One thing that I try to stress to all of my training clients is that the more a behavior is practiced, the more likely it is to be repeated. This goes for both wanted behaviors and unwanted behaviors, which is why I have every client put a total management system into place throughout training-to prevent the practice of unwanted behaviors.
Of course, this is a general rule when considering behaviors that are rewarding for the dog. Not only does practiced behavior equal repeated behavior, but if a behavior is repeated enough times-the behavior will become habit. In positive reinforcement training, we use a primary reinforcer-often food- to reward the dog for appropriate behavior, whether cued or not and will slowly fade the reinforcer out as the practiced behavior becomes habitual. If practicing acceptable behavior is more likely to rear the repetition of acceptable behavior, you can bet that the same is true for unwanted behavior.
Barking, chewing, digging, chasing the cat are all examples of self-rewarding behaviors and examples of some of the most common behavior problems that most dog owners face. Because they are self-rewarding behaviors, our response after the behavior has occurred is not likely to have a big impact on whether or not the behavior happens again, because the dog has already been rewarded with a release of endorphins. And of course, these behaviors, if allowed to be practiced will become habitual, as well.
Habitual behavior requires much more time, energy, and effort to stop or fix. Obviously, you want to create a habit with desirable behaviors. So have your dog practice behaviors you find desirable and don’t allow them access to practice behaviors that are considered undesirable. It is really quite simple-so don’t complicate it.