PAWS Training and Behavior Modification LLC
7 Steps to Survive the Extinction Burst
Dog behavior can be quite simple. Dogs will continue to do the behavior that is reinforced. Some behavior is reinforced by the owner, while some is relf-reinforced. Today we're talking about the behavior that we don't like, and want to go away, that is accidentally reinforced by the owner. Reinforcement can be the obvious such as food, treats, toys, and physical praise. It can also be the less obvious such as playing, eye contact, talking to them, pushing them away, picking them up, and even telling them “no”.
An extinction burst can be described simply: "if this has always worked, it always will work, and if it doesn’t, I just need to try harder." For example, if you walk into a dark room and flip a light switch, the light will turn on. But what happens when the light doesn’t turn on? Do you immediately check if your power is still on, or do you change the light bulb? Not likely; you most likely flip the light switch a few times before giving up and trying something else. That is an extinction burst.
Let’s use an example with your dog. If every time your dog jumps, you reinforce the behavior (eye contact, talk to, play, wrestle, pet, pick up, etc.) they will continue to jump. But if you stop reinforcing the behavior, your dog won’t just immediately stop jumping. They’ll think: “I just need to try harder!” They will jump higher, maybe more frantically, maybe try nipping or play biting you. They will have an extinction burst. To get through the extinction burst, you have to have a plan, be prepared to follow through, and be more stubborn than your dog.
There is a tricky part to all of this. It’s hard, like really hard, to ignore behavior. Especially during the extinction burst. Let’s go back to our light switch example. If while flipping the switch over and over, the light turns on, we learn that if I try really hard, it will work. Not that the bulb needs replacing, or you have a power outage, or even that maybe the wiring is a little faulty. You don’t need to find a different way to get the light on, because of your stubbornness you were able to turn on the light. How this applies to your dog: if during the extinction burst you reinforce the behavior (give them the positive or negative attention they’re looking for) they will learn that if they try harder and are more stubborn, they will get what they want. The next time you attempt to ignore their undesired behavior, it will take longer, and require you to be even more stubborn to see the extinction burst through to the end. This is even harder when you have multiple people trying to train the dog. A weak link can cause all sorts of problems.
Here are 7 steps to help you through the extinction burst:
So far we've talked about jumping, however there are other behaviors dogs will do to get your attention. All of these behaviors will have an extinction burst when you try to change your response to your dog. Follow the steps above and you should see these behaviors slip away.
As always, please ask any time you have questions. I love to talk dogs! Thanks so much for reading this post. If you found it helpful, please share on social media!