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Brian’s Bite-sized Behavior Bits

A Certified Dog Trainer (IACP-CDT) and member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, Brian Bergford has extensive experience as a Dog Behavior Specialist and is the owner of Altitude Dog Training. He also owns Uptown Dog in Longmont, Colorado, and functions as the Director of Training and Behavior for this center which provides Behavior- and Pack Work-driven daycare and boarding. Brian specializes in Pack Work, People Development, Basic through Advanced Training, and Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation.

December 2013

Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.
– Barbara Coloroso

I love the quote above and believe that it applies to us as dog owners just as much – if not more – than it does to us as parents. Consistency and structure are both of paramount importance in raising a stable dog. In this installment of Brian’s Bite-sized Behavior Bits we will focus specifically on the role consistency plays in our training.

I have found that one of the most common frustrations shared by dog owners is their dog’s lack of responsiveness to commands. One minute, an owner asks her dog to sit and the dog does so obediently; the next minute when the owner asks her to do the same task, the dog doesn’t bother to do anything but stare back at her owner with a blank look or, worse yet, roll her little doggie eyes and walk away. What’s up with that? Have you ever felt like you were banging your head against a wall wondering why your dog only sometimes comes back when you call her instead of every time? If so, you are not alone. I have been there plenty of times myself and I can tell you that there can be many reasons for a dog’s lack of responsiveness, but the main culprit is a lack of consistency. Allow me to explain what I mean…

If I ask my dog to sit and she doesn’t so I ask her three more times before she complies, I have taught her that I will ask more than once and that she only sometimes has to do it. If I do this over a period of time, she will learn to be consistently inconsistent – just like my reinforcement habits. If, however, I ask her to sit and she doesn’t so I gently guide her into the position instead of asking again, I am starting to teach her that I will only ask once and she needs to do it the first time. If I do this on a regular basis she will learn to obey commands the first time I give them. In either scenario, my dog’s behavior is simply a reflection of the quality of my reinforcement: if I am consistent, she will perform consistently; if I am inconsistent, she will perform inconsistently. Similarly, if I am vigilant to reward her whenever she obeys, she is more likely to be obedient in the future.

So, how can we use this concept in our favor? By becoming aware of the need to be rock-solid predictable in how we train our dogs. We have to realize that if our system of rewards and corrections is sloppy and haphazard, we have no right to complain about non-compliance. So today and every day hereafter, give special attention to being as predictable as possible in every interaction you have with your dog. If you ask her to sit, only ask once and then make sure to follow through with a reward for sitting or some additional guidance to help her into the position if she needs it. If you ask her to come to you, make sure she’s on a leash or long line so that you are in control of the situation and can guide her back to you if she gets off track. If you tell her to stay off the couch, don’t let her get on the couch – even if she is batting her eyelashes at you and looks as cute as a button – she can be as cute as a button on her dog bed, too.

It’s not about being perfect because training and relationships never are. It’s about being specific, deciding exactly what you want, and then being a supportive but dependable partner for your pup. Stay steady and true, because clear expectations provide security and direction. It also creates a dog that is reliable and listens when you ask her to do something. Instead of getting frustrated the next time your dog doesn’t listen, resolve instead to be absolutely predictable with your follow-through for the ensuing week and then revisit the scenario – my guess is that you will see a drastic improvement in the results. Most training problems (and the related tears of frustration) stem from consistency issues, but if you will put this wonderful ally in your corner you’ll soon have people asking you “how did you get her to listen to you so well?” Then, you can smile and simply reply, “I say what I mean, mean what I say, and do what I say I’m going to do.”

 

Content Copyrighted 2013. Brian Bergford. All Rights Reserved.