Consistency in dog training will always make a behaviour more reliable. Dogs are very good at predicting the future, this is one of the reasons they can be trained. Consistency means that your dog will be able to predict what is expected of them in certain situations. This can only happen through practice that is regular and purposeful.
When you are trying to train a certain skill in your dog, you should always have a goal in mind that you are working towards. Within this process will be many small steps towards this larger goal. If you have a good idea of these little steps and the larger behavioural goal, your training will have consistency. For example, if you need to teach your dog to lay down, you may need to start by rewarding the small efforts of your dog lowering their head down without raising their rear end. This kind of mindful training requires a plan, and if you have a plan, you will have consistency.
Enjoying your training will also impact on consistency. The method of training you use should feel good for you. If you feel good training your dog, you will be more likely to practice. If you find that you are becoming frustrated with your training, stop and move on to something that is easy and enjoyable for your and your dog. Tricks are a great way to diffuse a stressful training session, you and your dog will have fun but in essence it is still training.
A common question that relates to consistency, is; how often should I practice? The answer all depends on your dog, how long are they willing to concentrate? And how regularly do they want to work? Some dogs can work all day, these kinds of dogs tend to have vigorous temperaments, this is a great attribute for obedience training. Less vigorous dogs have a smaller window of opportunity throughout the day, take them when you can, and you will get some good training sessions in. These kinds of dogs make great house pets as they tend to be less energetic.
Training consistency also depends on how important the skill is for you. You will practice what is important for you, and will be more consistent with it. A good dog trainer will always ask what your goals are for your relationship with your dog. Many dogs are good at sitting before their dinner, this is because people consistently practice it at least once a day, and it is important to them. Think about a few skills that you would value in your dog, and you will be more motivated to train these skills.
Your dog trainer can also help you get some consistency. If some of your family are teaching your dog a certain way, and you are teaching another way, your dog will be getting mixed messages. If your family are all on the same page with the rules for your dog, the training will be more consistent. Having the family participate in training sessions will help everyone get the same message. A shared training session will also allow family members to discuss what is important for them and expectations each of the family members has of the dog.
Sometimes training a new behaviour is hard work and it may be some time before you see any benefit from all of your work. Don’t loose heart though, I always recommend that my clients consistently practice for six weeks before deciding that the training is not working. If you have been working on teaching your dog a new skill don’t give up after two weeks just because it is not working. Training with your dog requires that you persevere, sometimes progress will be slow or non-existent, but if you are consistent eventually the message will get through to your dog. However, if you are changing the rules each week or each day, you are not giving your dog enough time to understand what you require of them. Be consistent with specific rules and boundaries for at least six weeks.
Verbal cues and hand signals you give your dog must also be consistent. Spend some time thinking about the verbal cues and hand signals you want to teach your dog. These cues and signals need to be specific for each individual behaviour or skill. A good dog trainer will be able to help you with this. Often people have the same hand signal for many different behaviours. For example, a pointed finger at your dog could mean ‘sit’ but also have connotations of ‘bad dog’. Consistent hand signals with verbal cues will give your dog a much better idea of what you want from them, especially when they are in a distracting environment. Dogs communicate primarily with their bodies, you can do the same when you need to communicate with your dog.
Consistency is probably at its most difficult when you are trying to change your dogs’ behaviour. You and your dog have been behaving a certain way for some time, and now a shift is required from both of you. This is tiring, and often people lapse in to; ‘oh, just this once’ or ‘I’m too tried to deal with this’. In this instance, for consistency to occur, it requires good preparation. If you are feeling tired, or can’t be bothered training your dog, just avoid the situation until you are ready. For example, many people complain about their dog pulling on the lead. If your dog pulls you all the way to the dog park and you don’t have time on a particular day to train otherwise, simply avoid it, and drive to the park on that day. It is better to avoid a situation, than to continue reinforcing a behaviour that is undesirable. However, you will need to address it at some stage, but do this when you are ready, and it will help you be more consistent.
Being consistent is hard work, but it has a huge benefit, in that you only need to be consistent for a relatively short amount of time in your dogs’ life for a behaviour to become reliable. Over time it will also become a habit for you. Once you have achieved this, you will have a dog that is a wonderful pet for the next decade and hopefully beyond.
Remember that you and your dog are learning now, and training for the future.
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