Consistency or the lack there of, I believe, is the root of all evil when it comes to dog training. We as humans are often inconsistent, we may be consistently inconsistent or work on a variable consistency; meaning depending on certain variables we are consistent. Dogs don’t understand inconsistency they need black and white, right and wrong especially when they are learning.
Inconsistency With- in Yourself
I often work with people who care about their dog’s behavior one minute, or in one situation but not another.
- “I usually don’t mind if my dog jumps up on me, but I hate it when he gets muddy paws on my work clothes, or snags my nylons”
- “I don’t mind if my dog gets on the sofa at night with me, but I don’t want him on the couch during the day when I am gone”
- “I don’t want my dog to bark, but I hate getting up in the middle of the night to tell him to be quiet”
Your dog does not understand the differences in these situations he lives for the moment he gets to do what he wants or what comes naturally for him; jumping up on you, laying on the comfortable sofa, and barking. He does not understand the variable or contingent to the situation, he only remembers he gets to do it sometimes, and that keeps him consistently trying. If 9 out of 10 times you keep him out of the bed but on that 10th time you relent, it is that moment of success and enjoyment that he remembers and will make subsequent attempts worse!
Inconsistency With-in the Family Structure
Often the inability of a family or couple to work as a team on dog training aids in the deterioration of the dog’s obedience. I have even worked with couples who use different commands. One person can’t say “Come” while the other person says “Get over here!” and have it be as affective for the dog.
I often run into couples who can’t come to some kind of agreement about how to treat the dog:
- “I don’t mind the dog on the sofa with me, but my husband doesn’t want him on the furniture”
- “I don’t feed the dog table scraps but my wife and kids sneak them to him under the table”
- “I don’t want my dog to play rough, but my husband and my oldest son wrestle with him, and now he is tackling my 5 year old”
You need to pick a plan and an ideal that you as a family. Sit down and come up with consistent commands that mean the same thing to everyone and that everyone will utilize. Decide whether or not you will allow your dog on the furniture, and what behaviors you will reward and what behaviors you intend to change and come up with a plan for how you will install the changes as a family. Explain to everyone in the family how inconsistency hurts your dog’s ability to please everyone and therefore leads to him getting in trouble.
Inconsistency With Strangers
This is a big one! Most people don’t realize how just being inconsistent when they have company over, or when their dog meets a new person undermines the dog’s training in other areas of its life.
- “We don’t mind Sparky jumping on us but we don’t want him to jump on company”
- “Our dog listens great at home, but he does not listen when we have company over or if we take him away from the house”
- “Sparky never runs out the front door until we have people visit”
Once again, inconsistency is to blame for your dog’s confusion. Dogs are very adept at reading situations, they recognize very quickly when we don’t want to exert the time and effort needed to work on their training and their behavior.
Your dog might never ignore a command given when you are at home alone, but add the distraction of another person or take your dog somewhere and he doesn’t listen. Part of this is the addition of distractions which have to be added and worked on with training in mind, but another part is inconsistent training. People often don’t want to embarrass themselves or inconvenience themselves by working with their dogs when other people are around, so the dog learns he doesn’t have to obey when company is present.
The key to dog training is to be consistent, especially in the learning stages, with your dog. Your dog cannot reason or understand the minute differences. In order to set your dog up for success, you must make sure that you remain consistent, always. Make a plan and stick to it, make sure everyone in the household listens and accepts responsibility for training and working with your dog. And, when you have company or there are distractions let them know that you must devote some time to your furry friend to be consistent so he learns to obey and becomes a good family pet.
Inconsistency is unfair. One minute your dog gets away with or is rewarded for a bad behavior and the next minute he is chastised and/or punished for the same act. This type of environment makes it hard, if not impossible to learn. You must be firm but gentle; have fun and be CONSISTENT.