As Albert Einstein once said:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So what has this got to do with dogs? Simply put, we often need more than one way to teach a new dog old tricks. Much like us, dogs (and all animals in general), are individuals, and while the principals of learning are much the same for all, each has its’ own way in which it learns best. Compounding that is the fact that methods used for teaching one behavior, might not work for teaching another even if it is a similar behavior.
If you observe a puppy class given by any good trainer you will see this principle in action. In a class of 10 puppies I am willing to bet you will see at least three different ways in which a simple sit is taught. The larger and medium puppies will probably be lured into a sit. The smaller puppies might best be taught by capturing a sit (by this I mean waiting until the puppy sits on its own), and the ones that prefer not to sit may be either captured or backed into something that causes them to sit.
Being able to train a behavior using multiple means is requisite for trainers, but I believe it is extremely important for owners as well, the reason for that is frustration.
If you have only one way to teach something and your dog doesn’t seem to grasp the concept, blaming the dog can easily become a natural byproduct. You can’t believe that the dog doesn’t grasp cues that seem obvious to you. You become frustrated in your dogs inability to learn and resort to more forceful words and bigger hand gestures to get your point across. Meanwhile, the dog is becoming nervous and agitated as well. Not speaking human, they don’t understand why your body language and voice have become tense and agitated; to them you have become insane. You’ve gone from asking & encouraging your dog, to shouting & demanding.
Having multiple ways to teach a behavior can help avoid all this. When we see that the dog isn’t learning by one method, we can switch to another. This allows our brain (and the dogs as well) to avoid the frustration of repetition without reward. It keeps us in the “ask and encourage” frame of mind which is the perfect way to teach and be taught.
Taking the time to learn different ways to teach the same things can help keep you sane in your dog’s eye (and your mind), and will go a long way to help you in building the relationship you want with your dog.
Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee