an invitation to offer attention and give her rubs. Each time the dog offers this behavior, we offer attention. The same dynamic holds true for all living things.

When a behavior is presented that is considered inappropriate, we have to take a look at its function. What is reinforcing this behavior?

As an example, a frequent complaint is dogs jumping up on people. Jumping up is a very common greeting behavior in that it serves to get a puppy close to the face of the person being greeted.

When that puppy was 8 weeks old and no more than 8 pounds, we delighted in this closeness and the licks smelling like puppy breath. This behavior is being reinforced by us. There is attention and affection being returned. We pick up the pup and snuggle close offering neck scratches and physical closeness. Who doesn’t love that innocent little guy offering licks and snuggles?

What’s the function? The behavior of jumping up serves as a greeting ritual, and it starts a dialog. That is the function.

Now that the puppy is 50 pounds of slobbering muddy paws and you just got home from work, that very greeting behavior that elicited praise and attention becomes an aversive encounter for the human. Your clothes are ruined, your arms are all scratched up and she’s rolled in something unsavory out in the yard. Yeah, but she’s so happy to see you! Didn’t you kneel down and open your arms and capture that wiggly body for petting and hugs just a couple of months ago? What’s a human to do?

It’s time to create another greeting ritual. How do you want this adolescent, hyper, active dog to greet you? Once you decide what behavior is appropriate, it’s time to teach it to your dog.

Yeah, but she mauls me as soon as I open the door. OK, now we know where to start the training. How about teaching your dog to greet you sitting on a special rug by the door? Practice teaching sits every time your dog comes near you.

Carry a pocket full of yummy treats to reinforce the behavior each time it’s requested or offered. Remember to reinforce while the dog is sitting. Now practice while your dog is on the rug a few times every day. Practice teaching her to sit on the rug while you open the door and walk through. Then return through the door and ask for sit again.

You easily can teach your dog to sit by holding a treat close to her nose and raising it up and between her ears very slowly. As her head goes up, her rear end goes down. Immediately pay that effort with a treat while your dog is sitting. Then back up and do it again.

After about five successful sits, do the same motion without a treat in your hand. Just pretend there’s one there. Then as soon as your dog sits quickly, before your dog gets up, reward with a treat. Back up and do it again. Practice this at feeding time, before you attach the leash, before you put the food bowl down, etc. Pretty soon you have a dog who is willing to offer to sit for you on a regular basis.

Take a wild guess on how many times you let that cute puppy put paws on you to say “Hello.” Now double that number and plan twice as many practice sessions teaching your dog to say “Hi” while sitting. Then teach yourself to be proactive and request the new behavior before your dog has a chance to jump up for greetings.

What’s the function? Sitting on the rug by the door is reinforced by praise, munchies and neck scratches when you get home. And your dog also is rewarded with two minutes of quality interaction. Your proactive asking for the appropriate behavior also is being reinforced by your dog’s willing compliance. It’s a win-win solution. Your young dog can wiggle until her heart’s content while sitting on her rug.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado. We welcome ideas and suggestions for future articles. You can contact us at

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