The Importance of Being Predictable

Positive reinforcement trainers often tell owners that the way in which they interact with their dogs is the key to successful training and, that being consistent with their training and predictable with rules for good behavior, will get the quickest, most reliable response from their dogs. After all, if everyone works with Fido in the same way, he will quickly learn what the rules are and what is expected of him.

Consistency, however, does not mean that you have to adhere to an inflexible routine. It has more to do with how you interact with your dog, than with imposing strict order. For instance, I feed the dogs twice daily, but I don’t want them to harass me about it. So, meals are served sometime between 6 and 10 AM, and 6 and 10 PM. This way they know they will be fed, but they don’t know precisely when, so they don’t bother me endlessly about it. In other words, the dogs have learned that just because they anticipate something happening doesn’t mean it has to happen at that moment. This consistent, yet flexible, routine helps reduce household stress by allowing for the ebb and flow of life.

Predictability is another important part of establishing consistency with your pup, but once again, this does not imply that you have to be rigid or inflexible in dealing with your miscreant. For example, if your dog tends to jump up on people I recommend the following approach:

a) First, when he jumps on you, turn your back on him and walk away thereby denying him what he seeks: your attention.

35_dog_adoringpublicb) Then, peek over your shoulder as you exit and when he has all four paws on the floor, reward well for the good behavior.

c) When guests come over, or when you are out on a walk and someone approaches, step on his leash so that he can stand or sit, but not jump.

d) Then, once again, when he has 4 on the floor, or is sitting nicely to greet the visitor, reward, reward, reward!

Holding something makes me happy.

Holding something makes me happy.

This approach works best when you consistently apply the rules, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly the same thing every time he jumps. You might find that turning your back is enough to prevent jumping and only occasionally have to step on the leash when you are on a walk. Perhaps putting a leash on him at home when someone comes to the door is enough to prevent jumping, or maybe all your silly retriever needs to not jump is to hold his favorite toy. Being flexible with your response allows you to adapt to the situation at hand, while also being consistent and predictable. Your consistency/predictability in this situation lies in:

1) keeping your expectations the same (i.e.: 4 on the floor);

2) behaving in a predictable way (jumping is never acceptable and will be addressed) and;

3) providing him with what he needs to be successful in any given situation by rewarding desirable behavior and ignoring/preventing undesirable behavior.

Behaving in a consistent way with your dog will lower stress for you and your dog, help Fido to understand what is expected of him, and teach him that certain behaviors bring particular consequences (I jump, Mom ignores me. If I keep all 4 paws on the ground, Mom pays attention to me.). Allowing for some flexibility in your reaction to any given situation, provides you with a variety of ways to address the issue while maintaining order and predictability for your dog. 

Waiting patiently for breakfast to be served.

General General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

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