The extinction burst refers to the continued efforts that the animal will make to get the reinforcement that it had previously
received. The previously reinforced behavior actually increases for a period of time before the animal eventually stops trying.
It is this extinction burst that is so hard for most pet owners to ignore when trying to stop a previously rewarded behavior.
(Photo by Gregory Kindred)
WHAT TO DO: SEPARATE, REWARD SEPARATELY, IGNORE CONSISTENTLY
With that in mind, the first practical instruction to give clients is to not put the dog in a position where it can beg since
it can be so difficult to ignore a begging dog. I have found that the easiest way to do this is to place a dog that begs in
a different room—or a crate if the pet is crate-trained—before the family sits down for meals. In some cases, the dog may
need to be placed in this area while meals are being prepared. The room or crate should be far enough away so that whining
can be ignored. If an owner would feel better about feeding the dog during this time, that is fine, too, as long is the dog
is away from where people are eating.
Alternatively, owners can be instructed to give their dogs a special treat before meals such as a boiled marrowbone, stuffed
Kong, or other food-dispensing toy. The animal is then well-rewarded for being away from the family and their food. This can
be extremely useful for dogs that are not comfortable being alone or in a crate. For dogs that are on restricted-calorie diets,
teach clients how to measure out the amount of food for the day, every morning. They can then use part of the animal's daily
allotment for filling the food toys or as training treats.
After being given these instructions, owners may still question how to handle snacks and other food items that are present
at times other than mealtimes. The rules remain the same: if owners are ever to stop the behavior completely, they must never
reinforce it. All family members need to be in agreement about this in order for it to work. If small children are in the
home, the dog should be kept separate from them when the children eat unless an adult can supervise and prevent children from
feeding the dog. Every family member must ignore the begging. It will eventually stop. It is at this point that the outcome
will rely on pet owners being more persistent than their dogs. With patience and knowledge about these learning processes,
clients can be assured that eventually the unwanted behavior will be extinguished.
Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB
Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting
P.O. Box 1413
Sweetwater, TX 79556