In our last article, Canine Consistency – The Good, we wrote about the need to be consistent with our rules in order to get the behavior we want to train in our dogs.
We looked at the “wait” behavior as an example of the need to be consistent with a dog each time they went out the door. If we’re inconsistent in requiring the wait, we can’t expect it to come under stimulus control to become the default behavior for exiting.
However, certain types of consistency can actually work against us and even cause behaviors we don’t want to see in our dogs.
As humans we are creatures of habit and we often go about the routines in our life without giving them much thought; but believe me our dogs are watching. Watching a dog watch its owner you can almost see the gears of the relevancy engine turning. From the shoes we put on to the tone of our voice, our dogs have learned through constant repetition what normally follows next.
The problem is that sometimes our dogs become impatient or overstimulated when they see a behavior on our part that normally leads to something that they want.
Let’s use taking a dog for a walk on lead as an example. For many dogs, seeing the walking shoes paired with the leash always means a walk is imminent. And since a walk is something dogs really see as a great life reward, they tend to get very excited about it. Over time, this excitement can become overly exuberant and lead to all sorts of undesirable behavior.
While there are several pieces to changing this type of behavior, one piece should include being less predictable, less consistent. In this case we need to show the dog that sometimes the leash and shoes mean a walk and sometimes they mean nothing more than daddy is not as good as mommy at putting things back where they belong.
Obviously there is more to changing behaviors like this. Things like rewarding calm behaviors and not rewarding pushy or insistent behavior are also vital to the process. But by being aware of how our consistent behaviors affect our dog, we can keep those cute behaviors from becoming a problem.
Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee