Extinction Burst: Getting worse before it gets gone!

The Extinction Burst. This is a term that many dog owners have experienced and never knew it had a name.

An extinction burst is the escalation of a behavior prior to the behavior stopping.  For dog owners this means bad behavior getting worse before it gets better, or goes away entirely.  Pawing for attention is a common problem.  The dog puts their paw on their owner, resulting in the owner petting the dog.  This works great for the dog, but can become a nuisance behavior when the dog becomes “pushy” or demanding.

As positive trainers we say, “Stop rewarding the behavior and it will stop.”  What you need to know as an owner is that this behavior has worked for days, months or even years. Your dog will make every effort to get the reward (your attention) when you try to ignore them by attempting the very behavior that has worked for as long as he can remember.  The dog may up the game by increasing the frequency and pressure of the paw attempts.  If you give in during this extinction burst, the next time it will go one for even longer and more intensely.  This escalation in behavior is normal, and will pass.  When it does congratulate yourself for the accomplishment with one caveat.  There may be some half- hearted attempts by your attention-seeking canine to try the old behavior again. Stand strong firm and continue ignoring it.  Dogs won’t do anything that doesn’t work for them.

If you want to speed up this entire process of extinguishing a behavior, read our upcoming post about training alternate, or incompatible, behaviors.




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