Sometimes the most frustrating and difficult behavior problems get solved with the most simplistic training methods. Methods which, I charge over $100 an hour to teach! No matter how long I train dogs and their people there are still so many human students who fail in the consistency department despite all the time I’ve spent trying to education them on why it’s so, so important to eliminate the rehearsal of unwanted behavior, replacing those behaviors with desirable behavior we’ve rewarded through training. Let’s look at the word consistency for a second and then I’m going to break it down for you to how this relates to your everyday interactions with your dog.
Take it from our friends at Cornell University, who explain the way humans learn through training: Training resulted in decreased activity in brain regions involved in effortful control and attention that closely overlap with the frontoparietal control and dorsal attention networks. Increased activity was found after training, however, in the default network that is involved in self-reflective activities, including future planning or even day dreaming. Thus, skill mastery is associated with increased activity in areas not engaged in skill performance, and this shift can be detected in the large-scale networks of the brain.
Basically the mad smart scientists who study learning and the brain say that the better you become at a skill, the less work your brain has to do in order to preform the correct behavior. Over time, a skill becomes automatic and you don’t need to think about what you’re doing! This is because your brain is actually strengthening itself over time as you learn that skill. The same is true for your dog. This is why it’s so important that you do the same thing, in the same way, every time you do it. Otherwise, you won’t have a dog who behaves or preforms behaviors in the same way, with the same accuracy, every time he’s asked.
The regularity at which you practice skills with your dog, meaning, the amount of time (minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc) dramatically affects the way your dog is going to behave in certain scenarios. If you only work on their leash pulling skills while I’m with you during our private lesson but don’t upkeep it the other 6 days in between lessons, do you really think your dog will have had enough time to turn that skill into an autopilot behavior? When you accuse your dog of being stubborn, stupid or otherwise unable to preform a certain skill, is it really your dog? Can you really say that he’s just being a jerk? Or is it more likely that you’ve been inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable in your interactions with him? Sorry to rip the bandaid off so fast but, it’s time you know the truth — your inconsistency is the problem.
With consistency being the name of the game, it is so important that dog training become a lifestyle and not just the 15 minutes you’re going to set aside each day to work on teaching new skills. Dogs can learn new skills super fast, but it’s the rehearsal of those skills everyday, at every moment, in every interaction you have with your dog that really makes or breaks whether or not you’re going to be heeling off leash down a busy street or if your dog will have to live his life to a lesser degree of fulfillment because you can’t trust him to stay with you or listen to you, therefor he stays home more, he’s more isolated and is a sad, sad puppy because he’s not well enough behaved to be a real part of your family.
On a side note, I will have you know that it’s taken me approximately six months, as a professional, to have my 11 month old puppy off leash reliable. We still have a long way to go, but because I’ve been consistent with his daily training I can now trust him to be off leash when we’re outdoors together. I know he’ll stay with me. I know he’ll respond when he’s communicated with, and I know with certainty that he will defer to my leadership because I have been a clear, consistent, dependable leader for him.
So, the choice is yours humans. Will you chose to be consistent for the long haul? For the life of your dog? Can you choose to be consistent out of fairness to his life and ability to understand our human needs, wants and desires?
Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT, CTDI
Dee is the owner of Applause Your Paws Dog Training, South Florida’s largest privately owned pet dog training company, and Miami’s number one user rated and reviewed dog trainers on yelp.com. At only 34 years old she’s semi retired these days from training dogs, but maintains her great sense of humor and no nonsense attitude when it comes to training dogs to be the ultimately human companion. With her new found freedom found through her successful business, Dee volunteers regularly in the animal welfare community, mentors other entrepreneurs, and dedicates her time to reading, writing and traveling. Dee shares her home with her English husband, two border collies, a yellow labrador, and two cats. Her key to success? Be so busy working on your own grass that you don’t have time to worry if someone else’s grass is greener. Woof.