Interrupters: Squirt Bottles, Newspaper Swats, Shake Cans – Are They Effective for Changing Dogs’ Rude Behaviors?


Interrupters are corrections people use to momentarily stop their dogs’ behaviors. Examples of potential interrupters are shouting “no”, squirting with a water bottle, shaking a can with pennies, tossing keys on the floor, swatting with a newspaper, or holding a pup’s muzzle closed.

Interrupters can stop a behavior for the moment. Great, sometimes we need to stop a dog or puppy from misbehaving! Unfortunately, interrupters do not necessarily decrease the likelihood of the behavior reoccurring in the future.

Interrupters decrease behaviors for the moment and can be very useful short-term tools when we are unprepared. Interrupters do not efficiently modify behavior over the long term.

Many of my clients with serious problems unknowingly intensify the problems via the improper use of interrupters.

If you answer “YES” to any of the following questions it is very likely that you are using interrupters inefficiently and/or your methods of communicating and teaching are flawed.

  • Have you used the interrupter on many occasions to stop the same behavior(s)?
  • Is the behavior occurring as often today as it was yesterday?
  • Will the dog cower at the sight of the interrupter, even though he or she is not misbehaving?
  • Does the interrupter need to be visible, or held in your hand, before the dog will comply with your wishes?
  • Are you constantly carrying the interrupter with you, or purposely placing the interrupter within easy reach?

Using constant interrupters as teaching tools has unwanted side effects, the least of which is a confused, distrustful dog. In addition, interrupters do not teach the dog which behaviors you do want.

Interrupt – Redirect – Pay

You can use interrupters effectively if you complete the thought and tell your dog what is acceptable. Interrupt –> redirect –> pay is the most efficient use of interrupters.

Anytime you say “no”, ask yourself these two questions. What exactly would I like my dog to do at this moment and exactly where would I like him to do it?  Once you have these answers, you’ve just identified your redirect behaviors and your next training goal. Teach your dog to perform the redirect behaviors in that specific context. Do this when you have complete control of the environment.

For instance, suppose your dog jumps up on the dishwasher door and licks dishes when you are loading your dishwasher. Ok, you’ve defined the problem, now decide on a solution.

What exactly would you like your dog to do when you load the dishwasher? Where would you like him to do it?

You’ve decided that you’d like your dog to lie on the kitchen area-rug when you load the dishwasher. Here’s a summary of your training plan. Variations of this exercise can be used to address other problems such as bolting out open doors and stealing food from counters.

Remember, you can’t teach your dog when life is calling the shots! Set aside some time and teach your dog this specific skill.

First, teach your dog “Go to Place (place is the rug)”.

Gradually increase the time he must stay on the rug before you pay him.

Add the distractions of the dish loading process – one step at a time. Have him stay while you bend down and touch the handle, while you operate the door handle, while you open and close the door, while you place a dish inside, et cetera.

After a few short sessions, your dog will know exactly what to do, when you load dishes, and he will know exactly where to do it!

The next time your dog jumps up on the dishwasher door, tell him “no”, immediately cue him to Go to Rug, then release and pay him – after you are through with your task.

Better yet; before you begin to clean up, tell your dog to “Go to rug”. Don’t forget to pay him after you are finished cleaning up!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer, Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Behavior and Training Services

Memphis, TN

How’s Bentley

AA-2 What is Animal Training? Communication & Cooperation

quickstart2jpgAnimal Training

What is animal training? Animal training is the act of encouraging or discouraging an animal to perform specific behaviors more often or less often under particular circumstances.

It’s really all about increasing and decreasing behaviors.

Every time you increase one desirable behavior, you decrease multiple undesirable behaviors. For example, when you teach your dog to “sit”, you decrease jumping up, bolting out open doors, et cetera.

When you increase “come”, you decrease running into the street, chasing cars, et cetera.

One of the best animal trainers in the world, Kayce Cover, M.A., B. S. taught me the following summarizing concept.

Successful animal trainers all have these traits in common. Successful trainers know:

  • which components of a behavior he or she wishes to increase or decrease
  • how to communicate this to the animal
  • how to motivate the animal to want to perform those behaviors

Components of Behaviors

All behaviors consist of many individual behaviors. Dog trainers analyze behaviors and decide which of the individual components should be increased and decreased.

