The longer I train dogs, the more selective I become about the people I choose to take on as clients. This pickiness really doesn’t have anything to do with the dogs issues or anything else relating to the dog. But it has everything to do with the owners, the humans in the dog’s life.
Perhaps it’s because of the propensity of humans to attribute behavior problems almost entirely to the dog while denying their own influence, for better or worse, over the dog’s behavior. In other words, blame the dog and not ourselves.
Perhaps it’s the widespread reality TV programs that have many dog owners buy into the idea that issues can be easily resolved within a matter of minutes.
Or perhaps it’s because some people are just so damn lazy.
The reality is that most people don’t put enough work into their dog’s development and training and this is enough reason for me to want to turn a prospective client away.
Hear me out…
When we teach a child the ABC’s we begin at the lowest possible level with one or two letters and gradually increase the difficulty when we feel the child can handle the additional information. We also continuously reinforce the new learning with high praise, stickers, and the occasional lollipop. This encourages the child to continue the learn and to do so with a positive attitude.
As the child develops in maturity and as their learning capability expands and strengthens we drill the new information onto the child until it become second nature. In the example of the ABC’s, we sing songs, provide them with coloring books, and encourage them to write the letters out in a fun and engaging manner.
All this takes time.
It doesn’t happen overnight. We understand that the process of learning the alphabet can be a long one and that through the process the learning can never stop. We understand that stopping can set us back. So it becomes a matter of countless repetitions.
The same goes for practically any skill that we want to learn in life whether it’s riding a bicycle, learning gymnastics, a new magic trick, or even learning how to drive a car. All of it takes continual practice and the more you practice the stronger the behavior or skill becomes.
The young driver who has only been on the road for two years will not have the same level of skill of proficiency as the person who’s been driving for 20 years. Time and repetition makes us better.
But we tend to forget this when it comes to our dogs. A perfect example is the sit command. Countless times I will ask new clients if their dog knows any obedience skills and countless times most of them will answer with a resounding “yes”. They’re convinced that their dog knows exactly what they mean when they say “sit”. Maybe the dog sits four out of eight attempts. Or maybe the dogs sits after the owner repeats the cue 6 or 7 times. That’s not what I would define as learned behavior. What I’m saying is that the dog may have created an association with the cue so that he recognizes it when he hears it but that in no way indicates that the dog fully understands what he should do at any given time. In other words, the behavior or skill hasn’t become second nature.
And more often than not it’s because the owners/leader/parent/handler has not committed to teaching the dog the behavior with any length of consistency. Typically because we don’t view a dog’s learning as a long-term prospect as we do with a human child. We essentially see learning as a short-term effort that the dog should pick up relatively fast.
How do you get through life and achieve anything without patience and consistency? The answer is you don’t. Not anything worth having, at least. You need to put in the time and effort with some degree of regularity. That means consistency; not just sometimes, not just when you feel like it. And through all of this effort you’ll need to wait it out. Because results aren’t going to come overnight. Results worth having can take a while before they’re seen or recognized. But rest assured, if you put in the work and demonstrate patience you will see results.
Just the Tips…
– Training should consist of very short sessions. Think seconds and not minutes. 30 – 45 seconds at a time is all you need to keep your dog engaged and still learning.
– Include many short sessions throughout the day. The cumulative effect on 2 dozen training sessions of 45 seconds in one day are amazing to see. Do this for a few days and you’ll have a dog that sees you as relevant and worthy of giving focused attention.