Photo by Arl Otod of Flickr

Bad Habits?

Do you have a friend or know a child that has an annoying habit like biting their nails, or maybe they have a tendency for over-enthusiastic responses in situations? There might be some ways you can help curb those habits without reaching for those shock collars.

There is a video after the jump to show how interruptions can break bad habits with dogs, but there are some ways to break people-habits as well.



Demonstrated by Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of Sirius Dog Training and Dog Star Daily.

I was reminded about this topic while working with our new puppy at home. Our newest little monster, dubbed “Buttons” by my mother, has found it great fun to go wander the house on his own and out of our sight. While he is potty-trained now, it is slightly worrisome to have him wander alone. Sometimes he gets so caught up in exploring, he forgets how much time he needs to run to the door and tell us to be let out. He also had a terrible habit of shadowing people in the kitchen, making him a perilous trip-hazard when carrying hot trays of food.

Being scolded by my parents did nothing to faze the pup—he is fearless and endlessly curious which is typical of the lion-hearted Pekingese and Shih Tzu breeds. Originally status symbols and guardians of royalty, the sleeve dogs he is mixed with must make him believe he’s a prince as well. Ignoring their words to do as he pleases, he even made a game from the scolding to see how long he can wander the house or how far into the kitchen he can get before they notice.

It took a few minutes of clicker and boundary training to catch his attention, but our little lion is quickly figuring out where the invisible doggy-gates are in our home. With a few quietly placed treats and marked actions, I was interrupting and replacing his habit of running into the kitchen for an even better option of running around in the living room. The kitchen was no longer a fun place to be–no one was allowed to play with him in the kitchen, and there were no treats there. Any goodies he got throughout the day were given in the living room.

Close up of dog

How does this work with people?

Breaking bad habits is simplified with dogs, but it can work when dealing with people as well.

People are complicated and can pick up habits for a number of reasons, but some habits can be interrupted or replaced by another action. For example, some cigarette smokers find it is easier to quit or replace their smoking addiction with biting their nails, or by chewing cinnamon gum. The gum satisfies some of the oral fixation while replacing the calm and pleasure they derive from smoking cigarettes. This is similar to redirecting a child’s attention from coloring on the walls to making their masterpieces on paper.

Even if you’re replacing the starting habit with another action, interrupting or replacing habits isn’t a catch-all for every person. Some cigarette smokers or a child-Picasso might tell you the downsides and scoldings they receive for their habits does not outweigh the positives to their creative venting.

Another option for kicking bad habits, besides replacing the action, is to try to avoid the cause of the habit (sometimes caused by nervousness or anxiety) or gathering the resolve to cut the habit altogether.

Need more ideas on how to help kick bad habits to the curb?

Have a good support team: support from family and friends can help break habits quicker when they’re able to give reminders–after all, sometimes people don’t notice they’re doing them! This works with puppies and toddlers too–remember that if grandma is letting them have their treats to support their habit, it’s much harder to break. Keep everyone on the same page and work together.

dog and calf biting tails

Please don’t have them join you in the habit.

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