Archive for July 29, 2008

Why Zombies Make Great Dog Trainers

The only completely consistent people are the dead.
Aldous Huxley

The perfect dog trainer?

Consistency is a key factor in dog training. Dogs crave consistency – a consistent world is a predictable one.  The problem, as Huxley noted, is that humans don’t seem to be programmed for consistency.

Some days I think that the only thing the typical pet owner is consistent at – is being inconsistent.

I hound my students endlessly about this. 

The thing is, if you don’t make the effort to give your dog consistent input on his behavior – good or bad – he’ll look elsewhere for that information.  And he’ll find it.

Many dog owners get frustrated when their dog doesn’t obey a command.  They nag the dog a bit, get frustrated and give up – “too busy” to follow up with enforcing their command.  The problem is made even worse when the various members of the household have differing ideas about what is or is not important for the dog to learn. 

Most of these mistakes are insidiously subtle in nature.  Normal humans are not programmed to notice that Billy lets Fido jump up on him all the time; gramma has a fit every time he jumps up on her and Susie thinks it’s fine for the dog to jump up as long as she’s not wearing good clothes.  The problem is that your dog is hard-wired to notice and remember these things.  Keeping track of that kind of information is how he makes sense of his world.

Inconsistent behavior is confusing to a dog.  It takes your dog time to understand the concept that he must obey commands and have good manners in a wide variety of situations.  Our dogs need our help to learn to generalize – and in many cases our actions are (albeit unwittingly) proving to be more hindrance than help.

Many dog owners get into the unfortunate habit of giving their dog a command when they aren’t in a position to enforce that command.  When this happens too often, the dog, being a brilliantly observant student, learns that listening to his owner and obeying him is optional.  This is probably not the lesson you want your dog to learn – but if you consistently put him in a situation where he is not required to obey your commands, you are doing a zombie’s very effective job of teaching him just that. 

You must have a plan in place to enforce each command before you give it.  Especially in the early stages of proofing behaviors.  It’s simple to teach a dog to sit for praise or for a treat.  It’s much more difficult to teach him to sit calmly for long periods of time, in strange places around distractions.  If you don’t have a plan and you aren’t consistent, you’ll never achieve that goal.  And the cold, hard truth is that when this happens, you are failing to be the kind of owner your dog deserves.

Consistent behavior creates habits and habitual behavior is very strongly retained.  Your training program and your day-to-day interaction with your dog should be one and the same so together they can form the basis for the manners your dog lives by instead of a set of tricks he performs on command.

— And no, consistent training absolutely will not turn your dog into a mindless zombie.  Zombie infection is a tick-borne disease, not the result of effective training. —

July 29, 2008 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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July 2008