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Extinction Burst

Extinction bursts in dogs are an extremely difficult behavior for dog owners to overcome when dealing with behavioral problems involving their dog.

An extinction burst is a last-ditch effort that the dog makes in order to get something it wants; this usually occurs when owners change up a routine in order to stop certain unwanted behaviors that the dog has been displaying. The best example to provide in explaining an extinction burst is that of a dog that begs at a table.

Owners that will try to stop this annoying begging behavior will cut off all rewards at the dining room table so that the dog will no longer see begging as a valid way to get table scraps. Due to the dog’s previous experience of getting tasty snacks at the dinner table they will naturally try the typical begging behaviors that have worked in the past even when they are not being immediately reinforced by food.

“Because the dog has already created a conditioned response to begging and knows that it has worked in the past, they will try harder when rewards are initially withheld from them.”

For a dog who only had a few table scraps in the past, this behavior can be changed without too much hassle, however a dog that has established a routine and developed a pattern using classical conditioning will have a much more difficult time in changing the behavior.

Because the dog has already created a conditioned response to begging and knows that it has worked in the past, they will try harder when rewards are initially withheld from them.

This behavior can become extremely annoying to owners and include things such as excessively loud whining and possibly even barking at the table. This last-ditch effort that the dog makes is the extinction burst, this is typically seen right before the dog is about to give up on their behavior and they are attempting everything they possibly can in order to get the reward that they desire.

The extinction burst is a good sign as it means that soon the dog will exert all its possibilities and give up on its behavior. Unfortunately, many people never make it past the extinction burst as they give into their dogs excessive whining and barking.

The owners are temporarily happy as the dog has quieted down; however, this is a fatal mistake as the dog now has learned that if it tries hard enough then it will eventually be rewarded.

On top of this the owners have also done what is called intermittent reinforcement, which is rewarding the dog periodically even though the dog is displaying the same behavior. This intermittent reinforcement also drives the dog to continue in the undesirable behavior.

“The surest way to eliminate this behavior is to have the willpower to push through the extinction burst and end it.”

If the owners try to do the same technique again to stop the dogs begging behavior, they will be faced with more challenges as the dog will start off with louder whining and barking than its previous begging. The length that the extinction burst lasts will also be much longer and more annoying to the owners as the dog was reinforced the last time it behaved in such a manner.

For many owners this can become a long and arduous battle to overcome as they continue the cycle of trying to cut out the table scraps only to give into the dog’s excessive behaviors. The surest way to eliminate this behavior is to have the willpower to push through the extinction burst and end it.

Ending the behavior will not be as simple as that, the owners need to be extra cautious as to not let the dog slide back into the old behavior.

A dog that is classically conditioned to do a behavior which is then cut off from that behavior can go through what is called spontaneous recovery; when the dog redevelops the habit easier after it has been extinguished. So even by giving the dog one crumb off the table, the owners could reset the dog back to its original mindset of begging.

Although a dog begging at a table is one of the best examples of an extinction burst, this phenomenon can be seen in many more dog training applications. Things such as dogs that continually whine and bark in order to be let out of kennels, or dogs that continually spit a slimy tennis ball on your lap in order to incite a game of fetch are behaviors that can undergo extinction bursts.

There are many different applicable scenarios in which the dog will go through an extinction burst. This is one of the many reasons why people find it hard to train older dogs and break them of bad habits that they have developed over the years.

One of the best ways to go about training your dog in order to avoid going through an extinction burst is by preventing it in the first place. If you are fortunate enough to have a puppy or a younger dog, you can set them up for success that will ensure they thrive for their entire lifespan.

This will save you countless hours in having to teach the dog to unlearn undesirable behaviors that they may have developed at a younger age.

This is not a fool proof plan as bad habits will slip through even with the best of dog owners; however, you can still take many steps in the right direction.

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