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Key Components of Training: Pt. 4

The truth about dog training. The majority of it is owner training. Learning how to verbally communicate, how to use your body language, understand your dog, shape behaviors, reinforce taught behaviors, provide structure and meet your dog's needs, how to set your dog up for success, become your dog's advocate. People seek dog training to change their dog's behavior, but for you to get results and to have results that last a lifetime, it will require you to change. That is the hard part about dog training. It really is you. Most people have a hard time changing and keeping that change. The fourth key component in dog training is reliability.

One of the hardest things owners struggle with when it comes to creating and keeping new behaviors with their dogs is consistency. Here are a couple of common examples of how inconsistency results in unreliable behaviors. Jumping up on you is a great example. Jumping is a hard behavior to get rid of because usually you correct it and other times you reward it. Maybe you reward it because it's been a habit to interact with them, and you want to love on them when you get home from work when they are so excitedly jumping up to see. Maybe some family members encourage it, while you're trying to stop and prevent it. Whatever it may be, rewarding it sometimes (or reward at first and then correct) will encourage a dog to continue jumping up. Another example of inconsistency as owners is letting your dog up on the couch/bed only when invited. After a long day of work, you relax on the couch and turn the T.V on. Your dog comes over, jumps up (because that is what was allowed before), and you pet your dog for a few seconds. You then remember, they're not allowed up unless you invite them, so you immediately get them off. Your dog knows they immediately received affection for jumping up, and they're going to do it again the next time. After some time you give up enforcing the "only when invited" rule.

Timing & consistency is crucial in building reliable behaviors. When creating and reinforcing behaviors it is vital to have the right timing. Timing is best if linking a reward or consequence to a behavior is within 2 seconds. If it's been longer, your dog may not understand what you want or don't want from them.

Dogs are very much like people in that they are opportunists and will keep pushing boundaries. They will figure out what they can get away with, when can they get away with it, and with whom. It is extremely important everyone in the family is on the same level of rules, boundaries, and structure with the dog(s). Everyone must be reliable in the information they are providing and enforcing that information. Including kids.

Whatever training program you do, be it in a lesson package, a 6-week group class course, or even sending your dog to a board & train program, the training doesn't end when the service you purchased ends. The training program is designed to give you the tools and knowledge to continue behaviors for a lifetime. The nice thing about good dog training is that it builds a good solid foundation of behaviors in a dog, so when you decide to reinforce behaviors again after some time of you slacking off, those behaviors that were once taught with the dog are pretty easy to get back and have.

I did a board & train dog on a 5-month-old Goldendoodle. A little after a year, a gentleman comes to me and says he recently obtained this dog that had gone through training with me when the previous family had him. The problem that he was having was the dog wouldn't listen and didn't seem trained. The problem wasn't the dog's training, but the new family didn't understand how the training worked and was giving unreliable information to the dog. How did I know this? I asked them to bring the dog to me for a lesson. It would allow me to evaluate the dog and see what areas needed to be worked on. They came in for that lesson and as soon as I started working with the dog, that dog was immediately responding to commands and following through with the stays and leash manners. From the dog's perspective, it didn't have an owner that was reliable in communication and the structure it once was taught. He wasn't sure what the owner wanted from him some of the time. The other times he knew he didn't have to listen and could get away with things. The rest of the lesson was training the owner on how to communicate, how to enforce rules, and how to be reliable to ensure those behaviors the dog really does know, go home with the family. Once the new owner was taught and followed through with being reliable on a day-to-day basis, the dog continued to listen to him and his family. They still reach out about how good the dog does.

Reality check. Are you being reliable with your dog? Are you giving your dog mixed signals and information? Be sure you're not disciplining a behavior one time, and the other times you are rewarding unintentionally. Are you reliable in giving the command only once? How about keeping your dog on their place bed stay for a long duration? Don't forget to reward your dog for good behavior. Are you reliable in enforcing rules and adding accountability? Are you reliable in your timing? Don't allow frustration or distractions to create unreliable timing.

When you communicate with your dog (command, marker words, release), is it the same? You cannot give a command with authority one time and then the next ask them to do it.

Investing in your dog also means you invest in yourself. Invest in becoming a more reliable leader for your dog. Keep at it, until your interactions and skills in building behaviors with your dogs become a habit and second nature. Work with a dog trainer that understands how to train you and how to help ensure you're being reliable. Everyone learns differently and has different needs. We must see what you need to change to ensure you get the results that you want. This is an owner-training service industry.

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