Dog’s Eye View: Use it or lose it
“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.” Louis Armstrong, trumpet
It happens to all of us in so many ways. As a dog trainer and a musician, I understand this quote. One of the hard things about learning a new skill is the realization that, “Oh wait, do we have to keep practicing this?”
This is so true for dog owners who are teaching their dogs new and very useful behaviors. A common request is, “How do I stop my dog’s rowdy behavior at the door when people come over?” Notice how this request is worded. If we just shut down a behavior, we have not helped our dog learn a new skill that would replace the unwanted rowdiness and serve both of us.
One way to teach our dog what to do when the doorbell rings is to show him how to go to a designated target area (rug) on the floor near the door and stay there while we open the door. Usually, this early training progresses quickly within one or two sessions.
This is, however, a very precise process, broken down into many small steps. We look for success at each step with the ultimate goal of mastery of the behavior sequence starting with the door bell ringing and ending with our dog lying quietly on his rug.
Here’s the spot where practice and commitment come into play and where the new skill can also break down if not practiced. Our dog owner is usually so thrilled to see his once unruly dog move confidently to his rug that he might assume that his dog “knows” how to do this forever. This is not an accurate assumption.
Initially, it’s so much fun and such a relief that the dog is not mauling people at the door that the owner practices this behavior a lot, maybe 2-5 times a day. Ultimately, the novelty wears off. We thought the unwanted behavior was “fixed”. Maybe we still need to cue the behavior or are using half-hearted cues and no reinforcing treat or toy. This is when our owner might say, “Oh, I tried that but it didn’t work.” Uh, huh. Own up.
A friend of ours used to humorously say, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” He was an ultra-marathoner, which should give you a clue about his drive. However, there is some validity to this statement. We sometimes use the advice to “overlearn a behavior” that we highly value. In other words, practice it so that it has a consistently solid response to your cue. Don’t ever stop practicing and highly reinforcing a valued skill. Old habits can start to creep back in when you’re not paying attention.
Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC,
with over 25 years of experience. She can be reached at http://www.totalteamworktraining.com.
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Amid rising costs of living, Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously accepted a proposal that would issue bonuses and raise salaries up to 6% for city employees starting in July.