Consistency in dog training and why it is so important.

Our dogs training me

Our dogs training me

We live in a very confusing world right now with all of the things that vie for our attention and time imaging how hard it must be for our dogs.  They to are constantly having to muddle though all of the information that the human world throws at them. So lets look at consistency in your training.  In our training business we teach a variety of classes, one of the requirements is that the students go through an orientation class which usually last about two hours.  I cover basic learning theory, clicker and verbal marker training and how to solve some basic problems so students leave with the necessary tools to start class.  I can almost count on most of the time only one person from the family will show up and it is usually the female part of the family.  It is the rare occasion that the entire family shows up for the orientation or even any of the classes although it is getting better.   In a perfect world the entire family would be there for each class so everyone is on the same page as far as training their dogs but we do not live in a perfect world so here is where it can get very confusing for the dog.  One person in the family usually the one attending the class will be the consistent one as far as the training.  This person may have a dog that jumps on guest or the family or even strangers on a walk.  Now in that same family there is always going to be that one person where jumping is ok so you can see how this might get confusing for their dog.  It is ok to jump on you but not on me, it is ok to jump on dad but not on mom or the kids.  Or it is never ok to jump on strangers but it is ok to jump on little Bobby’s school friends because Bobby says it’s ok.  By now their dog does not know if they are coming or going.  With jumping which can lead to serious consequences for the dog each member of the family must be on the same page or the jumping will actually get much worse over time because the dog is getting randomly reinforced for the jumping to see who is eventually going to give them attention.  So with this type of non consistency the dog is always the looser because someone is going to punish them.  We simply cannot keep changing the rules with our dogs and expect them to act like we want them to.  My wife and I had a great pet sitter( name withheld to protect the innocent) 🙂 she was with us for almost 8 years.  Our 7 dogs loved her and we trusted her completely.  we had told her that we had a serious jumping problem with one of our dogs also( name withheld to protect the innocent) and if she jumped on her to please do not pet her or give her any attention, we went over the rules as far as what to do when she jumped.  Our dogs jumping was starting to actually hurt people and she would hit them in the nose.  We were making great progress with no jumping on anyone for quite awhile and then our sitter showed up and 6 months of hard work went down the drain.  Not only was she petting her when she was jumping she was feeding her dog biscuits.  We fired her after that sorry to say as she was an excellent sitter and care giver for our dogs but we were very angry that all for this hard work had been for nothing even after many repeated phone calls and attempts to let the sitter know that this was becoming a very serious problem she never just could keep her hands off.

Ok lets look at another thing that is very common, leash pulling.  This can be a nightmare for some people and I have actually heard of dogs being surrendered for this.  It is not hard to teach a dog to not pull on the leash but how can we expect them to  be consistent when we are not consistent? One person in the family absolutely needs their dog to walk nicely on a leash then the other person lets their dog pull them all over the place not realizing how confusing this is for the dog.  One person might use a harness while the other will refuse.  But now the dog is so confused that it’s a wonder they can even go for a walk.  The other night in class we had a great little dog that has been in our puppy classes and is in our adolescent manners class for older dogs.  This little girl will start to shut down after about five minutes and not do anything.  We were working on some stay exercises and I noticed that she was just checking out so I put my client and her dog in a little pen area so they could work off leash.  Now we were getting somewhere.  I asked my client if she ever practiced any of the behaviors with the leash on and she said no we do not.  My client then took of her dogs harness and I asked her why she did that.  She said that she never walks her with it unless she is in class.  I told her that if you never practice any of the behaviors outside of class or even walk her in her harness outside of class how is her dog supposed to get proficient in the behaviors.  I give out specific homework for each class and it is pretty easy to do.  It never fails that most do not practice and then expect their dogs to be able to perform around other dogs and distractions in class.  This has to be very confusing for their dogs as when at home they do not have to do what is asked of them  then once a week in class they are expected to do what is asked of them.  I get confused just thinking about it.  This happens with the clicker as well, the students never use it at home then come to class and for an hour and a half the clicker is used so it’s no wonder that the dogs are not paying attention.

Another confusing thing for dogs is our verbal cues and hand cues.  One person say’s sit with a verbal and hand signal the way they are taught then another family member uses neither and just pushes the dogs butt to the ground so now we are getting unreliable sits because the rules are changing.  Our dogs are constantly paying attention to our body language so they are noticing everything we are doing.  For instance if you have a very small dog and when they are puppies you teach a sit while you are bending over to be able to reach the puppy this becomes part of the sit cue, now you have a dog that will only sit when you are bending over.  The owners get very frustrated because they know that their dog knows how to sit so they keep repeating what they want and the dog just gets more confused.  I hope you can see where this is going for your dogs sake.

Another huge one is one member of the family will feed the dog from the table while the other one punishes the dog for begging.  This is not fair for the dog as once again the rule change from person to person. When mom is home the dog gets fed from the table or when he/she begs.  Now dad comes home and the dogs goes to him for a morsel and  gets punished for begging at the table.  I could go on and on about all oft he things that keep changing for our dogs.  The reason I felt I had to write this is I see this so much and am really noticing how stressed our dogs are becoming in an ever changing world of changing rule for our dogs.  So if this accomplishes anything I have made my point.  It is already confusing enough for our dogs and other animals so please be consistent in your training and you will see more consistency in your dogs.

Dennis Fehling CPDT KA