There’s a nifty trick everyone should know, and it’s a called a bridge. A bridge is what you need when your dog does something you need to correct for, but the problem is already over by the time you get there.
Let’s say I’m upstairs. I look over the banister and I see my dog — oh no! — peeing on the floor. I go charging downstairs, but by the time I get there she’s done, and now she’s happily eating her dog food. I can’t reprimand her now: she’ll think she’s getting reprimanded for eating dog food! Now what?
Here’s another: I see my dog digging through the trash for the third time in ten minutes. Like every other time, I say, “No!” and — like every other time — my dog backs quickly away. But clearly they don’t care that I’m saying no, or they wouldn’t be constantly going back to it. I need to use a correction, but by the time I get over there, my dog has run away. Now what?
In both of these cases, you need what’s called a bridge. A bridge is the best thing I ever learned in behavioral psychology. It’s a noise that connects the bad behavior with the consequence, be that squirt bottle, time out, or what have you, even though time has elapsed.
So, I’m upstairs. I look over the banister and I see my dog — oh no! — peeing on the floor. I instantly start to use my bad dog noise, which is a hissing noise. (You can use any noise you want, or just repeat, “No no no bad dog pee outside not on the floor oh crap don’t trip down the stairs no no bad dog” — as long as you keep making noise.) I hiss while I run down the stairs. I hiss while I run across the room. I hiss while I run over to where my dog is now eating (or, more likely, looking at me like I’ve lost my mind), and then I — whatever your chosen consequence for peeing on the floor is. In my case, probably drag the dog outside, and then praise them for sitting on the grass.
Or, I see my dog digging through the trash for the third time in ten minutes. This time I say, “No!” and my dog backs away, but since I’ve already said no and they obviously don’t care, I’m going to follow it up with a consequence. I start my hissing noise. My dog, having grown wise to the hissing noise, runs away. I realize my squirt bottle is upstairs. Still making the hissing noise, I go running up the stairs. Still making the hissing noise, I scour all the bedrooms for the bottle. Still making the hissing noise, I remember leaving it downstairs in the garage, and go running back downstairs. Still hissing, I find it in the garage and now — panting between hisses because I’ve been hissing and running all over the house — I go find my dog and squirt them. As long as I’ve kept hissing the whole time, my dog associates the action of digging in the trash — when the noise started — with the consequence — when the noise stopped.
Here is the catch: most people start hissing, get distracted looking for the squirt bottle or get out of breath running after their dog, stop hissing, and then start hissing again when they squirt the dog. This is incorrect. Your dog has no idea now why you’re squirting him. You have to keep bridging (making your noise) THE WHOLE TIME. If you feel like a fool, you’re doing it right!