How dog training is like dieting
People go on a diet because they realize something needs to change. Usually it is for health reasons. The desire to improve one’s appearance or perhaps to make fitness activities more fun and easier. People too, start dog training because they realize something needs to change. Usually there is a new puppy or behavior issues with an older dog or maybe they just want to make life with their dog, more fun and easier. Both endeavors usually start with great enthusiasm. With a little concerted effort, progress can be seen right off the bat. You might drop 5 pounds in the first week or two. That’s exciting! This diet thing is working! With your dog, they are learning some basics like sit, down and come. That's exciting! This training thing is working!
Then some time passes. The diet is getting a little harder to stick to. Some of the old habits start creeping back into your life. The weight loss slows or maybe even reverses. This diet stuff is hard!
With your dog it is much the same. He "knows" how to sit, lay down and come when called, well, sometimes. You've slacked off on the training or maybe quit all together. Now it looks like he obeys just when he wants to, stubborn little guy. This training stuff is hard!
Things in life that require a lot of practice also require a lot of persistence and dedication. Giving up too soon just doesn't cut it. Learning how to create, develop and maintain good habits is one of the most important life skills we can accomplish. Once those habits are solid, they serve us! We no longer have to think about it. It's what we do. It's who we are. We can largely run on autopilot. A diet is no longer a phase. It's not what we do for a few weeks. It's a lifestyle change with ongoing rewards.
Training your dog is no longer a phase. It's a lifestyle you share with your dog. It's how you communicate with this wonderful creature from a different species. It makes life better for you and the dog.
And when you fall off of the wagon, you can always get right back on. Your body is ready, willing and able to respond to your healthy lifestyle plan. And your dog is ready, willing and able to respond and partner with you in Reward-able Opportunities, sometimes called dog training.
Most dog training is more easily done by following a specific sequence of steps, done in a specific way. What you are looking for is the best way for your dog to learn. One that is easy for them. We want to communicate clearly; in ways they can understand. We also want to respond to how the dog is catching on to what we are doing and change course when they are not catching on. This requires us to watch the dog carefully for signs as to how they are “understanding” what we are asking of them.
It might be helpful to think about how a 1 or 2-year-old relates to words and how we might teach children of that age. I’m reminded of Denzel Washington in the movie Philadelphia saying to Tom Hanks “Explain this to me like I’m a two-year-old, because there’s an element to this that I can’t get through my thick head”
If we were trying to teach a toddler the word “ball” for example. We would probably first get eye contact. Then say “BALL” in a clear perhaps, exaggerated, friendly tone of voice while showing her the ball in our hand. Then we might hand her the ball and say “this is a BALL”, do you want to play with the “BALL”? And we would patiently do this over and over again. After many repetitions you might ask “where is your BALL “? And the little girl might look around in search of her ball indicating that she had made the association between the object and the word.
If she wasn’t catching on you wouldn’t say BALL, BALL, BALL, BALL, FIND YOUR BALL.
You would probably start over, showing the ball, saying the word ball and and patiently doing that many times. Then go back and see if she now had made the association.
Well guess what? Dogs learn words in very much the same way by association, through repetition.
My suggestion is to teach your dog like they were a toddler. They might just learn much faster.
I am a dog trainer in Riverside California. My specialty is Companion Dog Training. Helping your dog to live in your home.