Dog Training is Like Your Retirement Account, an Investment
Over the years of working with clients whose dogs have behavior issues, I have learned many things about human behavior. For one thing, humans are impatient. People want things fixed now, handled now, resolved now. And in this day and age of social media, easy access to information, and fast and efficient technology, people are reinforced for this way of being. People want their dogs’ behavior to be resolved right away, which is understandable because the behavioral issue(s) are disrupting their lives. Or some people push the dogs too quickly through the training program, going at their pace instead of the dog’s.
The second thing I want to take note of is that as soon as a dog’s behavior starts to show some improvement, the human component of the partnership tends to slack off of the training program. This is also understandable because to the untrained eye, things seem to be better.
The very cool thing about dog training is that the more you reinforce a behavior you want, the more it grows–literally, reinforcement builds behavior. Another word for ‘reinforce’ is ‘reward’. I experienced this with my dog, Charlotte, with regard to her reactive behavior towards other dogs. Charlotte and I had worked really hard and I was delighted that after one year of living in the city, much of her reactive behavior had disappeared. And when she did react, there wasn’t as much ‘heat’ in it. Three years ago, when she saw another dog, she ‘freaked out’, barking, lunging, growling. Today, when she sees another dog, she her typical reaction is to relax and look at me instead of the other dog.
Dog training is like your retirement account, an investment. You will see the returns of your effort by sticking with the program for the long haul. If we want to see a change in our dog’s behavior we have to do the work, simple as that. If I want a six-pack, I have to do sit ups regularly in addition to lots of other things. Sorry folks! There is no magic wand, no quick fix when it comes to changing behavior. Believe me, I wish there was! I wish I could tell Charlotte, “Listen sister–these other dogs are cool so let’s just enjoy our walk around town.” Time, information, and effort are the three components that will make all the difference.
I often tell my clients that a behavior is like a set of balance scales. Often, the behaviors you DON’T like are significant and weigh down the scale so that one side (the ‘bad side’) is way down and the other side (the ‘good’ side) is way up.Over time, if you keep rewarding behaviors you DO like, the scales will start to shift and eventually there is more weight (value to the dog) on the behavior you want. The dog will choose the behavior you prefer because that’s the one for which he has been repeatedly rewarded. If you stick with the training, the behavior will change over time. Charlotte’s formerly reactive behavior is a perfect example. Now that the ‘good side’ is way down, I feeling more relaxed when I take Charlotte for walks, and her quality of life has improved because she is less stressed. Charlotte doesn’t feel like she has to constantly manage the dogs she encounters on the street.
Here’s another metaphor to help you stay committed to training your dog, even when it doesn’t seem to be working fast enough or you are feeling exhausted by the whole process, follow the advice given by a little blue fish named Dorie from the movie, Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
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