Welcome back to my series of 10 Important Dog Training Tips! Last week I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas” in my blog, 10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 1 – No Grey Areas, This week covers the rule of consistency which can be interchanged with, and is quite similar too, that topic.
*Remember, all of these are discussed for the important time of the training phase of any new command, trick, sport, etc.
Much like the concept of keeping things black and white, consistency is vital for the success of your dog. It is one of the most important tools in dog training, no matter the sport. If you are not consistent with your requests from your dog, there will be too many “grey areas” and your dog will become confused leading to more errors in your dog’s decision making.
The following are clear examples of consistency that most of us deal with on a daily basis with our dogs:
Let’s say I do not want Caleb to beg for people food, especially while I am sitting down to eat a relaxing dinner with family or friends. At this point I request Caleb to “down” while we enjoy our meal and never feed him food from the dinner table to discourage the act of begging. Then one night, while he’s behaving, I toss him a piece of my steak to enjoy. The next night, I am very disappointed in Caleb when he is sitting, staring at me while I eat dinner. I can’t believe he is begging! I yell at him, tell him to “down” and don’t understand why he’s misbehaving. I have no one to blame but myself in this situation as I clearly showed Caleb the previous night that there is a possibility of receiving a yummy morsel of food at the table. If I had kept his training consistent, by not feeding him, he would have continued with the right choice of not begging.
Another great example is teaching your dog to wait while his food bowl is placed on the ground before being released to enjoy his meal. Every meal I require Caleb to stay in either a “sit” or “down” while I place his food bowl on the ground and walk away. Caleb knows
he is to stay in that position (time of stay varies) until I release him to eat. Now, let’s say that one morning I am running late for work and I place the food bowl on the ground without asking him to do a behavior first. I am too busy worrying about time to notice that he broke routine, and I didn’t correct him. In fact, I rewarded him for it (by letting him get his meal for misbehaving)! That night for dinner, Caleb rushes me for his meal and I yell at him questioning, “What is wrong with you?! You know better!” Again, Caleb’s mistake is my fault due to the previous meal mishap and my inconsistency.
Besides consistency in what we expect of our dog, we must also be consistent with what we say and do to encourage success. For example, can anyone see the problem with these commands of “sit”, “down”, “off” and “sitdown!” being used interchangeably? I will show you….. If I ask Caleb to “sit” and “down”, expecting the separate known behaviors, then one day he doesn’t listen when I ask him to “sit” and I get angry so I deepen my tone of voice and tell him very sternly “sitdown!”, I can in no way get angry with Caleb if he decides to “down” as this behavior is also the correct choice with the command I just gave him.
Another example I come across with 90% of my clients is the misuse of the command “down”. Most dog owners use the command “down” to have their dog lay down, yet I also
hear them use the same command when the dog is jumping on them, on their guests or on
furniture. In reality, if we tell our dog “down” in any of these situations, we should expect our dog to lay down. However, because we are picturing just having the dog to keep off of something, we accept the response of them stopping the undesirable behavior instead of expecting them to actually lay down. This is a prime example of us not being consistent with what we ask and expect. In this situation, there should be two separate commands to help the dog understand, such as now using the command of “off” to keep paws off of things.
The last important example of consistency that is commonly mishandled by owners, is that of the rate of reward or punishment. If I am training Caleb to “shake” and I do not reward him frequently in the training phase, I can loose his interest and stop seeing progress in his understanding of this new behavior. Just as, if I don’t use a form of punishment (verbal correction, leash correction, time-out, etc) every time it is warranted, Caleb will not learn that there is a possible consequence for the incorrect choice.