Ask the Advisor: Stranger Danger Part 2
When you use a toy/ball to trigger prey drive and reduce defense drive, does the dog ever perceive the toy as a reward for the defensive behavior? She has the same problem with her 2 year old rat terrier, so she was very intrigued by your advice. But she is also concerned that she may inadvertently reinforce the barking. Does that ever happen, or does the shift take place on a more instinctive level?-Tiffany
Tiffany, you have a very valid concern b/c done with the wrong timing in a consistent manner, the ball / toy can become a reward for bad behaviors.. people do this with praise towards their dogs at the wrong time all the time and the results are usually an increase in the dog's bad behavior simply b/c they are being rewarded for that same bad behavior.
If the dog does a bad behavior and you reward the dog for that bad behavior, he is likely doing it again... this goes whether you use balls, toys, treats, or praise.
However, if BEFORE the dog does the bad behavior (but shows signs such as a closed mouth or stare down, indicating the bad behavior is about to be exhibited) the dog gets a surprise positive trigger (such as the squeaky sound of a toy or ball), you can quickly divert the dog's attention and get him to focus on the toy / ball therefore stopping the bad behavior from ever occurring.
Also, if you know that meeting certain people or in certain areas is a problem, then you may set up a mock meeting where the greeter has the squeaky ball and that ball / toy is used initially (BEFORE the dog is even triggered with any defense mechanisms) to make the positive association.
In short, the timing of the positive trigger item (such as toy / ball) is very important so that it is not turned into a reward for bad behavior.
Some things are just easier to demonstrate and teach hands-on than to explain them in writing.