The Extinction Burst: Sometimes It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better
You heard right.
Often, when our dogs are displaying undesirable behaviour in the attempt to get your attention, the best way to curb the behaviour is to do nothing, yep, NOTHING! The fact of the matter is that even when we believe we are trying to discourage the behaviour, we can be involuntarily reinforcing it with our reaction, so the best thing to do is to simply IGNORE the dog.
The behaviour can also be unintentionally rewarded by countless reactions from various people. For example;
*The dog jumps up on everyone in a bid to get attention*
Grandma visits: “Shoo, get away”
Neighbour visits: “Awww, it’s okay I don’t mind”
Your young Niece visits: *Loud Shrieks*
You: THAT’S ENOUGH, GET DOWN!
The fact is, dogs do not speak English, so, any type of communication can reinforce this behaviour as (regardless of what you’re saying) you are still giving the dog what it wants; attention. It is important to ignore the behaviour and not give in to the pestering.
The hard truth is that it may get worse before it gets better. If your dog fails at getting your attention through his boisterous antics, do you think he will give up and stop? Of course not.
Think about it in this context. You have a torch that works perfectly. At night, you use your torch to check your yard. Every night you press the button on the torch and it turns on. Only one night, you go to check your yard only to discover the torch won’t work.
Do we immediately accept the fact that the torch won’t work and return to the house? Hardly!
- Continue to flick the switch, repeatedly and when that doesn’t work, we;
- Shake it and then our frustration builds and our behaviour escalates and we
- Slap the torch against the palm of our hand to get it started;
- Maybe we hit it hard against the closest thing we can find
And then, we give up!
The same concept applies with our dogs. If they don’t get the result they want, they will not just give up. They will jump higher, bark louder and test your patience beyond words to get the outcome they have received prior. And then, eventually, they will give up.
So, what is the Extinction Burst?
Simply put, extinction is the disappearance of a behaviour through lack of reinforcement.
However, an important characteristic of extinction is that before a behaviour stops completely, they often increase in intensity. An extinction burst is when the unwanted behaviour gets worse before it gets better during the onset of being ignored. The dog will persist as the behaviour has worked in the past but as soon as you ignore the dog, he will up the ante, jump higher, bark louder, the list goes on.
If you break, the work will be undone. If a guest allows the behaviour, the work will be undone. You as the owner will need to convey this to those who come into contact with your dog but, more often than not the best thing to do is to put your dog outside or in his crate to avoid relapse.
If you want to learn more, contact our trainers!