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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Consistency: Is it humanly possible?

So your dog isn't housebroken yet?  You probably think you have a stubborn dog, maybe even spiteful.  Or stupid.  You've "tried everything," and you still can't stop the accidents (which aren't really accidents, by the way).

Sometimes "trying everything" is the root of the problem.  You need to try just one thing, and be CONSISTENT with it.

Any dog-training manual worth its weight in paper will tell you about the importance of patience and consistency.  But what is consistency when it comes to dog-training?  It means doing the same thing the same way 100 percent of the time.  Not 60 percent or 75 percent, but 100 percent.

My elderly friend Maurice is having housebreaking issues with his new rescue, Nellie.  He thinks he's being consistent in feeding her on a schedule and taking her our for regular potty breaks.  But every so often, Maurice will lie down to take a long nap and miss Nellie's cue.  Or he'll leave her home alone  for a couple hours without putting her in her crate.  Or his daughter will watch Nellie while Maurice runs errands, and she'll miss Nellie's signal.  All of these are inconsistencies--holes--in Nellie's training regimen.  Because dogs think much differently than humans, and because they live in the "here and now," they interpret these inconsistencies to mean there are no rules to follow.  Dogs don't understand exceptions.  They only understand that, if the rule was not enforced the last time, there is no rule.  Period.

That puts a tremendous burden on us humans, who are about as inconsistent as any living being on the planet.  So should we give up?  Heck, no.  We must continue striving every day, while accepting the fact that if our dogs aren't "perfect," it's our fault and not theirs.

Dogs make us better humans by requiring excellence of us!  Can you be 100 percent consistent tomorrow in the way you interact with your dog?  Probably not!  But you can keep trying daily to improve your percentage.  As you do this, you'll notice something remarkable happening to you.  Your self confidence will grow.  You'll find yourself exercising more patience in all facets of your life.  You'll become more grounded in your convictions--more able to uphold  boundaries, rules and limitations for yourself as well as your dog.  You'll become more self disciplined and leaderlike.

Next time your dog does something "wrong," look first at the inconsistencies in your own actions.  By improving ourselves--becoming more consistent, more reliable and thus more trustworthy--we can improve our dogs' behaviors and our lives together with them.

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