Imagine how much better trained and well behaved our dogs would be if we were actually consistent while training them.
I’m sure some of you are very consistent, but if you’re like me, you may be giving your dog confusing, mixed signals.
The following are five simple ways we can be more consistent in order to better communicate with our dogs during training. (And I said simple, not easy.)
Say the command once.
You know what I’m talking about.
“Sit. Ace! Sit.”
How often do we repeat our commands two, three or even four times?
My own dog does not always sit the first time I ask. Is this because he’s waiting for me to repeat myself?
If you want your dog to respond to a command, then repeating it simply teaches the dog not to respond the first time you say it but to wait for the second, said Dr. Patricia McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist, on her blog The Other End of the Leash.
Dogs learn, for example, that the full command must be “sit … sit.”
Make it easier for your dog and stick with one command every time, assuming the dog knows the command.
Use the same command every time.
We humans will mix up our words without even realizing it. For example, I’ll tell my dog to “wait” at times and I’ll tell him to “stay” other times. It’s OK to have two separate commands if they mean two separate things, but using them interchangeably like I do is not helpful to my dog.
The most common example is probably telling the dog “down!” when he’s jumping on guests. But doesn’t “down” mean to lie down? If your dog is jumping, use something else to signal “keep all paws on the floor” such as “off!”
Personally, I am the most confusing to my dog when I’m working on less formal training. For example, if we’re playing find-it type games, I’ll say things like “Get it!” “Get the ball!” Find it!” “Get a toy!”
How the heck is my dog supposed to keep all these phrases straight? No wonder he looks confused.
Follow through with our rules.
This is another obvious concept, but most of us are guilty.
Maybe your dog is not allowed on the couch without permission, but you let him jump up on his own at least half the time. Or maybe your dog is not allowed to beg at the table, but when he does you reward him for it anyway.
Jumping on people is another good example in this case.
I’m a dog walker, and one of my clients will yell at her dogs for jumping on me one day, yet she smiles and talks to them for doing so the next day. Guess what? The dogs always jump on me.
Consistency between family members.
Most dogs are smart enough to figure out they can get away with different behaviors around different people. Maybe “Dad” lets the dog walk in front of him while “Mom” doesn’t.
If the goal is to teach the dog a certain behavior (like not to pull), then all family members should follow the same agreed-upon rules. This is also true for the dog walker, groomer, pet sitter or anyone else who cares for the dog.
Consistency in different environments.
This has always been one of my biggest challenges.
When I’m walking Ace with friends, especially in a fun, “exciting” place like a park, I tend to let him get away with more pulling, and he knows it.
The same is true if I take him camping or to my parents’ house. The fact that he’s excited is obviously a factor too, but he also knows to push the envelope a bit. He knows I will be distracted or more laid back in these situations. (Or so stressed that I just don’t care anymore what he does!)
But if I truly want my dog to walk without pulling me, then I should not allow him to do so just because we’re at the beach or the dog park or wherever it might be.
Sure, we can never be perfect and the same is true of our dogs. We can’t be strict with them every single minute of their lives. What’s the fun in that? But if there’s something you’d like your dog to be just a little better at, wouldn’t it help to consider your consistency? That is the case with me.
Can you think of any other examples where consistency plays a big role in a dog’s behavior?