Professionals do not become “Pro’s” overnight. Doctors do not become doctors on a hope and a dream, NHL All-Stars do not achieve greatness by sitting on the couch, and people dedicated to a deep understanding of canine behaviour don’t just wake up one day with the ability to speak “animal.” Such individuals work diligently and train mentally and physically to create the basic skill set required to master their area of expertise. Consistent effort and practice of the fundamentals are important exercises that help all types of professionals excel and reach the top!
That word, consistency, pops up quite a bit. Consistency can be defined as the “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.” (Dictionary.com, 2014). In the canine world, we talk about consistency of technique, timing, methodology, reward, punishment, routine, etc. but we don’t necessarily say why we want to be consistent. Well consistency, or being dependable with action and response, in all aspects of your relationship with your canine can have a profoundly positive impact!
All relationships are built on the basics of communication. Consistency, or acting in a consistent way as you instruct, praise, correct and go about navigating the world around you, will greatly help canines understand your requests and current emotional state. Consistency can give them clues on how to respond or prepare to respond. Being consistent will help our canines through:
Reliability: Instructing, praising, redirecting and timing are the cornerstones to educating your canine in both an effective and efficient way during training sessions and new encounters. By structuring your training sessions and creating a plan to achieve new goals, we can control our learning sessions more effectively and add to our ability to remain consistent throughout the process. By doing so, we are actually able to increase the reliability our canine’s behaviour across different situations and scenarios as they come up in our day-to-day lives.
Faster learning/sharper learning curve: Adding a level of consistency to our interactions with our canines will help them understand what is being asked of them regardless of the situation. If your dog has gone through a learning process where the actions and results are the same every time, the connection between cause and effect quickly becomes quite clear for them…. If this happens, and I act this way, this outcome (e.g. praise) will occur. If the outcome to their response varies in each “trial” or occurrence, then the connection becomes muddled and it will take longer to learn the right behaviour, as well as the possibility of learning the wrong behaviour can also arise. This is a basic fundamental of behavioural conditioning (both in a classical and operant sense) but isn’t necessarily thought of in a “practical application” sort of way when we are out in the world with our canines.
Emotional Understanding: Along with increased reliability of behaviour and ability for faster learning, working on the consistency within us will help our canines understand our emotional state. If we react to the same situations in a similar fashion each time, our emotional response remains consistent and our canines will begin to learn what we are/are not comfortable with. They can then begin to predict how we will react, thus speeding up their response to various situations and furthering the development of the human-canine bond. Don’t believe me? An article just released at the end of November shows canines demonstrating an understanding of subtle changes in human communication such as emotional tone, intonation and volume changes. Read more on how dogs do understand their master’s voice.
Adding consistency to our interactions with our canines requires practice. After a training session or new encounter/situation has come up, take an introspective moment to assess what went on, how your canine behaved, and most importantly, how you behaved and responded (acted). You may quickly find a key… possibly why the scenario worked out perfectly, and maybe why it could have gone better and how you can facilitate that the next time!
Need help with your consistency? Like a personal trainer for physical fitness, a large part of my work is assessing the areas of your canine relationship that could use more consistent effort. I design and chart training sessions and goals that you and your dog can follow and achieve together!
Dictionary.com (2014). Consistency Definition. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/consistency. Accessed on: December 9th, 2014.