Canine Consistency – The Bad

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


4 thoughts on “Canine Consistency – The Bad

  1. Guilty as charged on occasions! I don’t pair shoes/leash but just by reading your article I realise that my action of getting up is more purposeful when a walk is in the offing. Methinks I will have to make some changes!

  2. I know all to well about this one. My poor doggie has separation anxiety and she knows even before we put our shoes on, just by the regular actions of my husband and I when we are planning on leaving sometime that morning. It is like she can tell just by the way we make breakfast that we are going out that day and don’t intend to take her with us. I feel a little at a loss as to how to help her but I am doing some reading and hope that one day she’ll be able to enjoy some quiet time alone.

  3. I like to encourage my dogs to get excited and jump around, then I practice settling them down. I like to time how long it takes me to get them from excited to sitting calmly. You would be surprised to find it gets easier and quicker to settle them with each practice session.

  4. That actually makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? We rarely stop to look how our behavior affects our dogs. I know all Jasmine does is watch us, figuring out what things mean, how they affect her and how she can use them for her benefit.

    I know one time when I was able to use it as a tool, when after her surgeries she couldn’t go out and I had to take J.D. I had hubby put him in the yard and I walked out “with the garbage” through the front door, then fetched him at the back. I was trying to tell Jasmine that I’m not going anywhere, just out with the garbage. I don’t think she bought it, but it worked anyway, as she understood she wasn’t going.

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