Congratulations! You and your dog have acquired some basic training skills. But now what? Do you know how to build consistency in your dog’s training?
As an instructor, my ultimate goal for is for you to be able to successfully apply basic skills to common life situations. Even if you haven’t had an opportunity to continue your dog’s formal training, or its been a while since you attended group classes, it’s never too late to pick up where you left off. So if your dog’s skillset is no longer existent, falls apart around distractions or is contingent upon seeing food up front, this series of articles is for you! If you’re short on time I can help you with that too. Regardless of where you’re at in your journey, I’m here to coach you forward and help you build consistency in your dog’s training!
Using SIT to Build Consistency
In the next few newsletters, I will guide you through a series of simple “Challenges” using the SIT cue. “Why SIT”, you may ask? “My dog already knows how to SIT. Isn’t that taking a step backwards?” Well, yes and no. Sometimes in order to move forward we have to take some steps back.
I recommend SIT because most dogs already know the mechanics of SIT (butt on the floor) and are familiar with the verbal cue or hand signal. It’s often consistency that’s lacking and creating other problems. So regardless of your dog’s training level, requiring an easy-to-achieve behavior, such as SIT, will allow us to focus more on the consistency process and less on what the dog is being asked to do. Once we work through the process with SIT, you may want to apply the Challenges to other behaviors.
How to Practice to Build Consistency
We’re all familiar with the adage “practice makes perfect”. If we apply that logic to any skillset in our lives, the concept of repetition makes good sense. For instance, if we embark on a different career path or decide to learn a second language or a new sport, we understand that our success will be contingent upon our level of commitment to practice. Training your dog is no different. In fact, many people avoid training their dogs due to time constraints. Fortunately, in dog training, it’s not necessary to carve out blocks of time, that you probably don’t have, to make a huge difference. In fact, repetitions of one (“one-offs”) are an easy and effective way to integrate dog training into your daily life.
Context and Generalization
Before we get started, here’s an important concept to understand. Picture yourself driving on a familiar route and suddenly losing your bearings? Perhaps the empty lot on the corner has now been replaced by a convenience store. This is what’s known as a context change and dogs are much more sensitive to this phenomenon than we realize. Dr. Temple Grandin’s body of work in the field of animal cognition was built upon her hypothesis that animals view their environment in “pictures” and that their behavior can be influenced when surroundings change.
Context changes, even ones that seem relatively insignificant to us, can be a big deal for our dogs. For example, using your left versus right hand or being seated instead of standing when you cue a SIT, may look completely foreign to your dog. When another family member cues the dog, their signals look inevitably look different from yours. So, when your dog appears “stubborn” or “uncooperative”, a likely culprit is a lack of practice in a variety of environments and situations. Much like actors rehearsing their lines in a play, both human and dog learners need to practice their roles in various scenes before expecting the debut to go off without a hitch. Until your dog learns to generalize a cue in various contexts, you can expect inconsistent responses. With that in mind, let’s get started with Challenge #1!
Randomly ask your dog to SIT in various areas and different rooms throughout the house.
- To build a consistent response to SIT cue anywhere in the house. Let’s define “consistent” as 9 out of 10 successes (90%) on the first cue without food being shown up front.
- For dog to learn that you’re always good for and able to come up with a potential food reward.
- You and your dog will be working together inside your home.
- Break soft smelly treats into tiny pieces.
- Fill small lidded containers with treats and stash them throughout your home where they are easily accessible to you (but not your dog).
- Be certain the treat stashes are in place and/or replenished at least 15 minutes prior to practice.
- No treats in your hands or pockets.
- You should be in a standing position when giving the cue.
- You may use verbal and/or hand signals to cue SIT, but no physical contact.
- Only cue SIT one time (no repeating) and wait patiently for your dog to comply. If using a hand signal, hold signal in place until SIT happens.
- If SIT happens on first cue, immediately say “YES”. Then, go to the nearest treat container to get a reward for dog. It’s ok if he follows you, just don’t forget to say yes as soon as his butt hits the floor!
- If SIT does not happen at first cue, encourage your dog to follow you to another part of the room (or another room altogether) and try again. Be sure to only give the cue once for each location change.
- With a few successes, your dog will begin to understand the “game”.
- Practice sessions may consist of one-offs or several repetitions.
- Maintain a 1:1 ratio of sits to treats. We will fade food when it’s time.
- Always end a session while your dog is still successful.
- Enlist other family members (one at a time) to work through Challenge 1.
Ask Me a Question!
Please avoid the natural temptation to push past the simple parameters of Challenge 1. While you may see some level of success if you up the degree of difficulty, it’s better to have a solid foundation before building on it. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for our next Challenge in Part 2 of this series. Until then, please drop any questions or feedback by commenting below.. Have fun!