We all want our dogs to come running to us like this when we call their names. What get's in our way? And where do we get stuck? This post will cover a few.
There are so many ways we hold our dogs to unrealistic expectations so this post will only cover a few. I think the most common things I see are having expectations that:
our dogs will perform learned behaviors without any or very inconsistent reinforcement
be the same behaviorally day to day
not get their physical, mental and emotional needs met and still “behave”
These expectations lead to roadblocks to training and helping dogs succeed in their homes.
When we think our dogs should perform a behavior like sit or walking in a heel or coming when called, we often stop looking at what we have control over and fixate on what our dog isn’t doing. More often than not I find that the dog never really learned the behavior in question or all reinforcement of the behavior has stopped. There’s a term in behavior for this phenomenon, extinction. We can achieve extinction by removing reinforcement of a behavior whether that behavior is desired or undesired. We use extinction on purpose to eliminate undesired behaviors but I often find that we have unwittingly used extinction with behaviors we do want. If you have stopped using treats and your dog suddenly is not performing “coming when called”, you have extinction. Some may argue that they have replaced treats with praise but if you have found your dog is no longer coming when called your dog does not find praise reinforcing or at least not for this behavior. Reinforcement/reward is determined by the learner.
We want our dogs to be predictable. By the same token, our dogs do much better when we are predictable and consistent. I think on the whole dogs are more predictable and consistent than we are as human beings or at least that is my experience thus far in life. I often hear how the dog is not behaving or performing cues reliably but then witness inconsistent reinforcement. A lot of behavior can be changed just by being more mindful about how consistent we are. That being said we all have our off days, dogs included. There are many things that can contribute to our dogs behavior including environment, stress, diet, pain, sleep, exercise and stimulation. If your dog is consistently having trouble in some area then reach out and let’s create a behavior plan. If your dog occasionally will have an off day where they have trouble listening on leash or coming when called just remember your dog is a living being and not a robot. You can look to see if there is something you can change in your environment, increase the value of the treats you use or give you and your dog both a break and play some games inside for the day.
Remembering that dogs have mental, emotional and physical needs and that not having these met does affect their behavior will help us become better trainers and guardians. If you’ve been making progress with a behavior modification plan and your dog has an off day that’s exactly what it is, an off day. We all have them. If you’re having them more often than you are having successful days then it is time to examine the environment and your dog’s day to see what can be changed and how to set your dog up for success.
My next few blog posts will tie into expectations as a lot of the blocks I find are created by our expectations and perspective and with a little shift can lead to big changes for both ourselves and our dogs.