Training with Consistency
Earlier this week, I was working with my dog, Dot, on some advanced training. Overnight she went from having an awesome training session where I though we turned the corner on some things, to going in the complete opposite direction. One thing we can easily overlook as dog owners is, just like people, dogs have off days. They aren’t perfect, and you can’t expect them to pick up their training where you left off the day before. Training a dog is like climbing a mountain. Eventually you reach the top, but it’s not without some bumps and valleys along the way.
One of the things I want to instill in my dogs is consistency. What I mean by consistency is wanting them to do what I ask, the first time I ask. This may sound harsh and make me seem like an overly demanding drill sergeant; however, a consistent dog is a sign of a consistent leader, and consistent leader is a leader all dogs want.
Dogs crave leadership and want to be led. Have you ever seen a stray dog roaming around? Their body posture is often low, their tail is tucked and they seem very unsure and timid as they travel around. It’s because dogs are naturally insecure, and they don’t prefer being in control. So, the best thing we can offer them is leadership, and one of the best ways to give them confidence in us is through consistency. Here are a few things I thought about when it comes to being consistent with our dogs.
I need to try to be the same me every day. If I begin a training session upset or with negative energy, my dogs will pick up on that right way. I’ve had days when I didn’t have the right energy or wasn’t in the right frame of mind and have learned the best thing is to not train those days. Think about all the interactions we have with people every day. We are a lot more comfortable around others whose moods and energy are always consistent compared to those who aren’t. Our dogs are the same way. I want my dogs to expect the same me every day and not have to wonder what person they’re going to be dealing with today.
Just like with our energy, dogs can pick up on our body posture very well. They can see when we are confident and when we aren’t. This past fall I worked with a student and one of our dogs. The student had very low self-esteem, and you could tell by the way she carried herself. It was amazing to see the effect this had on the dog, but even more amazing to see how the dog changed as the student became more confident. The more we carry ourselves and approach situations with confidence, the more trust our dogs will have in us.
When it comes to rewarding a good behavior, the more consistent I am, the quicker my dog will learn. The tone in my voice, the way I deliver a reward and the energy I give off when my dog does what they’re asked makes all the difference. For instance, I like to use the word “good” when rewarding. I say it with the same tone, at the the right time, and follow up with a reward. This is why clickers are often used in training; they make a consistent sound every time. As training progresses, I might change how I reward, but it will be an easy process for my dogs to transition into.
When it comes to correcting, it’s is very similar to rewarding. The timing of the correction and how I correct matter. Let’s say I ask my dog to do something and they don’t do it, and I just let it go. Then, the next time they don’t do what I ask I correct it. Or, I ask them to do something twenty times before they do it. There is no consistency here, and so how is my dog supposed to know my expectations? I always try to make it a goal to get the response I want the first time I ask, and if I don’t get it I can easily correct it. So, with this (especially with puppies and young dogs) I always want to set them up for success when asking them to do something. Also, I want my correction to be the same every time. Often it doesn’t take much and it’s important to take the emotion out of it. To get mad, get after them, and hold a grudge doesn’t help anything. I want to correct them with the same word, tone and correction and then move on like nothing happened.
I like my dogs to have some kind of routine. I know that not every day can be exactly the same, but at the very least I like to try and feed my dogs at the same time each day. Knowing when they can expect to eat and providing some kind of pattern/routine helps create balance for them.
None of us are perfect leaders, but we can all grow and become better. The more consistent we can be with our dogs, the more consistent they will become. Hopefully this will create happier, more confident dogs and ultimately a better relationship between them and us.
Chris Miller, Terrain D.O.G.