Before a trainer can form a lesson plan, he or she must identify the components that make up the target behavior and identify which skills or components should be taught first.

This sounds easy, but many people never think about it.

In fact, until they meet me, most of my clients never formally teach their dogs the most basic skill that is necessary before the dog can learn “sit” and “come”.

What is the basic skill, the first component or prerequisite behavior your dog must know to comply with “sit” or “come”? It is “Attention”.

Although you can teach your puppy “sit” and “come”, without ever teaching your dog to look towards you on command, these behaviors are likely to break down when there are distractions.

For instance, your puppy may come when he or she is in the back yard and totally ignore your requests when running free in the front yard.

The point is – before you can teach your pup to perform a behavior in distracting environments, you should teach, practice and refine each component of the behavior in less distracting environments.

And yes, before you can do any of these, just like a trainer, you’ll need to identify all the components of the behaviors.

Communicate and Motivate

In order to communicate with anyone or any animal, we must have a language in common. Since dogs don’t speak our language it’s our job to introduce words, signals or phrases and explain their meanings.

Without knowledge of how animals learn, we often send conflicting signals.

“No” and “Come”

Most people naturally use the word “no” and expect their puppy to understand the meaning. People add harsh voice tones in attempts to explain the meaning.

In some instances with some dogs, it works. The dogs stop the behaviors and never perform those behaviors again. In other instances, it fails miserably. More often people unknowingly give the puppy conflicting information.

For example, a puppy jumps up and the person says “no” as he or she pushes the puppy off. This is a very common mistake.

The act of touching the puppy with their hands, and talking to the puppy (even in harsh tones) tells the puppy that jumping up is a good strategy to receive attention and touch.

When your pup jumps up, he or she is soliciting touch and attention. To communicate to your very young puppy that jumping up is not the best strategy to receive touch and attention, just turn and walk away.

Take a few steps, turn to face your puppy.  Ask him or her to sit. Once your puppy sits, deliver attention and touch!

Since puppies rarely learn from one instance, your puppy will immediately jump up when you offer attention for sitting. That’s okay, just disconnect again and repeat the sequence. After a few days with many repetitions, your puppy will catch on!

This sequence communicates two concepts. One, “jumping up makes me go away” and two, “sitting politely makes me deliver attention and touch”!

Another example is the word “come”. People say “come” and expect the puppy to run towards them.

This may be effective for a 10 week-old puppy, but as the dog ages, he or she gains confidence and is less likely to come just because the people say the word “come”.

Off leash obedience is an advanced skill. You’ll need to practice on leash in many situations before you can expect your dog to come anytime you call.

Some people actually teach their puppies to ignore the come command. They “end” their puppy’s fun or even punish their puppy after they come.

Examples are scolding and taking away an item after the puppy comes, crating the puppy and leaving the house after the puppy comes, pointing to a mess on the floor and scolding the puppy.

Hugs and Head Pats

Other primitive forms of communication include hugs and head pats. Sometimes we are so sure our dogs enjoy particular interactions, that we fail to recognize their likes and dislikes.

A natural assumption is that puppies like to be picked up and “loved”. Another assumption is that pups really enjoy a pat on the head.

All dogs do not necessarily like hugs or head pats.

Many dogs consider top-of-the-head pats and hugs as unpleasant. These dogs lower their heads and/or move away from their people.

Watch your puppy’s body language. If your pup starts moving away when you reach for him or her, whatever it is that you usually do, is not considered pleasant by your puppy!

Body Blocks

If you watch dogs at work or play, you’ll notice they use their bodies to block or herd other animals. When dogs use body blocks, they rarely make contact. They control the other animals’ access to areas by occupying territory with their bodies. In addition to body blocks, they use head position, tail position, body stance, et cetera to communicate.

We can’t imitate canine body language but in some situations, body blocks are an excellent method to teach dogs about areas that are off limits.

Anytime you gently restrain or touch your dog, you are rewarding your dog with attention and touch.

Instead of reaching for your dog’s collar, herd that rascal away from the door, the kitchen counter, the living room, et cetera with a body block!

To use a body block, just step in front of your dog and block his or her access to the area.

Because dogs naturally control space with their bodies, they understand the meaning of body blocks. Using body blocks is a clear method to communicate “Stay away, this area is off limits”.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley