Consistency, the Critical Ingredient to Any Dog Training
Consistency, we don’t usually have it.
Humans are odd mammals… we have consistency when it comes to all the wrong things, and we lack consistency when we need it.
Yes, most of us have a fairly consistent routine.
We probably get up at about the same time, go to work at the same time or same days, eat dinner approximately the same time, and go about our daily mundane duties about the same.
But most of us are not consistent with our dogs and their behaviors.
We get a puppy.
We are all excited to bring it home and train it right.
It comes home, shows all kinds of natural doggy behaviors (like jumping, barking, having accidents in the house) that people consider bad and then the puppy either gets ignored, banned (like putting them outside all day) or occasionally beaten.
People rarely see a problem and ask themselves what THEY are doing to promote or continue that problem.
People often expect a dog to be born with the same ideals that they have; all dogs should know not potty outdoors right? All dogs should know not to jump on us right?
And, we seldom attempt to fix a “problem” (especially a problem with another living thing) in the same way.
- We get frustrated.
- We blame.
- Sometimes there are consequences, sometimes there are not.
- Sometimes we actually reward bad behavior just because we want the dog to stop the immediate behavior.
Ever thrown a ball for a dog who was barking at you to throw his ball?
Ever fed your dog because he is driving you crazy?
The dog (and sometimes the child) never knows when they will reach the breaking point. Will you give in? Or will you lose your cool and punish?
Dogs are eternal optimists.
They always think you are going to give in, if it is at all a possibility.
You could upper cut him to the jaw 9 out of 10 times and he is still holding out hope that this time he will either get away with it, or be rewarded.
This is one of the joys of living with a dog, and one of the things that is hard for most people to grasp.
You can correct the dog 90% of the time but if you reward him just once or he finds a way to reward himself, then that is what he is likely to remember and work toward.
That means you have to work even more diligently to be consistent in order to make a difference when you have let a bad behavior slide.
Let’s Look at it From the Dog’s View
He has jumped on you over 1,000 times, when you come home from work, when you are going to work, when you are outside playing, when you are inside picking up his toys, when you are laying on the ground, when you are laying on the sofa.
He is like a ninja jumper.
So you have a bad day at work. The boss yells at you for something you were never taught how to do, you had a bad hair day (ladies), you’re tired from not sleeping, the kids got in trouble at school.
You get home, the ninja strikes from what seems like out of nowhere and you lose your cool completely.
Yelling, lashing out, trying to catch him, trying to knee him or worse.
All while he is running around trying to figure out if you are kidding. Let’s admit it, you could be furious, livid, and spewing hate and he is bouncing and bounding all over the house just hoping you can’t catch him.
If you think about it, can you blame him?
Remember he has done it thousands of times successfully.
He doesn’t know you had a bad day. Heck dogs don’t really understand bad days, they are happy all of the time!
How to Change
If your dog has a behavior problem that bothers you (what one person hates another could love) then you must be consistent with your reaction and make a change.
You can’t think the behavior is cute sometimes.
Or tolerable sometimes.
Or even bad all of the time but lack any kind of training and follow through.
Because often dog owners are shouting NO! NO! Bad Dog! But the dog hears it so often it has no reaction.
Aim for 100% consistency.
That means if he barks at 1 am in the morning, and you don’t want barking there are repercussions, even if you have to drag your tired rump out of bed to do it.
If you don’t want jumping, teach your dog an incompatible behavior (like sitting or lying down) and reward those behaviors and if your dog jumps on you in a greeting; make sure that you deny him access to you for a while.
If every time my dog jumps on me, he goes outside or in another room without me; he learns that jumping = something that is the opposite of what he wants. He jumps on you because he wants to be close to you and with you right?
Now, if you skip the step of actually teaching him “four on the floor” or any other incompatible behavior you are likely to still suffer from some jumping.
If however he finds a way that he feels he can reward himself with your affection (sitting or lying down or showing any other good behavior) then he will be able to choose these instead of jumping!
But you must be consistent, or he’ll be hoping for those times you don’t make him do anything and he can still jump.
They are always waiting for us to give in and for them to get their way.
They are just like kids.
I can’t tell you how often I have heard my husband say “If you ask to go to McDonalds one more time we aren’t going”.
The problem is that he is never consistent, so they beg, and they beg, and they beg until I about turn purple and then…. Sure enough he gives in and they get what they want.
Which essentially teaches them to beg for something mercilessly until they get it.
And, dogs are kids are great optimists!
If however, immediate after he gives a warning and one of the kids breaks it, he makes a point to prove that there is no way we are going… then the kids would learn to pipe down after the first warning.
Instead, they are trying for 50 tries at begging for the one chance that 52 will bring them a burger and the happy meal toy.
Where it would be so much easier to say NO or to tell them yes and then give them a time frame. Plus it would make the next encounter a million times easier.
I would rather say NO and mean it.
Actually, I am too much of an animal trainer, if I say NO I mean NO and there is really nothing you can do to change my mind.
Otherwise I feel like it is the above scenario and I am not being fair.
After all the kids would rather me go back on my word and they would get what they want but again, that is not fair nor is it sticking to my word.
So be fair!
Stick to your word.
Do things the same way that you always would.
If you have to punish or take a privilege, do it immediately so that the dog understands.
But do it kindly and make sure it doesn’t last long.
Dogs have short attention spans. Ignoring them for 3 hours because you are mad isn’t fair to them.
Giving them a separation of 5 minutes probably feels like 3 hours to them.
And, remind everyone in the home that the kind way to train is by using consistency and not breaking rules!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.