When Clients Get Comfortable

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

One frustrating thing about being a dog trainer happens sometimes when things go really well with a client and my training package with them ends. Everyone walks away feeling satisfied. I feel that I’ve done my job and made a difference in both the dog’s and the family’s lives. Just when I’m done patting myself on the back, I hear from the client weeks or months later that things are back to the way they were when we first started working together. I used to feel frustrated with the client and my ability to help them. What I have learned over the years is that it often takes a really long time for a new behavior to become a habit. And sometimes it’s difficult for the client to change their own habits to support the new behaviors.

I heard an instructor once say that “in order to change dog behavior, you have to modify your own behavior.” This meant creating new habits of behavior in the human. Recently, this statement has been coming to mind again. It got me thinking about what it takes to change human habit. I have been participating in a personal development program for the past four years with Landmark Education. Much of their work focuses on creating new actions based on supportive ways of thinking—creating new habits. For example: I used to be chronically late. I grew up blaming it on my parents and my culture–I grew up “operating on Indian time.” It used to be a point of humor and frustration for my friends and family. More recently, when I started losing business opportunities, I decided to create a new habit of being punctual. After working on this for the past two years, I no longer view myself or operate as a ‘late’ person. That doesn’t mean I’m not late from time to time, but it’s no longer this ‘thing’ that defines me.

So back to my clients: I now tell my clients it may take close to a year to fully change their dog’s behavior. I want them to understand the commitment involved to meet the goals they may have. While learning basic manners is relatively easy and can be accomplished in a much shorter period of time, changing a complex behavior isn’t as easy for a dog to do. I also have some personal experience on what it takes to change habits.

My experience is corroborated by research done by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit. Her team found that on average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. And this doesn’t mean that the person had to perform the new behavior every day for it to form into a habit—they could mess up from time to time and it could still form.

So the point of all this? Just keep training.

Clarity & Harmony…a better way of living with your dog.

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Positively Expert: Bobbie Bhambree

Bobbie Bhambree is a dog trainer, a dog behavior consultant, and an agility competitor with over fifteen years’ experience in dog training and behavior. Bobbie is the Founder & Director of DogCentric Training & Behavior, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants...


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