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Change Takes Time

September 14, 2017

One of my coworkers quit smoking last month. She had been smoking for over half of her life, and for health reasons decided to quit cold turkey. As of this week she still thinks about cigarettes. Often.

 

I have a good friend from school who had a chronic tardiness problem. She set out to change her ways, and was successfully arriving earlier than scheduled appointments after several weeks of retraining herself using sticky notes and multiple sets of preprogrammed alarms.

 

When I was in high school I had a BMI of 35.9, which is in the "obese" category. That was my senior year. Fast forward five years and I was able to bring myself back down to a healthy BMI using exercise and cleaning up my diet. 

 

And what does any of this have to do with dog training, you may ask? There's a trend in dog training of promises of  "instant results" and guarantees to have your dog trained within one to two weeks. They're everywhere. If I type in "trainers near me" I can find more trainers promising results such as these then I can trainers who address the science of behavior change and how dog training works. Sounds great, doesn't it? Maybe too good to be true? It usually is.

 

When we're asking the question of "how long will changing this behavior take?" or "how long will this training take?", we can anthropomorphize a little bit and ask ourselves how long human behavior change takes. Anyone that I know who has ever drastically changed their own behavior had to have amazing will power and consistency with themselves, setting rules to follow and doing so for weeks, months, and years after the fact, creating new habits and behavior patterns. True, lasting human behavior change often takes time. And in those contexts the humans have made the deliberate decision to change their own behavior. 

 

We can use this knowledge to empathize with and more effectively work with our dogs. When we set out to change our dog's behavior, they have no idea what we have planned for them. They are not willing volunteers, they are simply along for the ride. So when we set out on a plan for behavior change and expect results within the next 72 hours, how fair are we really being to our dogs? Would we ever set out on a health kick and expect to lose 50 lbs within the next week? Think of quick fix results in dog training like human crash diets: if the results sound too good to be true, they are.

 

So, instead of seeing a behavioral big picture and expecting your dog's jumping to totally extinguish in the next 3 days, start looking at the baby steps toward the end goal. For example, if you're working on jumping with your dog, start paying attention to the duration and intensity of the jumping. Maybe your dog stills jumps up on you when you get home, but after two or three attempts they remember their new automatic sit behavior and decide to see if that works. When you successfully ignore the jumping and offer attention when your dog is sitting and do this consistently, over time your dog will develop new habits and stop attempting the behavior that doesn't work any more. 

 

 

And what about those quick fixes that are too good to be true? They're usually rooted in the use of fear, pain, and positive punishment (for more information about positive punishment, check out: https://ppgworldservices.com/2017/07/24/the-problem-with-punishment-2/), adding in something scary and startling enough that the behavior may go away. However, you run the risk of behavioral fallout when you use these methods (for more about the use of positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and it's fallout check out: https://eileenanddogs.com/2014/09/19/effects-punishment/). So yes, the jumping may never resurface, but did you just teach your dog that you become unpredictably aggressive and are untrustworthy? Or did your dog associate that quick fix aversive solution with something passing by, like another dog or a child, learning that when children are around that they are in danger? This is some serious food for thought that usually goes unspoken of when quick fixes are on the table.

 

The fact of the matter is that the time it takes to build new behaviors and habits is well worth it when you realize you are dodging the bullet that is fallout from these quick fixes. We are the species with the big honkin' brains and the ability to manipulate our dog's behavior. We should be willing to do it efficiently, ethically, and over time. It's what we give ourselves, and our dogs are no less deserving of that chance.

 

Happy training!

 

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